About fifteen minutes into their program, the doorbell rang. Horatio checked his watched, looking confused. Speed was confused, too. Who could be visiting Horatio so early on a Saturday morning? He watched Horatio answer the door, smiling when he saw a young blonde woman standing in the door, her hand resting lightly on the bright red hair of a five-year-old girl. "Suzie!" Horatio said, surprised.
"Horatio, hi. Um..."
"Come in, come in. Hi, Madison."
"Hi," the girl said softly.
They stepped inside, and Horatio offered them something to drink. "No thank you. Um..." Suzie brushed her hair behind her ear and tugged at the handle of her purse. "Horatio, I hate to ask you for another favor, but..."
At that point, Speed lost track of what Suzie was saying. He was distracted by the fact that Madison seemed to be looking directly into his eyes. He frowned slightly, confused by the apparent anomaly. He was so used to people looking past him, through him, or just to the right or left of him that it was a little unnerving to be looked square in the eye. Then, he received another surprise. Madison smiled, and waved shyly at him. Speed's eyes widened, and he looked around, wondering if she could be waving at something else. There didn't seem to be anything else around that could warrant a wave and a smile, so he looked back at her. "You can see me?" he asked. Madison giggled, then nodded. Speed gaped, and Madison giggled again.
"Come on," Horatio said to Suzie. "Let's talk in the other room. Madison, honey, you can watch TV for a few minutes while I talk to your mom, okay?"
Madison nodded, and Suzie followed Horatio to the kitchen. Madison turned back to Speed. "I remember you," she said.
"Uhhh..." Words failed Speed. "How... wha... you..." Speed struggled to pull himself together. He tried to organize the many questions whirling in his brain, and picked the one that nagged him loudest. "Why can you see me?"
Madison shrugged. "I don't know. I see lots of people. Mommy said you got hurt and went to Heaven like my real daddy. How come you're still here?"
"Ummm... I'm not sure."
Madison shrugged again. "You must not be finished yet. Can we watch cartoons?"
Speed blinked, taken aback by her nonchalance. Kids! Only a child could switch from metaphysics to cartoons without skipping a beat. "Um... sure," he said at last. "Whatever you want is fine."
Madison smiled, hopped into Horatio's chair and took control of the remote. She settled on "The Powerpuff Girls" and proceeded to explain to Speed how the little superheroes came about, and what their relationship was to everyone else on the show. Speed held up his end of the conversation with several, "Mmhmm's" and a few exclamations of "Ohhh, I see."
After a few minutes, Suzie and Horatio came back from the kitchen. "And that's the mayor," Madison explained, as an extremely short, balding cartoon man wearing a monocle came onto the screen. "He's silly, and he likes pickles a lot."
"I see," Speed said.
"Sweetie, who are you talking to?" Suzie asked.
"Timothy," Madison said without hesitation.
Horatio gasped, and Suzie frowned, casting a nervous glance in Horatio's direction. "Honey, I thought we talked about playing that way, remember?"
"I'm not playing, Mommy. We're watching TV."
"Now Madison, I mean it." She moved toward Speed's seat, and Speed prepared to get out of the way.
"No, Mommy, you'll sit on him!"
Suzie sighed and backed up, pressing forefinger and thumb to her temple. She looked apologetically at Horatio. "I'm sorry, Horatio," she said. "She's been doing this for months now. I thought it was just imaginary friends or something, but..."
Horatio raised his hand, staring keenly at Madison. "It's okay, Suzie," he said. Horatio moved into the living room and crouched down in front of Madison. "You say Timothy is sitting in the chair, Madison?" She nodded.
"Are you sure it's him?" he asked incredulously.
"Mmmhmm. He flew me in the air nine times at the beach last summer. I remember."
Horatio swallowed. "Can you do me a favor, Madison? Can you look around the room and see if you see his picture anywhere?"
Madison nodded and started searching. In about three seconds, she found an 8"x10" on the coffee table. It was a picture of the two of them, arms around each others' shoulders, taken when they met up on their staggered vacations about three weeks before Speed's death. She picked it up and showed it to Horatio. "Here," she said proudly. "This is you and him together."
Horatio swallowed again and looked at Speed's chair, eyes focusing somewhere near Speed's chin. "Um..."
"Maddie, that is not nice. I told you it makes people sad when you..."
"It's all right," Horatio said, finally tearing his eyes away from Speed's chair. "It's all right. Okay, Madison. Your mom has to go to a special training for work today, and she asked me to take care of you while she's gone. Is that okay with you?" Madison nodded. "Great. Now, can you do me another big favor?"
"Mmhmm," she said, nodding.
"If... if he says anything to me, would you tell me?"
"Thank you, sweetie." Horatio stood up and looked at Suzie. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Sometimes kids can see things, and... if it's just a phase, she'll grow out of it."
Suzie nodded, looking more than a little confused. Apparently deciding not to argue about it, she turned to Madison and smiled. "Okay, sweetheart, I have to go now. Be good today, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy," Madison said, already deeply engrossed in her cartoon.
Horatio saw Suzie to the door then came back to stand beside Madison. He stared at the cartoon for a few seconds, then went over to inspect the chair. "Is..." He cleared his throat. "Is he doing anything?"
"He's staring at you," Madison said.
"Maddie," Speed said. "Tell Horatio that we need to find a way to communicate that doesn't involve wasting so much water."
"Okay. Timothy says that you guys need to find a way to talk that doesn't waste water."
Horatio took a step back. Speed guessed that Horatio might still have been somewhat convinced that this was all a child's game that just happened to coincide with his morning hallucinations. But Madison had referred to something she couldn't possibly have known about. Horatio began to look a little green. "Are you okay, Horatio?" Madison asked. "You look worried."
Horatio cleared his throat. "I'm all right, Maddie." He looked at Speed's chair, somewhere around Speed's nose, and smiled. "I'm okay," he said, this time with more confidence. "Say, would you like to help us with a very special project?"
Madison looked intrigued. "Sure! How can I help?"
"The best thing you can do to help me right now is to tell me what Speed... Timothy is doing, and what he's saying."
"Great. Um... this is weird. Speed. It looks like it's hard for you to write on paper, right?"
Madison looked expectantly at Speed. "Yeah, um... tell him that my hand won't work right when I try to use pens or pencils."
Madison relayed the message, then waited for Horatio. "Let's try something a little bigger, then. Hang on for just a moment." Horatio headed toward his office. Speed motioned for Madison to wait, then followed Horatio into the office. He watched while Horatio carefully stacked Speed's scribbles together and put them in his secure file cabinet. Then he found a large black marker and a notepad and went back to the living room. He set items down on the coffee table and stood back. "Okay, Speed. Want to give it a try?"
Speed picked up the marker, pausing slightly at the sharp intake of breath from Horatio. He tried to write the letter "S" again, but encountered the same frustrating loss of control that had made it impossible to write with pens or pencils. He struggled with the instrument for several seconds before slamming it down on the table. He let out an exasperated sigh and the marker and pad both flew off the table and across the room. Madison squeaked and Horatio jumped just a little. "I'm sorry," Speed said hastily. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare anybody."
"What did he say?" Horatio asked.
"He said he's sorry and he didn't mean to scare us."
"Okay, that's okay," Horatio said. "We'll just try something different." Horatio thought for a moment, then looked up. "I have an idea. Let's go shopping."
Speed followed Madison and Horatio out to the car and settled himself in the front passenger seat while Horatio helped Madison into the back. They drove through the streets in relative silence, listening to one of Speed's favorite albums. After about twenty minutes, they pulled into a mid-sized shopping center and navigated through the parking lot, ending up (to Speed's surprise) at Toys 'R' Us. Speed wasn't the only one shocked by their destination.
"We're buying toys?" Madison asked incredulously.
"Sort of. You'll see," Horatio said. They went into the toy store together, and Horatio began looking for what he wanted. He stopped in the educational toy section and started hunting more slowly. Finally, he stopped and picked up a box of magnetic letters. Horatio turned and looked in a direction that was uncannily close to eye contact with Speed. "Do you think you could use something like this?" he asked.
"I think so," Speed replied. Madison relayed the message without being asked.
"Great," Horatio said. He picked up four boxes of letters, then loked down at his niece. "Now, Madison. For being such a good helper, you can have any three toys you want."
Her face brightened. "Really??"
"Really. Whatever you want." They spent a little over an hour following Madison through the store. In the end, Speed thought her choices were fairly modest. She ended up with a mini-van and a pretend kitchen set for her Barbie dolls at home, and a large plush teddy bear. They took their treasures to the car, and headed for home. Once there, Speed and Horatio thanked Madison for all her help, then released her from translation duty so that she could play with her new toys.
Horatio opened the boxes of magnets and arranged all of them on the freezer door in alphabetical order. "Okay," he said. "How about we give this a try?"
Speed was able to move the magnets as easily as he had everything else. He formed a short sentence. "IT WORKS."
Horatio smiled broadly. "Perfect," he said. He pulled two chairs from the dining room and set them near the refrigerator. "So," he said casually. "How's it going?
Speed smiled, sat down in the chair Horatio had provided, and started to talk to his partner.