Substitute Family Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Garret felt bad leaving Emily alone with Chloe when she was crying, but he’d had to get to work. He had taken off yesterday when Peg called in a panic and said Dan had been taken to the emergency room. He had taken his laptop home and tried to work while the kids played, but Chloe had been clingy. He had spent most of the afternoon and evening holding her and playing with Cody.

Not that he minded any of that, but he had an important project he was the lead on right now and it required his undivided attention. His mom had come over on Saturday and watched the kids while he went into the office. She had done that for him a lot of Saturdays. She never complained about it, but he felt guilty leaving the kids on weekends to go to work.

There was just a lot of pressure to succeed on this project. It was one of their major clients, an insurance company. They wanted to upgrade the program that his company had set up for them a few years ago. Garret had been a young programmer at that time, just out of college. He had worked on the original program, so he was a natural choice for lead on the update.

His boss had almost turned him down for the project. In the early months after Julie’s death, Garret had spent a lot of time at the office, but his ability to concentrate on the programming tasks and communicate with the other employees had suffered. He had been taken off one important project with the promise that he would be given something new when his job performance improved. Unspoken was the thought that if it did not, they would have to let him go. He understood that, and had worked hard to get back on top of his game.

The winter had been rough, but as the twins neared their first birthday in April, they were easier to take care of, and his grief had lessened somewhat with the spring weather. It had been good timing, too, because this project had fallen into his lap a month ago a few weeks ago and he’d been prepared to take it on. His boss was watching his performance closely to see if he could work his way back into the competent lead programmer that he had been before Julie passed away.

As much as it pained him to think it, he owed a lot to Julie’s mom. He had not wanted her to babysit the kids, because she had made Julie suffer so with her constant criticisms. Peg had instead insisted that Julie would not want someone other than family raising her children. Julie had planned ahead so she could quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom. Peg had done the same thing when Julie was born, so she assumed she was the person who should help Garret raise them after Julie died.

The problem was, Peg had taken over control of the twins. Or tried to, anyway.  Garret had his own way of doing things, choosing a laid-back style of parenting because it was easier than making one-year-olds follow strict rules. Peg wanted him to do things her way. Instead of Julie as the go-between, now Garret had to listen to her almost daily complaints about how he took care of his kids. No matter what he did, it was not the right way or not good enough.

But if Peg hadn’t stepped in, he would have had to leave the twins in day care with strangers. That would have been hard on the kids, which in turn would have made his life more difficult. And finding a day care that would allow him to work overtime would have been hard to arrange.

Garret closed up his laptop at five o’clock and left the office. He usually left at six. Tonight he was going home early to see how things had gone for Emily. He felt relief that he wouldn’t have to face Peg tonight, or any night this week. He wouldn’t call Emily a friend, and they’d their differences over the years, but her lighthearted humor would be a welcome change to Peg’s nagging and complaining.

Seeing Emily today had brought back memories of Julie that he had pushed to the back of his mind. On the drive home, he thought about the early days of their courtship. He and Julie had been young when they fell in love. She’d been the sweetest girl he’d ever known. They’d married after college and rented an apartment. When they talked about starting a family, they decided to purchase a house first. To save money for a down payment, they’d lived in her parents’ basement apartment with a separate entrance, rent-free.

That’s when the tensions had started to build between them. Julie had spent more time upstairs with her parents than she did in the apartment with him. Her mom, especially, had an opinion on everything, which Julie would share with Garret. When he didn’t agree with her mom on something, it led to a lot of conflict and hard feelings. He’d worked extra hours to earn the money they needed within a year, so they could escape her parents’ control.

When they’d moved into their new house, Garret had felt like they were newlyweds again. They were both working and saving money so Julie could become a stay-at-home mom. When it took her a couple of years to get pregnant, she’d grown discouraged. He had not known how to make her understand that he was okay with waiting until things happened naturally. She’d been insistent on seeing a fertility specialist. After all of the miserable testing they went through, the doctor had told her what Garret had expected all along, that there was no medical reason why they couldn’t conceive a child. That it would happen naturally given time.

That seemed to free up Julie’s concerns. Within a few months after hearing the results, she had become pregnant. She’d been so anxious to be a mom, and she’d had so little time with their babies. Now they would grow up never knowing what a wonderful mother she would have been.

His emotions choked him up, and he buried them again. He had to get home and take care of those little babies that Julie had labored to bring in the world, then left for him to raise. He hated being a single dad.

Emily was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Chloe on her lap, and Cody playing nearby, when he walked in the front door. They all looked up at him. Cody took off running and flung himself against Garret’s legs.

“Hey, Code-man.” Garret picked him up and gave him a quick squeeze before Cody wiggled to get down. Cody did not like to be held long. Chloe, on the other hand, loved to cuddle. He picked her up, and she nestled into his shoulder.

Emily stood awkwardly.“My legs fell asleep a little.”

A grin curved his mouth, but it was out of practice and came out like a grimace. “Been sitting on the floor a lot today?”

“Most of the day. It seems like they are happiest when I’m right down there playing with them.”

“I think they are. That’s where I spend most of my evening.”

Emily walked towards him. “How did your day go?”

It’d been a long time since anyone had asked him how his day went. Peg met him at the door every night with a list of complaints and instructions. His mom was simply too exhausted to talk on the weekends when she watched them. Seeing Emily’s fresh appearance, after a long day with his kids, felt nice.

“It’s going good. They have me on a new project. It’s taking up a lot of time.”

“Peg said you’ve been working overtime.”

His eyebrows lowered. “She probably gave it a negative connotation.”

“She did. What is it you’re working on?”

“Updating a program for an insurance company.”

He kept it simple. Emily had referred to herself often as non-techy. She had a home computer, and Garret and Julie had spent some time at her house to help her get it all set up. He was the one she’d called when she had a problem with it. Either she hadn’t had any problems with it since Julie passed away, or she’d decided to find another computer geek to help her out. He wouldn’t have gone and helped her if she’d called. He didn’t spend time with Julie’s family anymore.

End of Chapter 2.

Come back next week, March 20, to read Chapter 3 of Substitute Family.

Published by Carol Underhill

Author of Christian romance. Mom to 3 adult children and a spoiled Lab. Household includes several rescued cats. Loves flavored coffees and quiet mornings. Likes finding new authors on Kindle and binge reading all their books.

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