Substitute Family Chapter 5

Chapter 5

That had gone badly, Emily thought as Peg drove the minivan back across town. Garret had tried, he really had. Peg just seemed to have it in for him. Emily remembered how seriously he had told her he needed a break. Now she could see why firsthand.

The twins were excited to be at their grandparents’ house. Peg had told Emily that she brought them over to her house a couple of mornings a week to get them out, and to give her a change a pace. They were obviously comfortable there. Even Chloe walked in on her own.

 They stopped when they saw Dan lying on the couch, with the big white cast covering his leg.

 “It’s okay, Cody, Chloe,” Dan said, holding out his arms. Cody dropped the truck he was carrying and ran over to Dan, and flung himself across his chest. “Hey, Cody. You’re happy to see me, aren’t you?”

“They don’t see Dan often enough,” Peg complained. “With his mom coming every Saturday, there has really been no chance to see them on the weekends.”

“What about Sundays?” Emily asked.

 Peg snorted. “Don’t even get me started.”

 She turned around and went out to the kitchen. Emily looked at her uncle with an unspoken question.

“Peg has asked several times if she can take the kids to church with us. Garret’s response has always been that Sunday is the only day he can kick back and relax with the kids and not have to rush anywhere. That just upsets her more.”

Emily wondered if she should have a talk with Garret. Wait, what? She was not really thinking of mediating between them, was she? Julie had tried for years and was unsuccessful. What made Emily think she needed to get involved?

 As promised, Scott and Melanie came over shortly before noon. Scott practically carried the very pregnant Melanie into the house. She waddled over to the second couch and sat down. Scott made her lie back against some pillows and put her feet up on the couch.

“Don’t hover over me,” Melanie said. He didn’t flinch at her harsh tone, but sat down beside her and put her feet on his lap.

Emily had just seen Melanie on the Fourth. She was supposed to have been on bedrest then, too, but she had come over and lay on the couch so she could visit with the family.

Emily’s parents had come over that day, and so had her mom’s brother and his wife. They’d brought her grandpa who had dementia. He was quite entertaining because he couldn’t hear, for one thing, and for another, he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to say and what was inappropriate. He had told Melanie she looked like a hot air balloon about to burst.

 Of course they had all laughed at Melanie’s expense, but Emily had felt sorry for her. Melanie had been so excited when she was pregnant, and Julie had been excited when she’d found out her sister was having a baby. But Julie had never had a chance to become an aunt.

 Scott grilled steaks for their lunch, and Peg made up potato salad and baked beans. She brought the highchairs into the living room so Melanie and Dan could enjoy watching them eat.

“Isn’t that a mistake?” Emily asked. “I’ve watched them eat.”

“This floor wipes right up,” Peg said, indicating the tile floor.

 It was rather amusing to watch Chloe and Cody try the potato salad and baked beans. Neither of them seemed to like the potato salad, but Chloe ate some of the beans.

“I think I’d better fix a couple of peanut butter and jam sandwiches,” Peg said.

 When the twins were finished with their sandwiches, Peg cleaned them up and set them on the floor. Chloe whimpered.

“Bring her to me,” Dan said.

Chloe curled up in his arms and fell asleep.

Cody went to the toybox, and brought a shape sorter over to Emily. It was like the one that he had at his house. They had been working with it a little every day.

Emily slid off the chair and sat cross-legged on the floor. When she had released the shapes, she looked around and saw everyone was watching her.

 “We do this at his house.”

Peg frowned. “You mean you sit on the floor and play with them?”

She did not like the disapproval she saw in her aunt’s expression.

“I do. Several times a day,” she admitted in a nonchalant, non-threatening tone.

“You’re good with him,” Melanie said. “Must be the teacher in you.”

“I do enjoy watching them learn new things,” Emily admitted.

“I’m surprised you have time to play with them and keep up the house, too. It must be a mess by now.”

Now Emily was really upset with her aunt’s criticism.

“I didn’t know I was hired to be a housekeeper.” She tempered her response with humor. She hadn’t been hired for anything. When they asked if she would come to help out with the twins’ care, she had done so without thought of pay. But she kept her tone joking as she added, “If I’d known I had to clean house I wouldn’t have signed on to help.”

Scott and Dan found the humor in her response and laughed.

“Oh!” Melanie exclaimed, putting her hand on her stomach.

Scott immediately focused his attention on her.

“Did you feel a contraction?”

“I did. At least I think I did. I guess that’s what it is.”

A few minutes later, she felt another one.

“We’d better get you to the hospital,” Scott said. “You’re not supposed to go into labor.”

“I thought that was how the babies are born,” Dan said.

“You know she has a scheduled C-section, Dan,” Peg reproached him. She was the only one who couldn’t tell he was joking. “I knew you shouldn’t have brought her over here, Scott,” she scolded.

Scott turned red, looking pretty upset. Emily had to wonder how much Peg had already interfered in their lives, and with this pregnancy.

Scott helped Melanie to her feet. “Wait,” Melanie said. “I don’t have my bag. I can’t go to the hospital without it.”

“You are going to the hospital without it,” Scott told her. “We’ll send someone over to get it.”

“I can go and get it, and bring it to you,” Peg said.

That meant Peg would be there for the delivery. Emily wondered how well that would go over with Scott. She remembered how much Garret had resented his mother-in-law being in the delivery room.

“What about the kids?” Dan asked. Chloe was sleeping on his chest.

“I can take them home,” Emily said. “It will only take a few minutes to switch the car seats over to my car.”

“Yes, go ahead and do that, Emily. Scott, you get Melanie to the hospital as quickly as possible,” Peg said.

Peg, Scott and Melanie left. Chloe woke up during the commotion. Emily buckled her and Cody into their car seats, and they fell asleep on the way back to Garret’s house.

Garret was putting the lawn mower in the garage when Emily drove in. He was surprised to see her car.

“What happened to Peg?”

“Melanie started labor, so Scott rushed her to the hospital.”

“Is Peg going to be with her?”

“I don’t know. Scott and Melanie left in a hurry. Peg went to pick up Mel’s hospital bag and take it to her.”

“I wonder if Scott wants her there,” Garret said, his mouth twisted as if remembering how it felt to have his mother-in-law waiting with him while the doctor did Julie’s C-section.

Garret unbuckled Chloe and started for the house. “If I go in and put her right down, she’ll stay sleeping. If I juggle her and Cody both, they’ll both wake up. And it’s naptime.” When Emily reached for Cody, Garret reached out to stop her. “I’ll come back for him. You don’t need to carry him all the way in.”

“I don’t mind—”

Emily bit her lip as Garret frowned at her.

“I’ve got this.”

“Okay, then. I’ll just stand guard,” she said, aiming for humor. It worked. His face relaxed into a grin before he turned and walked towards the house. She looked around the yard and could tell he had mowed. He had apparently not spent the whole time at the office like they had thought he would.

 Garret looked guilty when he came back out to the car. “I worked two hours,” Garret said. “Then I came home to get some work done. I didn’t think it mattered, that’s what I do when my mom is here.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway. And I’m sorry if there is a misunderstanding about the housework.”

 He didn’t ask what she was talking about. That meant he was aware that she hadn’t done any laundry or extra cleaning. Of course he would be aware of that fact.

 “No misunderstanding. You volunteered to watch the kids, not clean the house. And I’ve noticed you mop up the floor after they eat and pick up their toys. As much as Cody will let you, anyway. I swear the more I try to pick them up the faster he gets them out.”

“It’s like a game to him, I think.”

He grimaced. “Fun game.”

“Do you need any help, with anything?” Emily asked.

He hoisted Cody onto his shoulder. “Not that I can think of. These car seats are Peg’s, right?”

“Yeah, they go back with me.”

“Your car isn’t very big for hauling two car seats around.”

“No, not really. But it isn’t too hard to get them in and out of the seats. Just a lot of bending and stretching.” She laughed. “I didn’t realize that taking care of fifteen-month-olds are a workout.”

“I have a hard time keeping track of how many months old they are,” he admitted. “I just say ‘a little over a year old.’ Pretty soon I’ll say, ‘almost eighteen months’, then we go from there.”

“I had to do the math quickly to get that one.”

He stood looking at her for a long moment. “You really don’t mind watching them, do you?”

            “No, I really don’t. I know that surprises you, but I enjoy watching them. The things that they learn to do, the way they move, and giggle, and—” She stopped. “I know that sounds ridiculous.”

“You need kids of your own.”

He meant his words sincerely, and that is what made them hurt so much. Emily almost desperately wanted kids of her own. She just had never had the chance to make that happen.

“I guess I’ll go back and wait out the news with Uncle Dan,” Emily said.

“You’ll have to let me know what Mel has.”

Emily was relieved to see a trace of affection for Melanie in his expression. She knew he had always thought of and treated Melanie like a sister, not a sister-in-law. “All right. I guess you’re going to be an uncle soon.”

A smile hovered about his lips, but it could not quite manage to stay.

When she returned to her aunt’s house, Dan said that Peg stayed at the hospital with Melanie and Scott.

“I hope she does okay with it,” he said, his tone worried.

“I’m sure she will,” Emily tried to be encouraging.

He grinned, as if he knew she did not believe what she was saying. “You know your aunt Peg.”

“I do know her.” Emily thought now was the right time to bring up a concern. “Do you know why she is so hard on Garret?”

“She never did really get along with him, even when Julie was alive.”

“I know they had their differences, but she seems almost—hateful—towards him now.”

“She misses Julie so much that it nearly eats her alive,” Dan said. “She wrapped herself up in taking care of those kids because she was doing it for Julie, she said. But she is really doing it for herself. They’re all she’s got left of Julie, and she can’t let them go.”

“It isn’t healthy, for any of them. And it’s hard on Garret.”

His eyes narrowed. “Since when do you take Garret’s side over your aunt’s? Families stick together.”

“I always thought Garret was family,” Emily said honestly. “That’s why I can’t stand to see how she treats him with almost—contempt.”

“They both need a lot of prayer.”

“I can see that.” Emily added her aunt Peg to her prayer list along with Garret.

Peg came home at six o’clock, excited and exhausted. “Melanie did great. They have a healthy baby boy.”

Emily figured Scott was pretty tickled to have a boy. He was such a sports nut that he would soon have a ball in his son’s hand.

“That’s good news,” Dan said.

“It is good news,” Emily echoed, feeling a little nostalgic. Her little cousin was all grown up and a mother now. Before she could start the “poor me” litany that often accompanied that kind of thinking, she asked, “What were they naming him again?”

“Lance. Lance Prescott.”

“Cute name,” Emily said. “Do you have pictures?”

“Oh, yes. Let me get my phone. Scott took some for me. I never know how this smartphone works.”

The pictures were of a red-faced baby with a fluff of brown fuzz, squinty eyes and a nose that was almost too big for his face.

“Yep, just as I thought,” Dan said, leaning back after looking at the photos.

“What did you think? Who does he look like?” Emily asked.

“He looks like a baby.”

“Oh, you!” Peg scolded him. “I thought we could go to the hospital after church tomorrow so you can see him, Emily. Your uncle isn’t going to be able to leave the house yet, and I want someone to go to church with me.”

“I think I am going to be laid up for a while, according to my doctor,” Dan said with a scowl.

“He wouldn’t let me fix supper for him, Aunt Peg,” Emily said. “He said you would fix him a plate of leftovers when you got home.”

“I’ll go do that. Do you want to come and fix a plate for yourself?”

“I think I will have some more of your potato salad. It tastes just like mom’s.”

“No surprise there, since we both make it the way our mom did.”

Yup, her mom and Peg were sisters, just like Melanie and Julie. That thought just made the birth of Julie’s nephew bittersweet.

***

The next morning at church, Peg introduced Emily to the associate pastor who taught the single adults’ Bible study. He was tall, with thick dark hair and the body of an ex-football player. His wife was nearly as tall as he was. She carried a baby girl on her hip, and he had a toddler boy in one arm. Their smiles were warm and friendly.

“This is Pastor Russ and Denise. This is my niece, Emily.”

“Glad to meet you, Emily.” Denise’s greeting was sincere. “We hear you’ve taken on the big job of babysitting those busy twins.”

“Anytime you want to take on two more, let us know.” Russ jostled the toddler on his hip. “These two are only eleven months apart, so it feels like we have twins at times.”

“Emily teaches kindergarten, so she’s used to twenty children at once,” Peg said.

“Yes, but they’re all potty trained,” Emily joked.

“Can you imagine changing that many diapers if they weren’t?” Denise rolled her eyes.

“Emily, we hope you can get in on some of our singles activities this summer.” Russ handed Emily a flier. “This lists some of our upcoming events. In fact, this coming Friday we have a cook-out and volleyball game planned.”

“That sounds good,” Emily said, hoping she did not seem too eager. Maybe this summer would be her chance to meet someone.

After church, holding Melanie’s new baby in the hospital room, Emily’s longing for a husband and a family of her own hit her hard. Melanie looked exhausted but ecstatic, the same expression on her face that Emily recalled Julie had shortly after the birth of the twins. Scott looked so happy and proud that he seemed about to burst. There would be nothing sweeter than to hold her own newborn infant in her arms, with a proud, happy husband beside her.

“He’s adorable,” Emily said. She handed the baby back to Melanie, but Peg stepped in and took him, instead. Emily recalled Garret’s warning of the night before. Peg’s tendencies to step in and take control over her grandchildren would have to be curbed, but she was sure no one would deny the grandmother the privilege today of holding her new grandson for a few minutes longer.

Emily handed a gift-wrapped box to Melanie. Her cousin’s face shone with delight as she held up a little baseball uniform. “It’s perfect, Em,” Melanie said with delight. “

“I figured he’s going to have to learn baseball before he can walk, if Scott has anything to say about it.”

Scott grinned. “I might give him a chance to grow up a little, but I can’t wait until he’s big enough to teach him how to swing a bat.”

“Maybe he won’t like it,” Peg said seriously. “A lot of parents push their children into sports before they’re ready, just because they played sports in high school or college.”

“Oh, Mom.” Melanie looked annoyed with her mom’s warning. “You know Scott isn’t like that.”

Peg’s words had definitely put a wrench in their happy moment.

Scott’s sister and her husband walked into the room. After a brief exchange of greetings and congratulations, Peg handed the baby over to Scott’s sister. Emily leaned down to give Melanie a quick hug. “Take care. I’ll stop back by later this week.”

“Oh, bring the twins over to see him,” Melanie pleaded. “I can’t wait to see their reaction to their new little cousin.”

“I don’t think we should bring them to the hospital,” Peg said. “Maybe when you get home and have a chance to rest, we can bring them over to see you and the baby. Right now, we have to get out of this room before the nurse kicks us out. I’m sure there’s a limit on how many can be in here at once.”

On the way back to her house, Peg said, “I was talking to Melanie. She will need some help with the baby while she is recovering from her C-section. Scott was offered paternal leave, but he wouldn’t get paid for it. He’s only taking off this week and next, as they can’t afford to lose his pay.”

“That makes sense, but won’t Melanie have a hard time getting around yet then?” Julie had been unable to fully take care of the twins for the first month after her C-section.

Peg nodded. “Would you consider staying on through the month of July? We can pay you for your time.”

“There’s no reason to pay me,” Emily said. “And I won’t mind staying.”

She thought of the singles’ group activities that she had read about on the flier the associate pastor had given her. She attended a singles’ group at home, but it was a small country church. She wanted to find a Christian husband, and there were not too many prospects there.  She wasn’t going to admit it to anyone, but the idea of spending a few weeks visiting Peg’s church and attending a few singles’ events appealed to her. If she were to continue to watch the twins for the next three weeks, she would stay on here in the city with her aunt and uncle, and attend their church on weekends without anyone questioning her reason.

“I just have to make arrangements for my garden, and find someone to take my place in Sunday school.” She was a teacher for the kindergarten class in Sunday school, but she thought they could find a substitute.

 She called her mom, first.

 “I think that it would be good for Peg to have a longer break,” her mom said. “She has put all of her time and energy into Julie’s kids since she’s been gone. It will be good for her to focus on Melanie and the new baby for a while. Maybe get some joy back in her life.”

In doing so, Emily wondered if Peg would take the joy out of Melanie and Scott’s lives like she had done with Julie in the early months with Chloe and Cody.

 “I think I will call the pastor’s wife and ask her if she would like to take over my garden, and have the produce from it,” Emily said.

“That sounds like a good plan. With their four kids, I’m sure she can use the extra. What about your Sunday school class?”

Emily decided to tease her mom. “I thought you could take over for me.”

Her mom took her seriously. “Oh, no, Emily! You know I don’t work well with little children.” Then she scolded, “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I’m going to ask the pastor’s wife if she can find a substitute, so I can stay in the city on weekends and attend Aunt Peg’s church.”

 “That would be good for you, Em. Maybe you will meet some new friends.”

 Her mom wasn’t fooling her. Emily knew her parents prayed for her to find a Christian husband.

End of Chapter 5.

Come back next Saturday, April 10, to read the next chapter in the 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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