Substitute Family Chapter 8

Chapter 8

It was Sunday, and the day of the dedication of Garret’s new nephew. That is, if he was still an uncle, when he wasn’t married to the baby’s aunt anymore. Garret decided to go for Melanie’s sake. He woke up early and got his shower in before the twins woke up. That was getting to be tricky, with Chloe being such an early riser. He threw on a pair of sweats after his shower and went to get her out of her crib. The smile she gave him melted his heart a little. She was so pretty, a miniature of Julie.

He was already worried about what he would do when she became a teenager and some kid wanted to pick her up for a date. His protective instincts would kick in then. He’d grown up with two examples of how men treated women. His own father had been an alcoholic, and he beat Garret, his mom and brother when he went on drunken binges. On the other hand, his stepfather married his mom when he was a teenager. To this day, his stepfather treated his mother like she was the most precious thing in the world to him.

That kind of love Garret understood. He’d felt it for Julie. There was nothing he wouldn’t have done, and hadn’t done, to make her happy, because he’d loved to see her face light up when she smiled.

The piece of his heart that Chloe’s smile had melted hardened again. It went against what he believed about the goodness of God to know that Julie’s life had been taken unnecessarily when her babies, when he, had needed her. That’s why getting ready for church this morning seemed like a heavy weight dragging him down. If he doubted the goodness of God, then what was left of his faith?

He fed the kids their breakfast and played with them until about an hour before they had to leave. He discovered that the dress Peg had bought Chloe for Easter was almost too small for her, and he could only find one patent leather shoe. He ended up putting her little high tops on with her dress. It was cute, but he cringed when he thought about what Peg would say.

When he tried to dress Cody in the button down shirt and dress pants that were also an Easter gift from Peg, they were too small, also. Running out of time, Garret put a clean T-shirt and a pair of shorts on Cody. At least he could find Cody’s shoes. Wetting Cody’s hair down and trying to comb it into submission proved futile. Garret’s mom had told him a few times that when he was little, his hair had been untameable like Cody’s. Garret was almost out the door before he realized he hadn’t combed his own hair or brushed his teeth.

By the time the kids were buckled into their seats and he backed out of the driveway, church was almost ready to start. He considered going back into the house and forgetting about it, but that wouldn’t be fair to Mel. He still thought of her as a kid sister. He hadn’t promised that he would show up, but he wanted to do that for her.

Julie would have wanted him to.

He drove the few blocks to the church and parked in the closest space he could find, but even rushing the kids out of their car seats and taking long steps across the parking lot, he was still almost ten minutes late.

He nodded to the greeters, his hands occupied with holding both kids and a diaper bag slung over his shoulder. He was afraid to let Cody down, as his son liked to run.

Then he saw Emily standing near one of the doors that led into the sanctuary. She’d been waiting for him.

“Mem!” Cody shouted. Emily walked up to them and took Cody into her arms. Her smile was bright as she kissed his cheek. Then she turned to Chloe and touched the ruffle of her skirt. “Don’t you two look cute today.” Her eyes lifted to meet Garret’s. “Hi, Garret. Glad you made it.”

 “We almost didn’t. Do you have any idea how much time it takes to get these two ready?”

Emily smiled. “I know it’s not easy. Do you want to put them in the nursery?”

“I don’t know if they’ll stay. Can we just take them in with us?”

“Sure. If they start to fuss, we can take them out later.”

Emily led the way into the church. Melanie and Scott were seated near the back of the sanctuary, and the rest of their pew was open. Melanie looked up as Emily slid into the pew. Her eyes landed on Cody, then flew to Chloe and finally to Garret’s. Her smile stretched across her face.

“I think you made her day,” Emily whispered. Garret nodded and returned Melanie’s smile.

During worship, Garret and Emily each held one of the toddlers, who were fascinated by the music and everyone singing around them. Emily held Cody, but when he started to wiggle, Garret suggested they switch. Chloe did not move around as much as Cody and would be easier for Emily to hold.

The baby dedication followed the worship time. Both sets of grandparents, as well as Scott’s sister and brother-in-law, went forward with Melanie and Scott and the baby. Remembering doing the same thing with Julie not long ago, with Melanie and Scott standing up with them, brought a lump to Garret’s throat. His grief was almost unbearable. He suffered through it, for Mel.

            After the preaching started, Cody grew restless and noisy. Emily leaned over and whispered to Garret that she would take him to the nursery. She was gone a few minutes. When she returned, she slid into the seat next to Garret. “He loves it,” she whispered.

He nodded his thanks.

Chloe sat quietly on Garret’s lap during the sermon. When the church service ended, Melanie walked up to Garret and held Lance up proudly. “See your new little nephew?”

Garret gathered strength from deep within and smiled. “He looks like a ball player.” He directed his comment to Scott, who stood behind Melanie, a proud grin on his face. Had Garret looked that happy when he and Julie had the twins dedicated? He remembered only how stressful that morning had been, with Julie wanting everyone to look perfect.

Peg walked over to their little group. She fussed over the kids for a couple of minutes. Then she turned to Garret and smiled tightly. “We’re having a cookout for everyone over at our house, Garret. Do you think you could bring the kids over?”

Garret hesitated, but he glanced over at Melanie. The hopeful look on her face reminded him of Julie. He had not been to dinner at his in-laws since Julie’s death. While he did not relish the idea of going there this afternoon, he didn’t want to disappoint his sister-in-law.

“I guess I could bring them for a little while. Em do you want to go with me to get Cody out of the nursery, and ride over to Peg’s with us?”

Emily looked surprised at his suggestion, but she nodded. They collected Cody at the nursery door. The monitor for the day had been a friend of Julie’s.

“Cody was really good in here. You’ll have to bring him back sometime.”

Her tone hinted that she thought it was time Garret returned to church. Garret felt his throat tighten. He nodded, scooped Cody into his arms, and turned away.

“Are you in a hurry?” Emily’s voice came from behind him. He looked over his shoulder. She was a few feet back from him, holding tightly to Chloe.

“I’m sorry.” Garret slowed his steps. They didn’t stop to talk to anyone on the way out of the church. “It’s really hard to be here.”

Emily opened the back door on the passenger side and buckled Chloe into her car seat. Garret did the same with Cody.

On the way over to Peg and Dan’s, Garret was quiet. He was glad that Emily did not press him for conversation. His heart began to pound as he turned onto their street. “I haven’t been over here since Julie died.”

“It’s probably pretty hard to be around the places where you spent so much time with Julie, isn’t it?”

He was surprised at how accurate Emily was. “That’s exactly how I feel. Everywhere I look, I see Julie and remember what it was like when she was alive. And it’s hard to face the fact that she’s never coming back.”

“They feel that way, too, Garret. They’re all hurting. Having you there today will help heal that hurt, even though it doesn’t seem like it to you.”

 Garret nodded, but he did not say anything in response as he parked along the street in front of the house. Emily helped him by lifting Chloe from her car seat. Garret set Cody down and he ran across the yard. Peg scooped him up and hugged him, but typical Cody, he wanted down. By then Garret and Emily had reached the group. Peg took Chloe from Emily, and the toddler snuggled in Peg’s arms. Garret was glad to see that Chloe, despite needing a nap, was not fussy yet.

Melanie was seated on a chaise lawn chair, with her legs stretched out in front of her. Dan sat in another one, his leg in its huge cast taking up most of the seat. He walked up and shook Dan’s hand.

“Garret, it’s good to see you.”

Garret felt guilty at Dan’s heartfelt greeting. He’d seen his father-in-law in passing, when he came with Peg to pick up or drop off the kids on the few weekends they had taken them. Dan waved towards a camp chair set near his. “Have a seat and tell me how your work project is going.”

Garret had just started explaining what a big deal the new project was when Scott’s sister, Shellie, who’d been holding the baby, walked over to him. He started to protest when he realized she expected him to hold the newborn.

“When they’re this little, they frighten me.” That was the truth. The twins had only weighed five pounds at birth. He’d been afraid to hold them at first, worried that he would drop them or break them.

Shellie shook her head. “No excuses, Uncle Garret. Got the camera out, Scott?” She placed the baby in Garret’s arms. “There, now, don’t you drop him.” She smiled and backed away.

Garret studied his nephew. The brown fuzz at the top of his head was just barely noticeable, and his eyes were closed. There was not much to look at in a newborn baby, but Garret felt the stirring of affection. He was this baby’s uncle, despite being unrelated by blood and now separated from the family through Julie’s death. He smiled for the camera as Scott took a couple of pictures. He noticed Emily got out her phone and took some pictures, also.

When she put her phone back into her pocket, Garret caught her eye. She smiled in encouragement. He took advantage of the moment to get out of an awkward situation.

“I think Emily wants a turn to hold the little guy.”

He was grateful when she cued into his discomfort and walked over to him. She reached out, and he handed the baby over carefully.

Emily looked good holding the newborn. She’d made no secret of the fact that she’d like a family of her own. He wondered why she hadn’t found a husband yet. She was pretty, and had a great sense of humor. She used to be shy, but she’d outgrown that since college. She’d make someone a good wife, Garret thought as he watched her walk away.

He caught Dan’s eye, who regarded him with a curious expression. Garret turned his attention to Cody, who was running around the yard with Shellie’s two kids. Scott’s dad was manning the grill, and the smell of brats and burgers cooking was mouthwatering.

Peg walked over with Chloe in her arms. She intended on handing her to Dan, but Chloe dove for Garret, instead. He settled his daughter on his lap and entered into conversation with Scott, who’d sat down in a chair near him.

He heard the newborn cry, and Scott got up to help Melanie stand. She winced in pain, and Garret sympathized. He remembered the pain Julie had been in for weeks following her C-section.

The women all disappeared into the house, and returned with bowls of food, sans Melanie.

“How’s she doing?” Scott asked. He carried the look of a man who was concerned about his wife’s health. Garret knew the feeling well.

“She’s feeding the baby,” Shellie said. “They’re fine.”

 When the food was ready, Peg stepped up to Garret.

“I’ll fix plates for them. I know what they’ll eat.”

Garret bit his tongue. He knew what the kids ate as well. But it wasn’t worth arguing over. She’d brought out their highchairs, but Chloe wouldn’t sit in hers. Garret held her on his lap, balancing her plate. He would get his food later.

Peg frowned. “You’re spoiling her.”

“He should.” It was Scott’s mom who spoke up. “They’re only this little once.”

Any enjoyment Garret had felt went out of the day. As soon as he finished eating, and Cody had been washed up by Peg, he picked up both kids and headed towards his car. When Emily moved to help him, he shook his head. He’d been doing this for almost nine months by himself, and he didn’t want any more family time today.

End of Chapter 8.

Come back next Saturday, April 24, 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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