Substitute Family Chapter 11

Chapter 11

After Emily left Garret’s house, she drove across the city to the suburb where her aunt and uncle lived. Her mind raced with the news of Garret’s transfer to Dallas. What would that mean for Cody and Chloe? She was so angry with him, yet she could see how much he wanted the change that the transfer would give him.

Emily was nearly sick with disappointment that Garret might give up his kids—Julie’s babies, even for a few months. And the alternative, for him to take them so far away and find strangers to take care of them, did not sound like a good plan.

Emily knew they were Julie’s children, and she had no claim over them, but she had grown to love Chloe and Cody very much already. She only had a few more weeks with them before she would have to give up spending time with them and go back to teaching.

It was unfair of Garret to ask her aunt and uncle to take on the task of caring for the kids in his absence. Peg had already decided she wouldn’t want the kids five days a week. How would she handle them 24/7?

It was unfair to Chloe and Cody, also, for him to leave them for so many months. They had already lost their mom, and she knew that had been traumatic for them. Having Garret go away was going to be hard on them as well.

And what if Garret decided he did not want the responsibility of raising them anymore? What would happen then?

She greeted her aunt and uncle, then went downstairs to pack a bag for the weekend. She included the garment bag that held the dress for her friend’s wedding. Peg had gone with her to help pick it out. She was looking forward to seeing her friend get married, but it only drove home the fact that she had never been a bride herself.

After she left Peg’s house, Emily swung through a drive thru before she turned onto the freeway. In the thick Friday evening traffic, she sipped her diet cola and ate her fries with one hand while she followed the traffic out of the city to where she lived an hour north.

By the time the traffic thinned and she was half an hour from her parents’ home, where she would be spending the weekend, she’d decided that she might be the best person to take care of the twins while Garret went to Dallas.

The thought of going back to work in the fall, and leaving her cousin’s children, had already put Emily in turmoil. Now that Garret needed a live-in caregiver, she wondered if it would really be possible to stay on and care for them herself. She could move into the house, after Garret was gone, and she could be there day and night for the twins. They were already used to her. She was sure that her aunt and uncle, and Melanie, would help out with their care. She would not be totally on her own.

She could check with the school to see what it would take to get a temporary leave of absence. Her mom would be angry to hear that she was even just thinking about the idea. Her mom had never understood how Emily chose a career in teaching over something in business. Yet she’d been proud when Emily got the full-time teaching position in their small school district.

Emily could almost hear her mom now. “Emily, you’re not taking a leave of absence, you’re taking leave of your senses.”

To pass through her hometown to get to the ten acres outside of town where her parents lived, Emily had to pass by the little cottage that she’d called home for the past five years. She loved her little cottage, which had been the library when the town was new. She’d put a lot of time and money into remodeling, and had it just the way she wanted it.

She had a temporary renter, so she couldn’t stay there this weekend. The pastor’s sister was a missionary on furlough, and she had been ill. She hadn’t been getting any rest with the pastor’s four noisy children in the house. When the pastor had mentioned that fact to Emily’s dad, he’d suggested she stay in Emily’s house for a few weeks, while she was out of town. Emily had reluctantly agreed. Her cottage was her pride and joy.

If she decided to stay on at Garret’s as full-time nanny, she wouldn’t be returning home for three months. Maybe the missionary would stay and pay Emily rent, which would help make her mortgage payments. Her parents had financed the home themselves, and they’d told her when she left that she could skip the payments this summer. She wouldn’t want to do that for a prolonged period, though.

Emily sighed as she came upon the old farmhouse that had been in her father’s family for three generations. Her mom hadn’t wanted to move there, but she had seen the value of keeping the ten acres left from the old farmstead in the family.

Her mom met her at the door. Emily dropped her suitcase, one hand still holding the garmet bag off the ground, and hugged her mother.

“It’s so good to see you.”

Emily laughed. “You just saw me on the Fourth of July.”

“I know, but I miss our Sunday dinners with you. I wish you hadn’t decided to stay at Peg’s over the weekends and come home, instead.”

Emily felt only a slight sense of guilt. She’d enjoyed attending the large city church with her aunt, and had gotten to know the associate pastor and his wife quite well. She was missing a singles’ event this weekend by coming home for the wedding. At this rate, the summer would be over and she won’t have met any new people.

Her mom had remodeled her old room and it had a daybed in it, and an old-fashioned desk and chair. It was a very peaceful-looking room. Emily hung the garment bag in the closet, and put her clothes away in the dresser, which was still empty. She missed her antique wardrobe. She’d found it at an auction a couple of years ago and with her dad’s help, had stripped it down and refinished it. Since her cottage bedroom didn’t have a closet, it was an important piece of furniture for her. It was the only thing of value that she really owned, besides electronics.

She joined her mom in the sunroom, where there were glasses of tea and a plate of triangle sandwiches waiting for her. She didn’t have the heart to tell her mom that she had filled up on fries and a cheeseburger on the way home.

Looking through the screened-in windows at the backyard, which stretched into an orchard, Emily sighed. “I’ve missed this view.”

“You don’t like being a city girl?”

Emily had thought about that question a lot during the past few weeks.

“Aunt Peg has a nice big lot, and their backyard is private, but you can still see houses in every direction. Julie’s house is too close to the other ones around it. Even when you’re in the back yard, it seems like you’re looking in everyone else’s back yard as well.”

“I never liked the city, either. Your dad was more thrilled than I was about buying the old family farm, but I guess now I wouldn’t trade living here for anything.”

When Emily’s dad came home from work, he uncovered the gas grill and started it up. Emily’s mom insisted that she stay outside and visit with her dad, while she finished the dinner preparations in the house.

“Glad to have you back home, Em.”

“I’m glad I have a few days away. I love spending time with the twins, but spending the weekends with Aunt Peg, well—”

Her dad laughed. “You don’t even have to say it. I’ve had to rein in my thoughts all my married life on your aunt’s controlling nature. But you’re enjoying taking care of the twins?”

Emily decided an honest answer was best. “I’ve grown pretty attached to them this summer. It’s going to be hard to leave them and go back to teaching.”

Her dad studied her thoughtfully, reading between the lines of what she’d said.

“You’re not thinking of quitting your job and staying there, are you?”

Emily wondered if Garret would be angry if she mentioned the transfer to her dad. She knew he was already determined to go to Dallas, so she did not think he would mind. If she was really thinking of taking a leave of absence from teaching in order to keep the twins, then she wanted to have her dad’s opinion on it. He was practical and wise, but he would not tend to get upset as her mom would.

“Garret’s going to go to Dallas for three months.”

Her dad’s eyebrows rose. “You’re going with him?”

Emily laughed. That hadn’t even figured into her mind. “No, nothing like that. His company is starting a new branch there and offered him a promotion if he would take on the manager position. Someone else backed out at the last minute. They’ll give him a three-month trial period, and—well, he doesn’t plan to take the twins with him for that first three months.”

“So you’re thinking of staying on as the babysitter, while he’s gone? What does he think of the idea?”

“Well, I haven’t told him yet. I just came up with the idea myself on the drive home. He’s planning to ask Peg and Dan to keep the kids, but on the way home today, I was trying to figure out a way that I could take a three-month leave of absence and—”

Her dad gently shook his head, and Emily’s voice trailed off. She turned to see her mom walking out of the house, carrying an empty platter.

“How are those steaks coming?” She looked from Emily to her dad, then back again. Emily felt her face flush with guilt. “What’s going on?”

Emily didn’t like to keep anything from her mom, but she would be on the phone with Aunt Peg as soon as she found out what Garret was planning. Unless Emily could convince her to wait and let Garret tell them the news. But she didn’t want the whole weekend spoiled by upsetting her  mom.

Her dad winked at Emily. “We were just having a heart-to-heart chat.”

“Let’s get these steaks plated and eat,” Geri said.

After they said grace, Emily reached for the bowl of potato salad. She knew it would taste just like Aunt Peg’s, as the two were sisters and it was their mother’s recipe.

 “Your brother just told us that he became engaged.”

“When did he meet someone?” As far as Emily knew, he’d been overseas for the past few months and had only just arrived at his base in Seattle.

“He said he met her last winter, and they’ve been corresponding and video chatting for while he was away. He came home and bought a diamond ring and proposed.”

“I hope she’s nice.” Emily thought of her easy-going, kind-hearted younger brother. It was  no surprise that he’d found someone he would care about enough to marry. But the thought of his getting married before she did bothered Emily. She did not want to admit that to her parents, but she was sure they understood, anyway.

“I guess we’ll find out. He’s going to bring her here for Christmas, and they’ll stay a few days,” Geri said. “We’ll all have a chance to get to know her.”

“What’s her name?” Emily asked.

Geri looked in surprise at her husband. “Did he ever tell us her name?”

Bob shrugged. “You’ll have to look at the letter after we eat, but I don’t think he did call her by name.”

Emily lifted her glass of iced tea as though in a toast. With a grin, she said, “Here’s to your future daughter-in-law and to my future sister-in-law, who shall remain nameless.”

“Oh, Emily,” Geri scolded, although she was smiling. Bob chuckled and lifted his glass, clinking it against Emily’s lightly in response to her toast.

The evening passed in a light mood, as Emily enjoyed the company of her parents after several weeks away.

In the morning, they went to the local restaurant for brunch, and afterwards, Emily and her mom went shopping. Emily picked up a pair of denim shorts and two cotton shirts in bright colors, since the summer clothes were on clearance. She also picked out a wedding gift from her friend’s bridal registry, along with a card and wrapping paper.

After a light lunch of salad and sandwiches, Emily showered and dressed for the wedding. The bride was a young woman who had worked as a student teacher this past spring in Emily’s class. Emily’s friend and co- worker, Mary, was coming to pick her up so they could attend the wedding together.

Emily dressed and curled her dark blond hair around her shoulders, instead of pulling it back in her usual braid or ponytail. She carried forty pounds too much for her height, but when she was younger, but she felt pretty and feminine in her new dress.

When her friend pulled into the driveway, Emily picked up the slim white purse she had borrowed from her mom, and the wedding gift.

“How has your vacation been going?” Emily asked.

“It doesn’t seem like much of a summer vacation when I teach summer school,” Mary admitted. “I’ll be ready to go back to my regular job, though. Having mixed age groups during the summer is more difficult. Are you ready to go back?”

Emily didn’t reply right away. She didn’t want to lie. Mary looked surprised. “You’re not ready, are you?”

“Not really. I’ve enjoyed taking care of the twins, and spending time with my relatives.”

“Any boyfriend yet?” Emily shook her head. “That’s too bad. I was hoping you would find someone special this summer.”

“So was I,” Emily sighed, then laughed. “Actually, I haven’t had much time to meet anyone.”

They arrived at the church, and were quietly ushered into a seat by one of the young men in tuxedos. The wedding was beautiful, and Kami looked radiant in her traditional white gown and veil. Emily was happy for her friend, but felt sad at the same time, for herself. She wondered as she did at every wedding she attended whether she would ever be a bride.

After the wedding, Emily followed Mary through the receiving line. Kami hugged her, and exclaimed loudly, “My gosh, don’t you look good, Emily! Any steady boyfriend yet?” Emily shook her head. “That’s too bad. I was hoping you would run off and marry someone in the city, so that I could have your job this fall.”

“You haven’t found one yet?”

“Not yet.” Kami made a face. “At least, not within driving distance. But we love it here, so I’ll just sub until something opens up.” She grasped her new husband’s elbow and squeezed it.

At the reception hall, Emily and Mary sat down at a table and sipped punch while waiting for the bridal party to arrive. The school principal and his wife sat down across from them.

“Are you ready to go back to work, Emily?”

“What if I said no?” she responded flippantly.

He looked horrified. “You’re joking, right?”

“What are the possibilities of a single person applying for a temporary leave of absence?”

His eyes narrowed. “How temporary?”

“Three months.”

He wore the stern look that she had seen him use for unruly students. She held his gaze, though, confident that she was making the right choice.

“If you’re serious about this, you come and see me at the school first thing Monday morning.”

“Are you that attached to the twins?” Mary’s question broke into Emily’s thoughts. Emily realized her friend had taken in the whole conversation. “Or is there someone else you’re attached to that you are not telling me about?”

Emily shrugged. “I told you, I didn’t even get asked out on a date this summer.”

“I thought maybe it was the twins’ daddy you’ve grown attached to.”

Emily could feel the fiery heat in her face. “Nothing like that. Garret is still in love with Julie, and it hasn’t been quite a year since she passed away.”

“But if it had been longer, and if he were interested, would you be?”

“That’s not even a possibility, Mary, and you ought to know it,” Emily

said firmly. “I’m not anything like Julie.”

The next day, Emily called Garret. He was surprised to hear from her. “What’s wrong? Did you call me to say you’re not coming back?”

The worry in his voice made her speak right up about the reason she called. “Not at all. I called to tell you I want to take care of the twins during the three months that you’re gone.”

“How can you? You’re supposed to go back to school in a couple of weeks.”

“I’m going to check into getting a leave of absence. I know it’s a slim chance I’ll get it, but I thought they could get a substitute for me at the school easier than getting someone to care for the twins.”

“That’s true. I did not want to ask Peg and Dan to watch them 24/7 while I was gone.”

“I’m not sure how they will feel about me staying on.”

“What did your parents say, or haven’t you told them yet?”

She had told her mom this morning at brunch that she was thinking of taking a leave of absence from teaching to be the temporary nanny. Her mom had responded pretty much the way she had thought she would, saying that she had taken a leave of her senses.

“My dad is all right with it. Mom is pretty upset. But, I’m 29, so there’s not a lot she can say.”

“Are you sure you can handle it, Em?”

“I’d do my best.”

“I know you would. You would be my first pick for taking care of them, with your experience as a teacher. You’ve done a good job with them this summer.”

She warmed under his unexpected praise. “If you’re okay with it, then, I’ll check with my boss tomorrow.”

“I’m more than okay with it. Let me know what you find out.”

Emily showed up at the school bright and early on Monday morning. The principal was surprised to see her walk into his office, and he was noticeably concerned. His worried expression deepened when she explained why she was asking for a three-month leave of absence.

“I just don’t know how we would do it. We’d have to hire a sub in your absence.”

“I have some vacation and sick time accumulated. What about using some of that, and taking the rest unpaid?”

“Can you afford to take an unpaid leave?” He was clearly surprised.

“I have minimal expenses, and I have a possible renter for my cottage.” Her dad had spoken to the missionary. The woman had recuperated from her surgery, but she wanted to remain close to her brother until she had to return to the mission field in November. It worked out perfectly for her to rent Emily’s cottage, and the rent would help with her mortgage payment.

“Well, are you sure I can’t talk you out of this? We are counting on you, you know. You are one of our best teachers, and the kids really like you.”

“I like teaching. But there are two little babies whose lives are going to be turned upside down again, and they’re too young to understand what’s happening to them. I feel like they need me more than the school does right now. There are some good subs out there.”

“Long-term subs are harder to find.”

“If I were having a baby, then I could get maternity leave with no questions asked. But since I’m asking for a leave to take care of someone else’s children, it’s a problem.” At Emily’s frankness, the principal’s face reddened.

“I don’t know if you remember,” he said, “but my wife had a battle with cancer ten years ago. Two of the kids were in school and two were still at home. I was trying to hold down my job teaching, and still be there for Brady when she needed me. She was so sick from the chemo and radiation that she could not do anything for months.” A mist of tears glistened in his eyes for a brief moment, and he blinked them back, clearing his throat. “If it had not been for the help of family members and friends who stepped in, I don’t know how we would have made it through.” Then in a brisk, professional tone, he added, “I’ll do what I can to get you three- month extended leave of absence. I’ll leave it open-ended, so you can come back early if you want to.”

After leaving the school, Emily stopped by her house to visit with the missionary nurse who was renting. She was pleased to see that the house was neat as a pin, and just the way she had left it. As she drank tea with Rhoda, she surprised even herself by saying that Rhoda could feel free to make minor changes in decorating, as long as she did not change the wallpaper or paint.

Rhoda laughed. “You don’t know me very well. I despise painting or wallpapering or anything of the sort. I would like to try my hand on some landscaping, though.” Emily was pleased with the ideas Rhoda outlined for the yard and gave her the go-ahead.

“Make sure you keep track of your expenses so I can reimburse you,” she said.

“I would just count it as part of the rent, since you aren’t charging very much. Are you sure you should give up your job and your home for three months?”

Emily explained the decision she was considering making, and why. “I just feel that those two children of Julie’s need me more than the school does, at this point. If Garret is really sure that this transfer is the right decision for his future, and chooses not to take the twins along to Dallas right away, then I would like to stay with them, and help keep some stability in their lives.”

The missionary’s eyes were full of compassion. “I’ll certainly remember you in my prayers, Emily. They are blessed to have someone so willing to stay with them while their dad is getting his life back together.”

End of Chapter 11.

Come back next Saturday, May 22 to read Chapter 12 of 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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