Substitute Family Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Since Emily hadn’t come back from her parents’ house by Monday morning, so it was Peg who greeted Garret when he opened the door.

“Emily’s coming at noon, so you will see her when you get home tonight,” Peg said. “Did she seem distracted to you on Friday?”

No, she’d been fully involved in their discussion, Garret thought. He felt guilty that he couldn’t share anything with Peg about the transfer to Dallas. She deserved to know, and he needed to know if she would watch the kids 24/7 while he was gone. But Emily had asked him to wait so she could pray about his decision over the weekend. He hadn’t spoken with her, but his decision had already been made and he was firmly holding onto it.

When he got home from work, it was Emily who greeted him at the door. At some point in the day, she’d returned and Peg had gone home.

She greeted him with a serious expression.

“Are you still going to Dallas?”

He couldn’t help the grin. The more he’d thought about making the change, the better it had started to sound. He was going to miss his kids, but it was temporary.

“In two weeks. I went online and found a furnished apartment that I can rent without signing a lease.”

“Then you can count on me to stay here while you are on the three-month trial period.”

“I don’t want you to lose your job over this. It’s not too late for you to back out, you know.”

She smiled. “I never back down from a challenge, and this will be a challenge, all the way through.”

He studied her thoughtfully, then the corners of his mouth turned up wryly. “You’ve got that right. I think you’re in for the challenge of your life with these two.”

While they ate dinner, they discussed details as they thought of them. “I’ll plan to have a portion of my check deposited into the joint account I opened with Peg, and we’ll go into the bank and have you listed on the account as a co-signer. How much do you think you’ll need each week for groceries, gas, diapers and such?”

Emily took a piece of paper and began to write an estimate of the costs. She did not include the food she would eat for herself, mainly breakfast and sandwich fixings. She would make up meals that the twins could learn to eat with her, for supper, and then she could have leftovers for lunches as she had them. She would, of course, by the food that they shared, as well as all of the food for the twins, out of Garret’s account. She came up with a price that she thought was reasonable, and he added one hundred dollars to that amount.

“You’re going to want to pick up McDonald’s once in a while,” he said when she protested that it would not cost that much. “And any incidentals that come up. We have a ten-dollar co-pay at the doctor’s office,” Garret continued. “We should allot a couple of visits a month for the twins. Do they have any shots or anything coming up?”

“I’ll have to check with Peg. I think your insurance pays the immunizations, anyway,” Emily recalled from past discussions with Julie. “Is there something you’ll need to sign so that I can authorize treatment at the doctor’s office, or—hopefully we’ll never have need of it—at the hospital emergency room?”

Garret sat back, his expression thoughtful. “I guess you never know what might come up, do you?” He reached over and patted Cody’s head. “I’ll call tomorrow and ask what we need to sign. The utilities are set up on automatic payments, so you won’t have to worry about those. I can deposit your salary in the same account, and you can transfer to your personal account, if you want to do it that way.”

The salary he named was too high, Emily thought. “That won’t leave you with enough to live on in Dallas, will it?”

“I’ll be able to afford a furnished apartment. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we had life insurance added to our mortgage payments. When Julie died,” his voice grew really quiet, “the insurance money paid off the mortgage. I don’t have any debt.”

“I didn’t realize that.” Emily felt grief wrench her heart. “I’m sorry.”

“Yes, well,” Garret’s voice turned brisk, “it’s asking a lot of you to watch them 24 hours a day. It’s worth twice what I’m paying, or more.”

“I’ll have some vacation pay and sick time coming, probably two months’ worth of salary. With the rent on the cottage making the monthly payment, I’m not going to need that much.” Emily had already gone over the figures in her head. The missionary was going to rent her cottage for the three months, and that would cover the monthly payment on the mortgage. Her car was already paid for, and she would have minimal living expenses while Garret was gone. Her salary from the school and from Garret combined would be adequate to cover her car insurance as it came due, as well as any other expenses that would arise.

“That’s what I’m paying,” Garret said with a stubborn set to his jaw. “I’m already getting 24-hour day care for the same as what a nine-to-five day care center would cost. I won’t let you take less.”

Emily lowered her eyes and he couldn’t see what she was thinking. Then she met his gaze and nodded her agreement.

Garret sat back in his chair. “I know you’re going to be good for the kids, Emily. I just hope you won’t regret your decision.”

“I hope you don’t regret yours,” she said, equally as serious as her gaze held his steadily for a moment longer.

His mouth tightened, and he answered, “I don’t expect to regret it. I think the change is going to be good.”

“I just hope you don’t forget that you have children back here, who need you,” Emily warned.

He was ready to make an angry reply when Cody, tired of the adults conversing among themselves, yelled, “Down!”

Garret’s mouth curved into a rueful grin. “You can’t forget these two. They have a way of making themselves heard.”

After they cleaned up the toddlers and the kitchen, Emily and Garret drove in separate cars to her aunt and uncle’s home, so Emily would not have to return to Garret’s and then back to her aunt’s. “If I’m still welcome at their house tonight.”

“They’re going to be angry with me, not with you.”

“They’re going to be angry with me for supporting you on this decision.”

Emily pulled into the driveway of her aunt and uncle’s home and Garret parked behind her. He carried Chloe in his arms, but Cody ran towards the door of the house.

“I feel a little like I’m going to the gallows,” Garret admitted as he walked beside Emily.

“You’ll probably wish you had gone there instead by the time this is over with,” she said with a hint of teasing in her voice.

Peg and Dan were surprised to see Garret and Emily walk in together.

“What’s happened?” Peg asked worriedly, reaching out for Chloe, who came willingly into her arms.

“          “Nothing bad happened,” Garret reassured her, and sat down on the couch. “I have something that I need to discuss with the two of you.”

“You two are getting married?” Dan asked.

Garret’s face turned red. “No!”

“Well, I thought – you and Emily walked in together, and I guess I—” Dan stopped talking as everyone looked at him with horrified expressions. “I guess I was wrong, okay? Don’t look at me like that.”

“What is it you wanted to discuss, Garret?” Peg was still frowning at her husband.

“I have an opportunity to transfer to Dallas to open a new branch of the company there, and I’ve decided to accept the transfer.” Garret’s announcement was followed immediately by a stunned silence, then Dan let out a thunderous roar.

“What?” Peg visibly paled at Garret’s news. “What in the world are you thinking of, Garret?”

“The person who accepted the transfer backed out, and my boss approached me about going in his place.”

“You can’t be serious about moving so far away, Garret.” Peg’s cheeks showed bright spots of color which meant she was very upset.

“I am serious about it. It’s a good opportunity.” Garret held his ground without taking on a defensive tone.

“Good for whom?” Peg was irate.

“It’s a good career move,” Garret said. He was struggling now to maintain his calmness.

“So you’re going because it’s good for your career?” Dan searched Garret’s face as though looking for the truth. Garret looked away from his father-in-law’s intense glare.

“I won’t lie to you. The house is full of Julie’s memories, and every time I come home to it at the end of the day, I realize just how lonely life is without her. I don’t want to forget her, but I think this move will help me move forward again.”

“You can stay right here and get on with your life without her,” Peg said with unconcealed criticism. “You don’t have to move clear across country to work through your grief.”

“I realize that,” Garret said quietly, but she went on as though she had not heard him.

“What you need to do is get yourself back in church and get some counseling, so that you can walk through this with the Lord instead of running away from Him. Moving to Dallas isn’t going to help you work through your grief. You’re going to isolate yourself from everybody who can help you.”

“They’re setting everything up on a three-month trial basis. If it works out, I’ll stay in Dallas. But if it isn’t what I expected, they told me I could come back here at the end of three months and get my same job and salary back.”

“So you’re only going for three months,” Peg said, visibly relieved.

That was not quite what Garret had said, but he did not argue. “I’m going for at least three months, maybe permanently, if it works out.”

“How are you going to take care of the twins down there? Do you have a place to live lined up?” Dan asked.

Garret shook his head. “I’m renting an apartment for now. For the first few weeks, I’ll be practically living at the office. I won’t have much time to do any house-hunting.”

“This is going to be so hard on them.” Peg cuddled Chloe close and smoothed the top of her golden curls. When Garret did not respond right away, she looked up, and his cheeks filled with a rush of guilt. “My word, Garret, you’re not planning to leave them behind, are you?” She looked horrified.

Garret opened his mouth to answer, but Dan cut in angrily, “What kind of a dad do you think you are, to even think about leaving them while you run off and start a new life somewhere else?”

“Taking the twins to Dallas with him right away would not be the best thing for them,” Emily finally spoke up. “Garret doesn’t have time to look for a suitable place for them. He has no idea what day care options there are. If he’s going to be at the office for long days and weekends, as well, then the twins would be in the care of strangers almost all the time he’s there.”

Garret silently thanked Emily across the room. Her words had served to calm his in-laws down considerably.

“If I go by myself for three months, then I’ll be able to find a place where I can bring the kids, and someone to take care of them while I’m working. It’s not an easy decision, to leave them behind for a few weeks, but it’s the best thing for them.”

“Well, what were you thinking of doing with them while you’re gone? Were you planning to ask Dan and I to keep them?”

“Originally, that’s what I had thought, but Emily has come up with a solution which I think everyone can agree is a good choice.”

“I volunteered to take an extended leave of absence from my teaching job. I don’t have all the details worked out yet, but I would receive accumulated vacation and sick pay for part of the leave, besides the salary Garret would pay me.”

“But, Emily, the amount of work those two require—” Peg said, at the same time as Dan spoke up.

“You can’t put your life on hold, Emily, or your career. How can you even ask that of Emily, Garret?” His eyes swung accusingly over towards his son-in-law.

“I didn’t ask Emily,” Garret admitted, holding Dan’s gaze steadily and calmly. “She’s the one who brought it up.”

Dan’s gaze moved from Garret to Emily, who, although her face reddened, met his eyes unwaveringly. “It’s true, Uncle Dan. Garret didn’t ask me about staying on. After he told me what he was planning to do, I thought about it a lot, and prayed. It’s something I want to do, for the kids’ sakes, and Julie’s.” At the mention of her cousin’s name, her uncle’s gaze showed a slight softening.

She turned to her aunt. “I know it’s been a struggle for you to think about watching them full-time this fall. It would be even more difficult for you to have them day and night for three months, although I know you would do it if you have to. The truth is, I’ve grown attached to them this summer, and I have not been ready to go back to teaching this fall. I feel like Chloe and Cody need me more than the school does. If the school is willing to give me a leave of absence, even if it’s unpaid, then it’s something I want to do.”

“I can’t believe you’re thinking of giving up your teaching job, for babysitting.” Peg shook her head in disbelief.

“What are your parents going to say?” Dan asked.

“They know I’ve decided to do it. My mom is worried, but my dad has been pretty supportive so far.”

“Have you thought about what your life will be like for three months, Emily?” Peg asked. “You’d be almost like a single parent while Garret is gone, and you’ve never been a parent.”

“I know it’s not going to be easy. But I feel strongly about helping out. I think it would be the best thing for the kids right now, because they can stay in their own home, and continue with their usual routines, while Garret is gone.”

“It would make sense for you to stay with them,” Peg said. “I will help out by watching some of the time, and we’ve been working with Melanie to keep them for a few hours a week.”

“Any way we look at it, we would have had to make some changes for this fall. If Garret was not going to Dallas, and I was going back to my teaching job, there would have been some adjustments for the twins and all of us to make. I think it’s important to support Garret through the three-month trial period and not worry right now about what will happen after that.”

Dan pinned Garret with a steady look. “And when the three months is up, Garret? What if you decide to remain in Dallas? What are you going to do with the kids then?”

Garret faced Dan’s gaze squarely, a determined set to his jaw. “There’s no question in my mind that if I stay in Dallas, I’ll move the twins down there to be with me.” There were looks of disbelief and uncertainty on Dan’s face, and Peg’s. “I’m not going to abandon them. Every time I look into their blue eyes, and see Chloe’s dazzling smile, I see Julie in them. They are very much a part of my life, and important to me.”

“Then you should reconsider your decision, Garret,” Peg said. “If you go away for three months, they’re not going to understand why you’ve left. It’s going to be hard for them to even remember what you look like.”

Garret shrugged off her warning, going on the defensive. “I’m not backing down from this decision. You can support me in it, or I can go without your support. Either way, I think you’ll agree that it’s best for the kids if they stay here for the short term, where they’ll feel safe and secure.”

The look in Peg’s eyes, and in Dan’s, was enough to make a weaker or younger person back down, but Garret remained strong.

End of Chapter 12

Come back next Saturday, May 29 to read Chapter 13 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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