On Wednesday, the principal called to say she had been granted a three-month leave of absence. She would be paid for her vacation and sick days that had accrued, but once those days were paid, the rest of the time would be unpaid leave.
Now that it was finalized, Emily could hardly believe what she had signed up to do. She was going to take care of the toddlers 24/7 while Garret transferred to Dallas. It was too late to back down even if she wanted to, which she didn’t.
She picked up forms from the hospital and doctor’s office for Garret to fill out and sign allowing her to authorize medical treatment in his absence. They went into the bank and added her name to the checking account he had opened with Peg soon after Julie’s death, allowing her to sign checks on the account.
On Friday, Garret called before five o’clock. “I’ve got to get some loose ends tied up before I leave for Dallas. Do you think you could stay later and feed the kids some supper?”
“I don’t have anything planned, so I can do that.”
When Garret came home, Emily had eaten dinner with the twins and given them their baths. “There is some stew simmering on the back burner. If you want some of it, you’re welcome to eat it.”
“It smells good.” He lifted the lid. “Mmm. Meatball stew. Is this Peg’s recipe?”
Emily laughed and nodded. “Yes, it is. I take it you’ve tasted it a few times?”
“I have.” Garret took a plate from the cupboard. “Are you eating?”
“No, I ate earlier when I fed Cody and Chloe. I think they would eat a
snack, if you want some company.”
Garret scooped up Cody and set him in his highchair. Emily did the same with Chloe, and she cut up a banana and a muffin while Garret fixed his plate of stew. She opened a can of soda and sat down opposite Garret.
After he had eaten a few bites, Garret looked up with a frown. “Do you realize I’ll have to do all of my own cooking again?”
“All you’re going to need is a microwave and a can opener,” she teased.
Garret laughed. “You know me pretty well by now.” His expression changed to one of concern as his thoughts raced. “I’ve rented a furnished apartment, but I don’t know what all is included. Do you think I’ll need to take my own dishes and stuff from here?”
“I’m not sure, but I think you would want your own, even if some of it comes with the furnished place.”
He agreed, with a wrinkle in his brow. “Do you think you could help me get a list together of what I should take?”
“I can do better than that,” she said. “After dinner, I can stay and help you pack.”
Garret looked relieved, and Emily was glad to see a genuine smile on his face. With the twins following underfoot, Garret brought a couple of boxes into the kitchen and set them on the table. Emily opened the cupboards and pulled out items she thought he would need. From the dinnerware set, she chose two of each plate and dish and wrapped them in a dishtowel. Garret got the idea, and he picked some silverware out of the drawer. They wrapped glasses and coffee mugs in newspaper. The coffeepot also went in, since Emily never drank coffee and Garret could not start his mornings without it.
“I think there’s an unopened can of coffee in the cupboard, and some filters. I might as well take those, too.” He put them in the box.
“You’ll need this.” Emily pointed out the hand-held can opener. “The electric one is fastened to the cupboard.”
“This one will work. How about the small fry pan and a spatula? I’ve been known to fry an egg now and then.”
Emily laughingly handed him the items. “You’ll need a toaster, too. Why don’t you take yours? I’m pretty sure I can bring the one from Peg’s basement apartment.”
“What do you think about the microwave? Will that come with the furnished apartment?”
“If it doesn’t, you’ll be in trouble.”
“Maybe I’ll wait and see if the apartment has one. If not, I don’t think they cost that much.”
She was glad that the twins, as little as they were, did not understand what all of the packing and moving was about. It would be hard enough when they realized Garret was gone, but at least they were too young to ask questions. They did get in the way, she thought, as she almost tripped over Chloe while backing away from the cupboard.
“You’ll also need to pack linens.” He looked blank. “Sheets, towels, that kind of thing,” she clarified, and he nodded his understanding.
“I guess I will need some of that stuff.” His eyes were serious as he said, “I don’t know how I would manage without your help, Em.”
She found that his gaze was too intense, and she dropped her eyes. “You would have just bought everything as you needed it.” She kept her tone light and humorous.
His tone changed, too, as he joked, “You’re right. That would have been an expensive move.”
“Especially as there is more here than one person needs.” She watched the humor disappear from his expression. “I’m sorry, Garret. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Emily. It is true. This house was designed and furnished for a family, and we had plenty of stuff given to us for wedding gifts that only Julie knew what to do with.”
“Someday you’ll have a home again,” she said.
“Right now, I’m not even thinking about getting married again.”
“I know,” she said softly. She gathered towels, choosing the newest- looking and largest sets for Garret to take. “I don’t know what size the beds would be in a furnished apartment,” she said, with a pink blush on her cheeks. “I’m packing a queen-sized set. That’s what you have here and will likely have in the apartment.”
Garret looked amused, which further embarrassed Emily.
Garret’s last day of work was on the following Thursday. He came home early, and since the kids were taking their nap, Emily helped him load his car. “I’ll never fit that TV in here,” he said. “I will have to buy one when I get settled there. I can’t be without my TV.”
He grinned, but Emily knew he was serious. He liked watching TV when the kids were in bed.
“I have a smaller one that I’ve been using at Peg’s this summer. You could take that one instead of your big screen, if you want to. It will fit in your car.”
“That sounds good. We can pick it up tonight.” She was surprised. “You didn’t think I would remember we were invited over there for dinner, did you?”
“Not really. I guess I thought you would be dreading it.”
“Well, I am, but I figured it’s my duty as a son-in-law, or former son-in- law, to try and keep peace with Julie’s family.” A trace of bitterness showed in his voice. Emily found herself praying that there would be no arguing during the dinner tonight.
Peg surprised Garret by inviting his mom and stepdad over for dinner.
“It’s a good thing Peg called and had us come over, so we could see you before you headed out,” his mom scolded.
“You did know I was leaving, didn’t you? Or did I forget to call you?” he joked.
“When did you find out, Grace?” Peg asked.
“He called us on Sunday and told us about the transfer. He said Emily is going to stay with the twins while he’s gone?” She looked over at Emily, who smiled and nodded. “You’re going to wear yourself out, girl.”
“We’ll be around to help out,” Peg said.
“Maybe you’ll bring them up to see us,” Grace said to Emily. “At least more often than Garret does.”
“How often is that?” Emily could guess at the answer.
“Don’t ask,” Garret said with a sheepish look on his face. “I haven’t been home all summer.” Emily was about to remark that that was too long, when she realized she had only gone to visit her own parents once all summer.
After dinner was over and Garret’s parents had gone home, Garret followed Emily downstairs to bring up her TV set. They left Chloe and Cody upstairs with Peg and Dan.
“Is there anything else you can think of that you’ll need?” Emily asked, as Garret picked up the TV set.
He looked at her thoughtfully for a long moment. It made her self- conscious. “You’ve been a big help to me this summer, Em. You’ve done a great job taking care of the kids, and you’ve helped me through a few rough spots. Thank you.”
She felt her cheeks flame at his words, but she raised her chin to meet his eyes. “I’ve been glad to help out,” she told him honestly. “Just don’t forget that you have family here in Michigan, when you’re starting your new life in Dallas.”
“I won’t forget.”
The twins were sleeping when Emily arrived at Garret’s house early the next morning. “Have you said good-bye to them?” Emily asked.
“They haven’t woken up yet. I was not sure what to do.”
“We’ll wake them up. They’re too little to understand, but you’ll feel better if you get to say good-bye.”
She led the way down the hall to the nursery. Chloe stirred as they walked into the room, and when Garret reached into the crib to lift her up, she opened her eyes.
“She’s so beautiful.” Garret’s voice was husky with emotion. He picked up Chloe and held her close for a long moment, then handed her to Emily. “Are you sure you want me to wake this one up? I know how rambunctious he can be when he does not get all of his sleep in.”
“It’s only an hour or so early, if that.” Cody must have heard their voices, for he rolled over and opened his eyes.
“Da-Da,” he said, scrambling to his feet. Garret picked him up and tossed him into the air, as he so often did. Cody squealed with delight. Garret held him and led the way from the nursery. Emily followed with Chloe.
“I guess this is good-bye for now,” he said, standing awkwardly near the front door.
“Daddy’s going bye-bye now, Cody, Chloe. Tell Daddy bye-bye,” Emily said, and the twins looked from her to Garret curiously. Recently, both Cody and Chloe had started waving “bye-bye,” but this morning they did not seem interested.
“Take good care of them for me, will you, Emily?”
Garret squeezed Cody in a bear hug before the toddler wiggled and protested. Garret set him down and took Chloe from Emily for a last hug. Emily thought she saw tears glisten in his eyes as he hugged his daughter close.
“Have a safe trip, Garret,” Emily said, reaching out to take Chloe back. Garret nodded and slipped through the doorway. Emily shut the door behind him, and latched it. standing at the window, she watched as he got into his car.
“Wave bye-bye to Daddy.” Chloe waved, but of course Garret could not see it. Cody waved from where he was sitting on the floor, playing with his big dump truck. Emily stood in the window and watched until she could no longer see Garret’s car. Then it was time to change diapers and get the kids dressed for the day.
It seemed as normal as any other morning that she had been babysitting. After breakfast, she played awhile with Cody and Chloe, building block towers, taking puzzles apart and putting them back together. Sadness hovered over her. Denise called her around 10:00, and Emily was glad for a listening ear in her friend.
“Are the kids missing him yet?” Denise asked.
“I don’t think they realize that it’s different from any other day,” Emily replied.
“Just wait until this evening rolls around and he’s still not home,” Denise suggested. “Russ has gone on men’s retreats before, and the first day isn’t so bad. But by nighttime Kip realizes his dad is not coming home on time, and by the next morning, he’s looking everywhere for Russ.”
“I thought you were supposed to be encouraging me,” Emily said
“Oh, that’s right.” Denise laughed. “I’d love to tell you it’s going to get better, but I guess you would not believe me if I tried.”
“I knew what I was getting into when I offered to do this job,” Emily admitted. “It’s not going to be easy.”
“So do you miss Garret already?”
Emily felt her face flame at Denise’s question.
“You’re not supposed to ask me that, are you? I’ve got three months to do this job, and I don’t want to get emotionally wrapped up in it.”
“As if you’re not already,” Denise said.
When Garret did not come home at suppertime, Cody and Chloe started looking around for him. It was not until Emily was getting them into their pajamas that Cody said, “Da-Da?”
“Daddy’s bye-bye,” Emily told him lightly. “Da-Da bye-bye,” he repeated.
They did not fuss going to bed that first night. On the second night, Cody again asked for his daddy while Emily was putting him in his pajamas.
“Daddy’s bye-bye,” she told him, and his lower lip puckered as though he were going to cry.
Chloe didn’t ask for Garret, like Cody did, but she went to his room several times throughout the evening, as though she was looking for him. When Emily brought their bottles out for bedtime on Saturday night, Cody ran to the front door. “Da-Da!”
Emily felt tears sting her eyes as she walked over to him and picked him up. When she sat down on the couch with a toddler in each arm, Cody looked up at Emily with sad eyes.
“Yes, Cody. Daddy went bye-bye.”
“Da-Da, bye-bye,” he repeated, almost crying as he said it.
Garret called on Sunday afternoon. Emily tried not to let the delight she felt at hearing his voice show in hers.
“Hi, Garret. Did you make it there okay?”
“I made it in late last night,” he replied. She thought about how far away he was, and yet he sounded like he was right in the next room.
“How is your apartment?”
“It’s the bare necessities and drab colors. Not bad for the rent I pay, though. How are the kids doing?”
“They miss you.” She went on to tell him how Cody had been asking for his daddy, and that Chloe had been looking for him.
He was quiet for a long moment. “Do you think I could talk to them on the phone?”
“I’ll hold it up to their ear and you can try it. Which one do you want to start with?”
“How about Chloe first?”
Emily sat down on the couch and held the phone to Chloe’s ear.
“Hey, Chloe, how’s daddy’s little angel?” Emily could hear Garret say. Chloe’s eyes widened in surprise, and she started looking around the room to see where Garret was. Garret continued to talk for a minute or so, and then Emily broke in and said, “She’s looking around for you here.”
“They’re too little to understand, aren’t they?” Garret sounded discouraged.
“I’ll hand the phone to Cody now,” Emily told Garret, and held the phone up to Cody’s ear.
“Da-Da!” Cody shouted when he heard Garret talking to him. Emily could hear Garret’s chuckle. He talked on for a minute while Cody shouted “Da-Da,” in his ear. Then Cody was ready to get down and play.
“I think he’s all done talking now. He went off to find his trucks.”
“Always moving, isn’t he?” Garret commented.
Emily could hear in his voice that he missed his children.
“If you need something, you can reach me on my cell.”
“Do you have an office number in case of emergencies?”
“I’ll get it on Monday and give it to you. I feel badly about you being there alone, but I know you can keep everything under control.”
She was glad for his vote of confidence, but at the moment she was not feeling too positive. Just hearing Garret’s voice had upset Chloe. It was going to be a long three months.
End of Chapter 13