Substitute Family Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Ron greeted Garret in the front office on the Saturday after Garret’s arrival. He wanted to go over everything with Garret before Monday, when the programmers and receptionist would come to the office for the first day. The company had already put in the time and effort on setting up the office before the other manager backed out. They’d been waiting for him to arrive to officially open for business. Ron had met with all of the personnel, since he was head of human resources, but Garret wouldn’t meet them until Monday.

“I want to ask you if you will keep it quiet that I’m a widower.”

Garret made the request after Ron had gone over some information with him.

“What do you mean?”

“As far as anyone here in Dallas knows, I want them to think I’m single, not a widower. I hate the sympathetic looks and pity I get when people find out. I came here to escape that.”

“What about your kids? Are you going to tell them why you’re a single dad?”

“About that—” Garret shifted in his seat. “I’m not going to tell anyone up front that I’m a single dad.”

“Garret, I can tell you from a management standpoint you’re making a big mistake in deceiving them.”

“I don’t why that information would matter. They’ll be working for me, but I won’t be spending any time with them outside the office. And I’m here on a trial basis. What could it hurt to keep my private life just that? No harm done if I go back to Michigan, and by then, they will know me well enough that they should be able to understand my reasons.”

“I don’t think you’re looking at it the right way. But it’s your team, and your job on the line, if you mess up. I won’t say anything, and I’ll make sure Taylor doesn’t, either.” Ron grimaced. “I’ll try, anyway. Taylor tends to do what she wants to.”


Two Weeks Later:

Garret sat across from Ron’s desk. The programmers and receptionist had all gone home, and it was just the two of them left in the office.

“I wanted an update on how things are going with your team, so I can give an update to your boss in Michigan.”

“Overall, things are going good. There are a couple of issues that have come up that I haven’t been sure how to handle, though. Maybe you can offer some advice.”

Ron sat back and put his hands behind his head, meeting Garret with a level gaze. “That’s what I’m here for. Shoot.”

            “Tony is a little older than me, but he doesn’t seem disrespectful because of that. Craig is a little younger. I’ve kept my professional distance with them, but because I’m near their age, they think of me more as a buddy than a boss, especially Tony. A few nights he’s invited me to go the bars with the two of them after work. I don’t do the bar scene, and I don’t want to cross that boundary with my employees, regardless.”

“I don’t think it’s a wise idea for you to go to the bars with them. You’re their boss. That might be conflicting when you have to discipline them.”

            “You and Taylor have had me over for dinner a few times.”

            “I’m not your direct boss, but we are a married couple inviting you as our guest. I’m not going out to bars with you acting like a single man.”

            “That relieves me of the question of whether or not I’ve been handling things right by not going with them.”

“What’s your other concern?”

Garret rubbed his thumb across his pantleg. “I am a single man, and that has created the other concern.”


            “I don’t think she is as well-trained as what she and her references led us to believe.”

            “Is she having a hard time keeping up?”

            “Yes. She stops by my office several times a day to ask questions which she should already know the answers to.”

            “Maybe those are just excuses to come by your office.”

            Garret let out a frustrated breath. “That’s what I am afraid of.”

            “Do you want me to say something to her?”

            “I’m afraid that will make it awkward. I talked to Court last night,” Court was his direct boss back in Michigan.

            “What did he say?”

            “He suggested I send her out to a training seminar on the work that she is supposed to already know. He said I could tell her I feel that she needs to brush up on her skills.”

            “I think that is an excellent idea. And I have another recommendation,” Ron said.

            “What is that?”

            “When she comes by your office to ask questions, I suggest that you tell her something like, ‘I think Tony and Craig have already worked through this issue. Let’s go ask them if they have any ideas for you.’ Then take her to the workspace that the three of them share, point out the question that she asked you, and ask them for their response. I don’t think it will take too many times for her to stop the visits to your office.”


Garret put both ideas into play. He researched and found a week-long seminar at a university in California that was offering the training that was required for the program they were building.

Ron was present when Garret told Laurie about the training, so that he could observe and offer any help if needed. She was livid with anger. “I don’t need to brush up on my skills,” she said, tossing her hair.

“You seem to have a lot of questions about what we are working on,” Garret said with complete calmness. “According to your resume, and your references, you should be up to speed on this already.”

When it looked like she would refuse, Ron spoke up, “You have to admit that a week in sunny California would not be a hardship for anyone.”

The other programmers were upset when they found out Laurie was leaving for a week in California. Garret spoke with them, again in Ron’s presence, without Laurie.

“I’m not sure what the problem is, but Laurie doesn’t seem to be up to speed on what we are doing. I’m sure her skills are just a little rusty, but it’s taking time away from my work, and yours, to answer her questions. I think we will all benefit from her taking the extra training.”

“She probably wishes you were going to the seminar with her,” Tony said.

“Excuse me?”

“She knows what she is doing. Craig and I haven’t missed what’s going on between the two of you.”

Garret was glad Ron was in the office to back him up. “There is nothing going on between Laurie and I. I have been strictly professional with her.”

“Is there a case in point you want to refer to, Tony?” Ron asked.

Garret leaned forward in his chair. “Please, be honest with me, Tony. Have you noticed that I have paid special attention to Laurie?” Maybe there was something that Tony had noticed that Garret hadn’t picked up on.

When Garret held the older man’s gaze, Tony shook his head. “No, man. She would like you to, though.”

“It’s not going to happen,” Garret said. “I’m her boss, and I am not interested in pursuing a relationship with her, or with anyone else, at this time.”

“You’ve got a fiancée back home?” Tony asked.

Garret looked at Ron, who shrugged. He had made Ron promise that he would not tell anyone about Garret’s personal life.

“No, no fiancée.”

Laurie came back from the seminar tanned and with a chip on her shoulder. Her job performance improved, whether that was due to the training or to the safeguards Ron and Garret had put in place so that she would not be bothering him in his office. He was able to keep a detached, professional working relationship, treating her no differently than his two male programmers.


After the Laurie issue was solved, things flowed pretty well with Garret and his team. They had a major project that required all of their focus. He missed his kids, and Emily. His apartment was empty when he was there, so he started spending more time away from it. He joined a gym, and he worked out three evenings a week after work, for something to kill his time and work off the job stress.

He looked forward to the weekly video chats with Emily and the twins. He liked to listen to her stories about his kids, and what they were doing in his absence. And he liked that she asked about his job. She was sincere in wanting to know how he was doing, how things were going in his day to day life in Dallas. She was his link to home, and to the life he’d had with Julie.

Time seemed to fly by, and before he knew it, Garret was celebrating his two-month anniversary of moving to Dallas.

He received a phone call from his boss from Michigan, Court, on Friday afternoon.

“I wanted to let you know that we are pleased with the program you and your team built. And Ron has praised your management skills during some delicate situations.”

“Thank you, Court,” Garret said.

“We decided to go ahead and make this a permanent promotion for you, if you are willing to stay, Garret. What do you think?”

“I thought I had three months to try it out.”

“Do you want to give it another month, or are you ready to jump on board with us now?”

The way he said it made Garret think that he did not have an option.

“No, I don’t need another month to decide. I’ll stay. I like what I am doing here.” And he did like it in Dallas. He just missed his kids.

“It’s time to move your family to Dallas,” his boss had told him.

So Garret sat in his drab apartment on over the weekend and contemplated what he would say to Emily when he called on Sunday. It was time to tell her that he had taken the job permanently, but he didn’t know what to do about the rest of his life.

Garret felt like his life was at a crossroads. There was life before Julie’s death, then life after. Then there was life before Dallas, and now life, after.

Life back home had been full of long hours of satisfying work, followed by lonely evenings with just his two toddlers for company. He’d created that life unintentionally when he drew back from everyone, family and church included, after Julie’s death. Those first few months he operated on survival mode. Then when he started to get his mojo back, he took on the project that required a lot of overtime.

That had caused even more friction between his mother-in-law and himself. He found he wanted to stay at the office later at night, just so he wouldn’t have to go home and hear her nagging and complaints.

The only joy he had during that time was the few hours after he got home from work, until he put the kids to bed. He loved the time spent playing with them on their level, giving them baths and then snuggling up to their warm sweet-smelling bodies on the couch until they fell asleep. He would do some housework, then fall into bed, exhausted, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

 Then Emily had come into their lives. He could tell that she was grieving Julie, as he was, but she didn’t dwell on her loss. Instead, she comforted him in his. She was straight up honest with him when she thought he was making mistakes, and he’d made many. But her sense of humor and compassion had brought him out of his loneliness to where he felt like he could manage life again.

Then the job transfer came up, and she gave up everything in her life to help him make that happen. She’d selflessly offered to stay on in his absence, take a temporary leave from a job he knew she loved, and be both mom and dad to his two kids. Not only that, she’d made sure to send him pictures and videos as the weeks passed, so he could share in the new things his kids were learning.

He’d started looking forward to their Sunday night video chats, and he’d realized early on that it wasn’t just because he could see his kids’ faces. He liked connecting with Emily. She’d grown more attractive to him as the weeks passed, and he couldn’t even say why. She hadn’t changed her looks. She still wore her dark blond hair in a ponytail or braid all the time.

She no longer wore baggy clothes that hid her figure, though. He’d noticed that after only a few chats. The screen of his laptop didn’t allow him much a view while they were talking, but she often left the screen and chased down Cody, who grew restless during their video chats. He’d taken to noticing how well she filled out her jeans and the feminine blouses she wore.

It had created a problem in his mind. He didn’t want to fall for another woman, not after having had the best wife in Julie. He especially didn’t want to fall for Emily, who was Julie’s opposite in every way. She was bossy and stubborn, where Julie had been more docile and dependent on him. He’d discovered that he liked Emily’s independence, though. She’d become an equal partner in raising his kids. They made a good team. He didn’t want to risk that by falling for her and changing the status of their relationship.

After he made the decision to stay in Dallas permanently, he should have called her right away and told her. But any way he looked at it, the situation was a messy one. He was Chloe and Cody’s father, and the best to raise them, in theory. But here in Dallas he wouldn’t have the family support to help with their care. The twins would spend long hours at a strange day care, and have to adjust to a new home. He didn’t even have time right now to search for a child-friendly apartment, let alone bring his furniture from home to fill it. And the idea of moving all of their things here—Well, honestly, it was overwhelming.

Not to mention, no one at this Dallas office knew he was a widower and had two children. They all thought he was single. That had been the cause of the problems with Laurie. If he admitted to his employees that he’d lied to them from the beginning, he would lose their respect. They could file a complaint against him with the home office. Not that he knew what their official complaint might be, but it would go on record that they had a problem with his authority.

Unfortunately, Laurie was just the type of person who would do it, with her vindictive nature. She still hadn’t forgiven him for sending her to training that she hadn’t needed, or calling her out on her actions of coming to his office under pretense. He would definitely lose any respect she had for him as her boss.

So for two weeks after he’d agreed to stay in Dallas, he’d ignored Emily’s phone calls and texts. He’d skipped out on their regular Sunday evening video chats, even though he missed seeing his kids faces. Chloe’s teary smiles dug into his heart, but they counteracted with Cody’s goofy grin, making those video chats worth the emotional turmoil they created. He’d never gone this long without seeing them, and it was starting to depress him.

“What’s going on with you lately, man?” Tony swung into Garret’s office unannounced, startling him out of his thoughts.

            “What do you mean?” Garret thought he knew, but he wanted to hear Tony put it into words. He didn’t understand what was going on with himself, and maybe Tony’s thoughts could clarify his.

            “You’ve tuned us out. Ever since you told us you were staying here permanently, you’ve been distracted.”

            “You’re right, I have.” Garret sat forward in his chair. “I’ve got some decisions to make, and I haven’t been giving work my full attention.”

            Tony leaned against the door frame, his eyes narrowing. “What kind of decisions does a single guy like you have to make, anyway? Who cares if you move thousands of miles across country to take on a new job? What’s it to anyone, besides your parents?”

            Garret looked down at his empty ring finger. He’d quit wearing his wedding band after the funeral, and the faint line where it had been had faded over the summer. There was nothing on the outside that could reveal that he’d been married and was the father of two toddlers.

            “You’ve got a woman back home, don’t you?” Tony straightened away from the door and walked on in, uninvited. He sat in a chair across Garret’s desk. “Don’t you?” he repeated.

            “Ah—there is someone who cares what happens with this job.” Garret would admit that much, without revealing any further information. Let Tony come to his own conclusions, none of which would be right. He would maintain his secrecy for the time being.

            “We all wondered, you know. Well, Craig and I. You say you don’t want to go out to the bars with us because we’re your employees, but we figured when Laurie couldn’t entice you, that you must have a girlfriend you weren’t telling us about.

            “It wouldn’t matter either way when it comes to Laurie. I’m not a kid who can easily be swayed by a little flirting.”

            “More like seduction.” Tony’s response curled Garret’s stomach.

            “There never would have been anything between Laurie and me, regardless of whether not I had a girlfriend.”

            “So you do have one?” Tony gave him a sly grin.

            Garret knew he’d been trapped into giving out information. “No, I don’t. There isn’t a special woman in my life.”

            “A man, then?” Tony’s eyebrow quirked up.

            Garret had to hand it to Tony, he was trying to get the truth of out of him in any way he could.

            He chuckled. “No. That’s not my style. Definitely not a man, but not a woman, either.” It was two adorable little toddlers who were making his transfer to Dallas a murky one.

            Tony got up out of the chair. “You know, you don’t have to have these secrets from us. Whatever your situation is, you can tell us. We won’t judge you for it.”

            “Thanks, Tony. I’ll try to give the job one hundred percent focus and work out my private life on my own time.”

            That’s what Garret did for the next few days. He concentrated fully on his job while he was in the office. At home, he tormented himself with the decisions he had to make. His hand was on his phone several times to call Emily and talk to her, but until he figured out what he was going to do, he didn’t want to let her in on his decision.

End of Chapter 14

Come back next week to read Chapter 15 of 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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