Substitute Family Chapter 15

Chapter 15

During the first few weeks that Garret was gone, Emily often felt overwhelmed by the task she had taken on. Cody asked for his daddy throughout the day. Chloe did not ask, but she wandered around as though looking for him. They cried more often and more easily. They fussed when Emily put them in their cribs at naptime, and at bedtime, they did not settle down even when she held them and gave them bottles.

It was hard for Emily to sleep in a strange house, so she was not getting her usual rest at night. That, combined with the unusual fussiness from the twins, could have stretched her patience thin. Peg and Dan, as well as Denise and Melanie, were a big help in keeping her sense of humor. She met them for picnics in the park. She and Melanie joined the gym and took aerobics class while the twins stayed in the day care room. The gym had a pool, and Emily bought baby floats so she and Melanie could take the kids in the pool after they were done with aerobics class. Between the walks in the park and exercising at the gym, Emily had started to slim down and was in the best physical shape she’d ever been in.

Being a 24/7 nanny was exhausting, though. She felt like a single parent. There was a young moms’ Bible study in the church on Tuesday mornings, which Denise insisted that Emily attend.

“I know you’re not a mom, but you are a temporary one, and these Bible studies will help you and give you some support.”

Now that she was in charge of Garret’s kids, Emily took them to church every Sunday. After the service, the three of them went to Peg’s house and had dinner, with Melanie and Scott bringing the baby also. By the time they got back to Garret’s, the twins were sound asleep and slept most of the afternoon.

Garret had started the habit of calling on Sundays around five o’clock, after the twins had a good nap. He and Emily conversed over video chat, so he could see the twins and they could see him, too. They were always so excited when his face came on the screen.

 After Emily ended the call, they acted revived in spirit, and played contentedly that evening. When bedtime rolled around, it seemed to Emily that they were less fussy than they had been. The call from Garret had lifted her spirits as well. He wanted to hear all about what the twins were doing. Since her life centered around the twins now, she enjoyed the chance to talk about them.

After one particular phone call, when Garret had already been gone four weeks, instead of being content, Cody broke down into tears. “Da-Da bye-bye.”

It was heartbreaking for Emily to watch him cry, and she wasn’t sure what to do. She held him and tried to take his mind off it with toys, but he just buried his head against her shoulder and sobbed.

She found herself sobbing along with him, and Chloe started crying, too.

“We’re a mess,” she said out loud.

She said a few silent words of prayer. Then she started tickling Cody. He was so surprised, and stopped crying, so she did it again. He giggled, and soon they were making a game of it.

When Chloe looked expectantly up at Emily, she tickled her, also. The higher- pitched giggles and laughing blue eyes reminded Emily of her cousin. For a moment, she allowed the memories of Julie’s laughter to float through her mind. They had so much fun as children, playing with dolls, running and chasing each other in games of tag, and sharing secrets.

“You remind me so much of your mommy, Chloe.” Chloe stared up at her, innocently unaware of what those words meant. “Someday, I’ll tell you all about her.”

When the week got rough, she would think about those phone calls, and the things they talked about, and it would give her strength to get through another week. She found herself counting down the weeks until his three-month trial period was over, and wondered if he would be moving back to Michigan or moving the twins to Dallas.

When Garret missed his Sunday phone call one week, Emily chalked it up to him being busy. She sent texts and videos that week as she had been, with funny things the kids were doing, but instead of responding like had had in the past, there were no answers to her messages. She started to get an uneasy feeling, which grew quickly when another Sunday came by and he didn’t call.

That night, Emily put the twins to bed and sat down and cried. Garret had been in Dallas ten weeks now. He would soon know if he was going to get the offer for the position to become permanent.

What if Garret had decided that life was easier without being a single dad? What would happen if he abandoned Chloe and Cody? She called Garret’s cell, but it went to voicemail. She didn’t want to leave a message when she’d been crying. She refused to let him know how emotional this was making her.

“I have to give him a chance to do the right thing.” She put away her phone.

She was still distraught on Monday when she received a call from the principal at her school. “How are your plans coming along for returning to work, Emily?”

She only had two weeks of leave left. Without hearing from Garret, Emily was not comfortable in promising to return on time. “I’m not sure.”

“Not thinking of quitting on us, are you, Emily?” He sounded worried. “Kami is good, but she does not have the control in the classroom that you had, and it’s costing us extra time and money to provide her with a part- time teacher’s aide.”

It was on the tip of Emily’s tongue to tell him that a kindergarten teacher with twenty children needed a full-time aide, but the school system was small and operated on a tight budget. A few hours a week of an extra hand was all they had ever been able to provide for her when she was teaching.

“I’m working on the situation.”

“What exactly does that mean?” He was not a bit fooled by her noncommittal answer.

“It means that the dad of the children has not made his decision yet, as to whether or not he will be moving to Dallas permanently.”

“Why should that affect your decision?”

Why should it, indeed? Emily was not the parent. Nor was she the girlfriend. She was the paid nanny. Garret could find someone else to watch the kids, or Peg and Dan would take them full time. She didn’t have to continue to put her life on hold while he figured out what he wanted to do with his own life.

Somehow, even though she tried to convince herself of those facts, Emily couldn’t let go. She’d agreed to watch the twins during this probation period that Garret had agreed to with his company. She wasn’t going to abandon them until he’d made his decision. If he chose to stay in Dallas permanently, then she would be out of the picture. He would take them with him and find day care there, or he’d leave them behind. In that case, Emily would have to go back to work and let Peg and Dan take over their care. Garret wasn’t going to want to pay a nanny when the twins’ grandparents would take on the role of caregivers.

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a decision tonight, but I’ll let you know next Friday what my plans are.”

Surely she would hear from Garret before another week passed. He knew she only had two weeks left of her temporary leave, or at least, he should have remembered that fact.

Emily called Garret’s phone again and left a message. “Hi, Garret. This is Emily. Please give me a call when you get this message.” It was the same voicemail she’d left several times last week, with no response.

No return phone call came, and Emily slept restlessly that night. The next morning was the moms’ Bible study at church. After dropping the twins off in the nursery, she joined Denise and the other women. When Denise asked for prayer requests, Emily spoke up.

“I have not heard from Garret for three weeks. I tried calling him last night and left messages, but he has not called me back.” Emily felt hot tears slide down her cheeks. “I don’t know what his plans are, and I need to return to work soon.”

“We need to pray that he’ll get his act together.” Denise’s tone was sharp. Her cheeks turned pink, and she gave an apologetic look. “I mean, we need to pray that God will intervene, and remind Garret of his responsibilities to his family. And pray for Emily’s frustration level, that she will be able to face whatever decisions are made with peace.”

“I don’t know how you do it, Emily.” A mom who was fairly new to the group spoke up. “I couldn’t handle it if my husband were working out of state.”

“Well, he’s not my husband!” Emily snapped, and the girl’s face turned red. “But I’m just about as mad as if he were!”

When Peg called later and found out Garret hadn’t returned her messages, she told Emily to call Garret’s mom.

“I’m sorry you haven’t heard from Garret,” Grace said when Emily explained the situation. “I’ll see if I can get him to return a call from me.”

“Maybe he just doesn’t remember when I have to go back to work,” Emily said.

“Don’t make excuses for him, Emily. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows it’s wrong.” There was no sympathy for Garret in his mom’s voice.

 Grace called Emily back late the next day with disappointing news. “I called twice and left messages, but he hasn’t called me back. If I didn’t have to work this week, I would fly down there and kick him right on the seat of his pants.”

Emily laughed, but she was close to tears. “Do you think he would abandon the kids? His own children?”

“Well, his dad did that to him, but he was letting the alcohol run his life. You don’t know if Garret has started drinking since Julie died, do you?”

Emily thought of the one night when Garret came home and admitted he had gone to the singles’ bar. She told Grace what Garret had relayed to her about that experience.

“He said that he was not going to start drinking to forget his troubles.”

“Maybe he’s found another woman, then.”

Emily felt like a knife went through her heart at the thought. Why should it affect her so painfully if Garret was with someone else? Hadn’t she been the one to tell him he would probably marry again someday?

When she talked to Peg after ending the call with Garret’s mom, Peg had the same thought. “Maybe he’s found someone else and doesn’t want to be bothered with the children anymore.”

“I have his office number. I wonder if I should try him there tomorrow.”

“By all means, yes, Emily.”

“He said to only call there in case of emergency.”

“This is an emergency. It’s one he created himself, and he needs to rectify it.”

Emily called the office number Garret had given her. A bright-sounding young woman answered it. Emily pictured a petite blonde with a perky smile, and wondered if she were the one Garret was seeing. Breathing deeply to control her emotions, she said, “Could you tell Garret that Emily Riley is calling?”

“He is out of the office this morning. May I take a message?”

Emily left her name and phone number. The morning passed, and lunchtime came and went. Peg called in the meantime to see what she had found out.

“Try back after lunch, Emily,” Peg said, “or I will.”

Emily knew Garret would be very upset to hear from his mother-in- law at work. She assured Peg she would keep trying until she reached Garret. The receptionist was polite the second time she called Garret’s office, but indicated that Garret had gone to a meeting at lunch and would be back in around three o’clock.

Emily called again when she thought Garret would be back in the office “He’s not back in the office yet, Miss Riley,” the receptionist said, and Emily could hear the disdain in the young woman’s voice.

“It is really urgent that I speak with him today,” Emily said. “Please tell him that.”

“I’ll relay your message, Miss Riley,” the receptionist said coolly.

“Wait a minute, could I please speak to Ron?” Emily said on impulse.

“Well, let me check,” the woman said with surprise.

Soon, Emily heard a strange but mature man’s voice.

“Miss Riley, how can I help you?” he said, pleasant, yet guarded.

“Ron, do you know that Garret has a nanny to take care of his children, while he’s there in Dallas?” she began. When he replied affirmatively, she continued, “I’m the children’s nanny. I have been trying to reach him for three days, and left messages on his cell phone and at the office. Has something happened to Garret?”

“Not that I’m aware of. He’s at work every day.”

“I thought perhaps his cell phone is out of service or something.”

“Now that is a possibility.” Ron sounded relieved to have an excuse for Garret. “I’ll certainly check with him when he comes back in.”

“Could you also check and make sure he’s getting his messages at the office, as well? When I could not reach him at home, I tried him twice today at the office. The receptionist said she would let him know I called, and I wondered if the messages were—”

“—Not given to him?” Ron finished for her. “Teri’s usually very efficient, but I will check with her as well, Emily.”

“I would certainly appreciate it,” Emily said. “I’m sorry to bother you at the office. Garret said personal calls were against the rules, but— “

“If they are, that’s news to me,” Ron interrupted.

Emily felt the impact of his words like a cold sheet of ice enclosing her heart. Garret had lied to her. There was a reason why he did not want to have her call him at work. He was avoiding her, but not just her. He was avoiding the responsibility of his own children.

“Is Garret okay, do you know?” she asked in a small, worried voice.

“He’s not going to be when he gets back here,” Ron replied with a controlled note of anger in his voice. Emily managed a tight, nervous little laugh. “I’ll give him the message to call you, Emily. You take care of those kids, and yourself, okay?”

She assured him that she would, but she was shaking when she set the phone down. Slumping down onto the couch, she picked up Chloe and buried her face against the silky blonde curls.

“Memmy?” Chloe said, leaning back to look at Emily with her blue, long-lashed eyes.

“How could he do this to you?” Emily whispered. “How can he do this to your mom? This would have broken her heart.”

The thought came to her that if Julie were alive, it would not have happened. Yet, that did not excuse Garret from not taking care of his family. She called Peg, and then Garret’s mom, to tell them she had gotten through to someone in the office where Garret worked. “Maybe he’ll call when he gets home tonight,” Garret’s mom said, although Peg was not as reassuring.

“He must be hiding something, not to return the calls,” she said. “If we find out it’s drinking or something as serious as that, Dan and I are going to file for custody of the children. We’re not going to let Julie’s kids go through what Garret did when he was growing up.”

Emily thought about Peg’s words after hanging up the phone. Was it possible that Garret had started drinking when he moved to Dallas? Or was a new jealous girlfriend the problem? He had told Emily about the one trip to the bar, and said he was not going to get involved in drinking or with a woman from a bar. He was alone for the first time since college. Had he found life as a single parent too confining, and was he now enjoying a taste of freedom?

Julie had brought out the very best in Garret. Now, it seemed, her death had brought out the very worst. Emily could not shake the overwhelming feeling of dread she had as she waited for Garret’s call. After 9:00 rolled around, she called Garret’s cell phone one more time and left a message, knowing that it sounded as desperate as she truly felt.

An idea began to form in Emily’s mind, and she thought about the enormity of it. What if she flew down to Dallas and brought Garret face-to-face with his responsibilities? Would he be able to turn his back on his children if they showed up on his doorstep? What was it he had said one time, that every time he looked into their blue eyes he was reminded of Julie? Well, maybe he needed a visible reminder of his sweet wife, to shake him back to reality.

Emily made a couple of calls, and soon had an early-morning flight booked to Dallas, and a hotel room reservation. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, she feared Dan and Peg’s response, and thought it best to wait until morning to call them with her decision.

***

At 5:30 in the morning Peg answered the phone. “Emily.” Peg’s voice sounded anxious. “What happened?”

“Nothing yet.” Emily quickly explained her plan.

“You must be kidding!” Peg cried out. “Dan, you have to talk to Emily!” Emily waited a moment before her uncle came on the line.

“What’s going on?”

“I wondered if you would give me a ride to the airport,” Emily asked.

“You’re flying out to Dallas? Did something happen to Garret? Was he in an accident or something?” Dan came awake with a flurry of questions.

“He never called me back. Ron, the other man from Michigan, said Garret was doing fine. He was really concerned that Garret had not returned our calls, and said he would personally talk to him when he returned to the office. I called his cell phone one more time last night, and got his voicemail. I left a message, but he did not call me back.”

Dan was angry. “Just let it go, Emily. You can go back to work, and Peg and I will take the twins in. We’ll also see about getting a lawyer, if that’s what it takes.”

“I’m already booked on a flight to Dallas this morning.”

“Just you?”

“He told me one time that he could not look into the twins’ eyes without seeing Julie, and I wanted to make him face her one more time, through them.”

“You can’t take them clear to Dallas,” Peg cried, joining the conversation from an extension. “You can’t handle them on the plane alone!”

“Do you want to go with me?”

“I can’t get away today. If you wait a couple of days—” Dan started to say, then stopped. “I probably will get thrown in jail for what I’m thinking of doing to him when I see him, though.”

“You wouldn’t be able to face him right now, Dan. You’re too angry.” Peg’s voice was near hysteria. “And I can’t stand the thought of flying, you know that, Emily.”

“I know. I have the suitcases packed, and a bag full of toys and snacks and diapers for the plane ride.” Emily had flown a few times, but never with twin toddlers. “I know we’re going to be okay. I think it’s time Garret takes responsibility for his decisions.”

“Is there anything we can do to stop you?”

“If you’re going to have me arrested for kidnapping, then I would back down. But I honestly believe this is the right decision, and I’m not afraid to face Garret on this issue.”

“But the children—how will they handle being gone?”

“I think they’ll be happy to see him,” Emily said, “and a change will do us all some good for a few days.”

“Why don’t you just go alone, Emily?” Peg pleaded.

“What good will that do?” Emily replied. “If you remember, he told us that he could never abandon his children. If he sees only me, it will be easier for him to say he doesn’t want to be with them anymore. If he sees them, it will be like facing Julie, and it will be hard for him to turn them away.”

Although it was very hard for them, Peg and Dan reluctantly agreed that Emily was doing the best thing she could possibly think of. Dan picked her up and took her to the airport, and she just barely made it in time for their flight. She had booked three seats, using the money that had been her pay for the summer months from Garret. The money had been drawing interest in a savings account all summer, in case any unforeseen emergency came up with her car or her home needing repairs. This was an emergency, as far as she was concerned.

Cody was so excited about this new and exciting “p’ane” that he could hardly sit in his seat during take-off. Chloe sat right beside Emily, whimpering and crying when the plane lifted into the air. Emily chewed gum, but the twins could not do so. She felt the thrill of being lifted into the sky, and ascending above the clouds.

Once they were up in the air and the seatbelt light was lifted, Emily put Chloe up onto her lap. She showed them the clouds out of the window, and for a few minutes, that seemed to satisfy Cody, although Chloe fussed and clung to Emily. Cody wanted down, but Emily knew there was no place for him to go. She busied him with reading some picture books, and then a couple of small toys that she had put into her carry-on bag. He grew restless. Even the snacks she gave him didn’t hold his attention for long.

Their layover was short, and an airport employee gave Emily, her luggage and the children a ride on a cart over to the gate where the next flight was boarding. Cody fought being strapped into his seatbelt, but she managed to hold him down long enough, his legs kicking, until they were once again up in the air and could release their safety belts.

When the plane arrived in Dallas in the afternoon, Emily realized her dilemma. She did not have an address for Garret’s apartment. She had the address for the office, though. The car rental agency at the airport also rented car seats, and Emily paid a deposit on two lightweight car seats. With two suitcases, two car seats, two toddlers and a flight bag, she did not know how she was going to get out of the airport safely. An airport employee gave her and the luggage and children a ride through the airport and outside to a parking lot, where taxis awaited the travelers. She buckled the children into the car seats in the back of the taxi, while the driver threw her bags into the trunk. Then she climbed into the front seat. By now the kids were crying loudly.

“We’re going to see Daddy,” she said, hoping that would calm them down. Instead, Cody began to cry,

“Da-Da! Da-Da!” His cries mingled with Chloe’s until the sound was unbearable. Emily would have given them bottles, but she had nothing to fill them with.

The taxi driver took them to a downtown office building that looked beautiful with its white marble and glass structure. “Ma’am, do you need some help getting to where you need to be?” Emily burst into tears. “You are meeting someone here?”

“Yes, I am. I don’t know which floor the office is on, though.”

“You take the children in. I’ll bring the luggage and the car seats for you,” he offered, and Emily did as he suggested. She picked up a twin in each arm, and almost staggered, as her legs had not had much exercise during the trip. The taxi driver followed with the luggage, which he deposited inside the door of the building while he returned for the car seats. Emily read the building directory and found Garret’s office listed on the seventh floor.

The taxi driver loaded her luggage and seats into the elevator, and rode up to the seventh floor with her. She thanked him for his kindness, and when he had set everything on the floor in the long hallway, she gave him the money for the cab ride, with a generous tip. In a fatherly fashion, he tipped his hat to her, and said, “You take care of yourself, now,” before returning to the elevator

Emily felt like she had weathered a hurricane. Her hair was falling out of its braid and hung around her face. Her sweatshirt was too warm for the Dallas temperature and she was perspiring. The twins’ needed to have their diapers changed and their faces and hands were sticky with juice and cracker crumbs. She was hungry, and exhausted.

She set Cody down, and he was glad to be free. He took off running, and she called out after him. She could see that there was no place for him to go, so she picked up the flight bag and followed him. The luggage and car seats would just have to sit there for a few minutes.

There was a public restroom off from the hallway. Emily went in and tried to keep the twins in the stall with her while she used the toilet, but Cody crawled out and ran around in the outer area. There was no changing table in the restroom, so she laid a blanket from the diaper bag on the floor. Cody wiggled while she tried to free him of his diaper, and put him in a new one. She decided against putting him in clean clothes, since he was not willing to sit quietly. She changed Chloe’s diaper and put a clean sweatshirt on her, brushing her ringlets carefully. “We want Daddy to see you looking all pretty,” she murmured.

“Da-Da?” the little girl questioned, looking up at Emily innocently.

Emily only gave herself a cursory glance in the mirror as she left the restroom. She needed to brush her hair and redo the braid, and she could have used some makeup. But she wasn’t the one Garret needed to see, and there wasn’t time for that anyway.

She found the entrance to Garret’s office at the end of the hall. As she walked in, she was taken aback by its elegant furnishings. A red-haired woman sat at the desk, typing on a computer keyboard. Hher jaw dropped open in surprise when she noticed Emily, holding Chloe and Cody in her arms.

“I’m here to see Garret,” Emily announced.

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asked, trying to maintain her professional coolness.

Emily was just frustrated enough after a long day that her tongue was sharp.

“I don’t think I’ll need one. Would you please tell him that Emily and the twins are here?”

“Twins?” the receptionist’s voice squeaked out. Looking Emily in the eye, she answered, “He is not here right now. He had a meeting outside of the office and he’s expected back in one hour.”

“We’ll wait.” Emily sat down in a mauve-cushioned chair across from the receptionist desk. There was a large, life-like plant and a stand with some magazines nearby. Cody had been cooped up all day, and he let loose by running in circles around the reception area. Emily was too tired to calm him down. He moved the magazines off of the table in one sweeping gesture, and toppled the plant over. Emily was glad that it was neither a real plant nor real dirt that fell from the wicker basket onto the light-colored carpet.

“Cody,” Emily reprimanded the toddler, who looked at her with a gleam of mischief in his eyes.

She set Chloe down on a chair next to hers and leaned down to pick up the magazines and the plant. Chloe started to cry. Cody pushed the magazines off of the table again, and Emily set him down on the chair she vacated as she moved to pick them up. He howled in protest at having to sit in a chair. Emily saw out of the corner of her eye that the receptionist was talking on the phone. Let Garret take the blame for having noisy children, she thought, in a moment of irritation.

A few minutes passed, and a tall, graying gentleman walked into the reception area from an inner office. Surprise registered on his face when he saw the children and Emily, but he came forward with a pleasant smile.

“You must be Emily. I’m Ron.” He reached out a hand and she shook it. She felt relieved by the warmth and humor in his eyes.

“I am. And these two are Chloe and Cody.” She gestured to the twins who were looking up at him with tear-streaked faces.

“I’m Ron. I have a feeling Garret is going to be quite surprised to see all of you. Teri tells me he is at a meeting and should be arriving in about an hour.” Ron assessed the situation quickly. “We have a conference room available. Would you like to move into there so you may have a little privacy?”

“I would. I have luggage and car seats in the hallway. Do you think they will be all right there?”

“We’ll bring them on into the office. Teri, would you please show Miss Riley the conference room?” he called over his shoulder as he walked to the door.

“Would you follow me, please?” Teri moved out from behind the desk and walked briskly around some file cabinets. She opened the door to a spacious room with a long table, cushioned chairs, and bookshelves.

Emily sat down in one of the chairs, and let Cody down. When he made a beeline for the open door, Teri looked horrified and took a step backward, closing the door behind her. Cody cried, but then seemed to realize there was another area to explore. He ran around the table and crawled under it.

After a couple of minutes, the door opened again, and it was Ron. “I brought your luggage in, and the seats.” He sat down in one of the chairs and peeked under the table at Cody, who giggled. “I gave Garret your message yesterday, and he said he would take care of it. Obviously, he didn’t.”

Emily started to cry. “I didn’t know what else to do. It’s been over a month since we had heard anything.”

“This will be a real eye-opener for him,” Ron said. “I think you did the right thing, Emily. Now, did you have any lunch?”

“We had a little on the plane.”

He made a face. “Airline food is not the greatest. There is a deli downstairs. They have good sandwiches and salads. Let me get a menu for you to look at.” Ron disappeared from the room, and Cody started to cry.

When Ron came back in, he handed Emily the menu. She quickly scanned it.

“Whatever you want, we’ll call and have them bring it up.” Ron added with a touch of humor, “We’ll just charge it to Garret’s account.”

Emily managed a watery smile. “I’ll have a turkey sandwich, and French fries, and a dish of applesauce.” She handed the menu back to him. “And milk or juice, if they have it, for these two.”

“We have a soda machine in the office. Do you like cola?”

She nodded. “Diet, if you have it.”

Ron was gone for a couple of minutes, and returned with a can of soda. “I told Garret he was playing with fire. When he first came to Dallas, he said he did not want anyone here to know he had ever been married and widowed. His children have never been mentioned.”

Emily felt the heat rise in her face. What had she done? Bringing the kids here when Garret had not owned up to them? And how could Garret have done this?

“He’s the one who made the wrong choice, Emily,” Ron said, as though guessing her thoughts. “He has to live with the consequences.”

Emily knew he was right, but after Ron left, she worried over the choice she had made to fly down to Dallas. “I just could not let Peg and Dan call a lawyer,” she whispered, moving the pop can out of Chloe’s reach. “Not without giving Garret a chance to have his say.”

Ron came back within fifteen minutes, with a Styrofoam box, two half- pint cartons of milk, and a small dish with a plastic lid. He pulled silverware sealed in plastic from his suit pocket. “I think that’s everything, Emily. I’m going to leave you now. I have some calls to return. I’d love to be a mouse in the corner when Garret gets in here, but I’ll leave it in your capable hands.” Ron grinned at Emily before he walked out and closed the door.

The twins ate the applesauce Emily fed them hungrily, and then she gave them some fries. She choked down a few bites of sandwich, and drank her pop, but as hungry as she had been, she was not sure her nervous stomach could digest the food. She poured milk into the twins’ sippy cups, and watched them carefully so nothing would spill on the beautiful veneer surface of the conference table.

Having had enough to eat, Cody got down from his chair and began to bounce around the room. Chloe did not get down to play, but she giggled as she watched Cody. When he went under the table, she bent down to look at him, and Emily was glad to hear their happy sounds of laughter. She could not help thinking about what Ron had told her.

Why had Garret wanted his marital status and children to be kept secret in his new office? How had he kept from telling anyone about them? Perhaps he had planned all along to get on with his life, without his children. Emily almost wept at the thought that after all the years Garret had been married to her cousin, he had chosen to ignore the values they had once shared, of love for family and for God.

End of Chapter 15

Come back next week to read Chapters 16 and 17 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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