Substitute Family Chapters 22 and 23

Chapter 22

Emily went home with her parents on Christmas day in the evening. She finished packing and enjoyed the extra time with her family, without the responsibility of the kids. Garret brought the moving van by on the day after Christmas, in the evening, and his brother was with him. They loaded Emily’s day bed and wardrobe chest. Mike complained about how heavy it was and that they would have to get it up the stairs to Emily’s apartment. Garret hushed him, hoping Emily hadn’t heard. She was already giving up her whole life to help him settle the kids. If she wanted the heavy piece of furniture, they would do it for her, he told Mike.

They returned to Garret’s house with the moving van and loaded all of his furniture and boxes, packing bubble wrap around the flat screen TV. The next morning, two days after Christmas, Emily drove to Garret’s house, her car packed down with everything she could think of to keep the kids hydrated, fed and entertained on the trip to Texas. They were driving half the distance today, and it would be another full day of riding the next day, also.

It was five o’clock in the morning, and both kids were already awake.

“They’re really confused in the empty house,” Garret told her. “We waited until this morning to pack their toys that wouldn’t fit in your car. Cody cried the whole time we were doing it.”

“That’s unusual for him to cry much,” Emily said. “He must be pretty upset.”

“I hope being up this early means they will sleep in the car,” Garret said. Emily hoped so too. “It would help you out if they spend part of the ride sleeping.”

Dan and Peg had come to see them off. Peg was sobbing when she hugged Chloe, and that upset both of the kids. Dan shook Garret’s hand and hugged Emily, then led his wife back to their car.

Garret’s mom and stepdad hugged Emily and thanked her again for helping Garret. Then they left, too. Emily had said her goodbyes to her parents earlier in the morning, so she was all ready to go.

Garret buckled the twins into their car seats in the back of Emily’s car. He drove her car to Ron and Taylor’s, with Mike following them in the moving van. Ron had a few things that hadn’t fit into their moving van, and Garret had room, so they took a half hour and finished loading up. Then they were on their way in a convoy; Ron driving the first moving van with his son-in-law; Taylor and her daughter driving their SUV behind Ron; Garret driving the moving van the first stretch of the trip, with Mike asleep in the passenger seat; then Emily following Garret’s moving van.

“Looks like we’re bringing up the rear, guys,” Emily said. Garret had purchased a DVD player that hung over the seat, and she put in one of their favorite music DVDs. She had a small cooler and a tote bag sitting on the passenger seat within easy reach. There were snacks and drinks for the twins and her.

It was snowing in the southern part of Michigan and into Indiana. They didn’t make as good of time as they had planned on. The twins drifted off to sleep within a half hour and stayed sleeping for the four-hour stretch until they stopped to eat.

Garret came up beside the car and Emily opened the door and stepped out. She stretched, feeling the tension in her neck and shoulders.

They were outside a chain family restaurant.

“We’re going to eat here,” Garret said. “That way everyone can choose what they want to eat, since some want breakfast, and some would rather have lunch. Like Mike,” he called over his shoulder.

Mike shrugged. “I prefer a hamburger instead of eggs, that’s all,” he said. Emily noticed how much his grin was like Garret’s.

After they ate, Garret got in behind the wheel of Emily’s car and drove the second stretch. She was thankful that he was there. The twins did not sleep at all, since they had slept previously. She tried to keep them entertained with the puzzles, toys and snacks she had brought. They were not content with anything for very long.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be a long ride,” Emily said, and Garret agreed.

Emily switched the DVD’s out every half hour, but they were all children’s music videos.

“I think I am going to go insane listening to these songs play over and over,” Garret muttered.

“I know what you mean.” But there was nothing they could do differently.

They made another stop at a gas station and convenience store at three o’clock. Garret and his brother bought sandwiches. Emily opted not to eat again, since she had been snacking and feeding the kids snacks and drinks. She used the restroom herself and then changed their diapers. She let them run around on the sidewalk until everyone was ready to go.

“I hate to leave you by yourself, Em,” Garret said. “But I’m going to spell Mike in the van. He says he needs some sleep.”

“I think they may sleep awhile this time, again,” she said, hoping more than she was certain. After a half hour, they started to fuss and cry, but fell asleep.

Emily enjoyed a couple of hours of peace. She played her worship CD’s and daydreamed about her new apartment. As Garret had asked her to, she had purchased the curtains for his apartment as well as hers, along with bathroom rugs, entry rugs, and linens. She had found a bedspread and matching curtains that were supposed to be for a bedroom, that would pass for living room décor as well. She couldn’t wait to get her things set up in her new apartment.

She just wished they could wave a magic wand and get there without traveling.

Especially when Cody awakened after a two-hour nap and fussed until Chloe was awake, too. Snacks and drinks did not make them happy. When Emily handed back toys, they just threw them onto the floor. She could not put a DVD in while she was driving, so she found herself singing happy little songs to keep the toddlers from crying.

It was a relief to pull into their hotel parking lot at eight o’clock. Emily waited in the car with the twins while Garret checked them in.

Garret found out that Taylor had rented adjoining rooms for him and Emily. She was not going to like it, but it made sense.

“I thought you could help her if the kids cry in the night,” Taylor explained her decision.

Emily did not look happy when Garret told her.

“I guess I assumed they are your kids, they would sleep with you,” she said, half-serious.

“We’re a team, remember?” he was half-serious as well. “I can’t do this without you.”

“I know.” She smiled. “We’re in this together.”

Ron and Taylor and their daughter and son-in-law were going to have a nice dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Garret, Mike and Emily checked into their adjoining rooms.

“What do you want to do for supper?” Garret asked. “We can go downstairs, or we can order something in.”

Cody was running around the rooms, exploring everything. Chloe sat on Emily’s lap and fussed. Emily was tired, and she did not feel like getting out again. “I’d like to order room service, if that’s all right.”

“That’s all right with me. Mike?”

“Fine. Do they have hamburgers?”

“I think you would live on hamburgers if you could,” Garret said in a teasing tone. He found a menu on the nightstand. “They have hamburgers. That sounds good to me, too.” He handed the menu to Emily.

There was not a lot of variety on the menu, since the restaurant was a steakhouse. Emily chose a hamburger and fries for herself, and a second hamburger and fries for the twins to share. “Get lots of ketchup,” she told Garret when he was getting ready to call in the order.

Cody ate hungrily, but Chloe only picked at her food. It was after ten o’clock before the kids fell asleep. They put them in one of the beds in Emily’s room, and she fell asleep in the other soon after they did.

Their early start the following morning was delayed when Taylor awoke with a headache. Garret took Emily, Mike and the twins to the restaurant for a buffet-style breakfast while they waited for Ron’s family to get up and around. It was almost eight o’clock when they started out from their hotel, a fact which irritated Garret.

“I wanted to get to Dallas at a reasonable time,” he muttered as he buckled Cody into his car seat.

Emily started out the day alone, and the twins were wide-awake for the first segment of the trip. By the time they stopped for lunch, Cody and Chloe were crying hard and Emily was near tears herself. Since it was a late start, even Taylor opted for fast food.

After lunch, Garret took another turn driving Emily’s car. “I can’t believe it’s taking so long to get going today,” he grumbled. “If I had known Taylor was going to make so many stops, I would have made the trip by ourselves. We would get there faster.”

“I don’t think she realizes how difficult it is to drive this far with two toddlers,” Emily said.

“Ron has said that his mother practically raised their daughter while Taylor worked. She didn’t like all of the sticky messes that come with children.”

“I’m surprised he tells that about her.”

“He says it like it doesn’t bother him. He’s very indulgent with her. You should see this house they bought in one of the Dallas suburbs. It’s a showcase.”

Fortunately, Chloe and Cody fell asleep after lunch and slept for a two-hour stretch. “Good, no silly music videos,” Garret said with relief.

“Do you want some music on?”

“That would be nice. Do you have some Christian bands? Mike’s favorite music is rock and I am tired of all the heavy metal running through my brain.”

“Would you listen to a worship CD?” Emily asked. “I didn’t pack anything else.”

He grimaced. “Are you going to force church on me?”

“Have I ever?” she asked seriously.

He glanced at her, and their eyes met. He looked back at the road.

“No, you haven’t. You’ve preached at me a time or two, though.”

“I can’t help it. Sometimes I just have to voice my opinion.”

He grinned. “I don’t mind if you voice your opinion, and even if you quote Scripture to me. As long as you don’t expect me to go to church with you.”

“Will you let me take the kids? They’ve been going with me since you moved to Dallas.”

He had a lot to thank Emily for. He knew she had prayed for him, last summer and again in the fall. He had seen the answers to some of her prayers. She allowed her relationship with God to direct her life. He had been surprised that she agreed to move to Dallas, but she had told him she felt it was God’s will.

How could he deny her the right to teach Christian values to his kids? At one time, he would have done the same thing. And he knew Julie would want the kids raised in church. They had been faithful in attendance when the accident happened. He guessed he had never really gotten over his anger at God for allowing her to die.

“I’ve always enjoyed my Sunday mornings with them because we don’t have to rush anywhere.” He saw that she was about to protest, but he held up his hand to stop her from speaking. “Let’s see how things go once we get settled in.” To make it up to her, he added, “You can play your worship music, if you want to.”

He had made her a little angry, so Emily took him up on his offer and played the worship music. It relaxed her and brought her peace. She couldn’t help but notice that on a few of the songs, Garret was mouthing the words, as though he were singing them silently. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if the music touched his heart, she thought. But after a half hour she shut it off. She didn’t want to put any pressure on him.

She had told herself it didn’t matter if Garret went to church or not, because they were not in a relationship. They would be working together to raise the kids, for the time being, and she knew they were going to butt heads when it came to church and teaching them the Bible. She was prepared for that, though, because she knew she was right in wanting them to have some spiritual training. And because she knew, that Garret knew, that she was right, also.

He might still be angry with God over Julie’s death, but he could not unlearn all of those years of Bible study and music that had been so much a part of his life. She felt like it would only be a matter of time for Garret to work through his grief and return to his faith. It may not happen while she was the nanny, though. She had to be patient and let God work in His timing, not hers.

In the afternoon they stopped for food and Garret left Emily, so he could drive the moving van through the busy streets of Dallas. “Stay close behind me,” he told Emily. “I’ll stop at every yellow light, so you don’t lose me.”

“We’ve got cell phones if I get lost,” she said.

She kept pace behind Garret as he led her through the city to a neighborhood where the houses were older and larger, most of them fixed up into rentals. The streets were tree lined. He stopped in front of a white house with a small front yard. There was not much space for two busy toddlers to play.

The air was warm as Emily got out of the car, and unbuckled Chloe from her seat. Cody let out a happy holler when Garret took him out of the car and set him on the ground. “It’s almost like he knows we’re home.” Garret watched Cody run around, then turned to Emily. “We’ll just take in what we have to have tonight, since it’s getting pretty late, and do the biggest share of the unloading tomorrow.”

While Mike and Garret brought in the beds, living room furniture and the dining room table and chairs. Emily kept watch on the door, so the curious twins did not escape the apartment. The apartment was clean, as Garret had come by a few days ago and checked both of their places and given them a good cleaning. Since no one had lived in them since the remodeling, everything looked new and shiny.

After they had set up the toddler beds in the larger bedroom, Garret said, “Em, I’ll take you up and show you your apartment, while Uncle Mike baby-sits.”

“Don’t leave me here with them,” Mike protested. He had a fearful look on his face.

“For five minutes, you can handle it,” Garret said without any sympathy.

He opened the apartment door and walked out into the entryway. Another door opened up to a staircase, and he led the way upstairs. He passed the landing that had a door opening off from it. “This is another apartment, which is being rented by some college students,” he told her.

A second flight of stairs went up to the attic. He took out a key and handed it to Emily, and she unlocked the door.

“I hope you’re not disappointed.” Garret sounded worried.

Emily pushed open the door and walked in, fumbling for a light switch on the wall. Looking around, she detected the smell of recent paint and disinfectant. As the picture had shown, the walls were a light blue and it had dark blue carpet. There was a square of linoleum in front of the stove and sink. A refrigerator stood near a door that led to the bathroom, which had a corner shower, a pedestal sink and toilet.

“It’s nice in here,” Emily said, walking back into the big room. She could see the relief on Garret’s face that she liked the apartment. “Do you think you can bring the furniture up tonight?” By her watch, it was midnight Michigan time.

“I think Mike’s ready to crash. Would you mind staying downstairs tonight, and we can move your stuff in the morning.”

“I don’t mind.” Emily felt a little nervous about staying the first night in her new apartment, although it looked well secured. After she had moved everything in tomorrow, it would feel more like home to her.

She found the box with the bedding and made up the toddler beds. “You can have my bed,” Garret suggested, and she frowned at him.

“You can have your bed, and I’ll take the couch,” she said.

“I thought I was going to sleep on the couch,” Mike protested.

“You and Garret can fight over who is going to get the bed and who will sleep on the floor in Garret’s room,” Emily said with determination. She changed the twins’ diapers and put them in their pajamas. They were so tired that they did not cry when she and Garret put them to bed in their new beds in the strange new room. Garret took a pile of blankets, and he made a bed for Mike on the floor of his room. Emily decided that, although she was sleeping alone in the living room, she would sleep fully clothed. The open windows bothered her, so she tacked spare sheets up to cover the windows until tomorrow, when she could find the box the curtains were packed in.

Chapter 23

On their first morning in Dallas, Chloe woke up at 7:00 Michigan time. She cried and fussed in her new toddler bed until Emily woke up. Emily got up from the couch and walked to the bedroom, just as Garret was leaving his bedroom to check on her. She was glad she had gone to sleep in her knit pants and T-shirt when she came face-to-face with him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt.

“Good morning,” he said, before stepping into the toddlers’ bedroom.

Chloe was sitting up in her toddler bed, and her sobs ceased as she saw her dad and Emily. “She does not realize she can climb out of bed by herself now,” Emily said, watching the muscles move in Garret shoulders and back as he lifted Chloe up into his arms. Before he turned around, she had focused her attention on something else. She did not want to be caught staring.

“I’m glad she hasn’t discovered it yet,” he said. He followed Emily out of the room. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up one night and find them tearing through the house.”

“That’s part of them growing up.”

She went to use the bathroom. When she returned to the kitchen, Garret had put a T-shirt on. He was looking in the refrigerator door. “I don’t have any milk or juice,” he said as he shut the door and looked at Emily.

“I brought an unopened jar of apple juice in one of these boxes,” Emily said. She looked through the few boxes that were brought in the night before, and found one marked “Pantry.”

“You’re pretty efficient,” Garret said with an admiring look.

“Maybe not as efficient as it looks,” she admitted, glancing at the labels on the other boxes. “The dishes and cups must still be in the truck.”

“Do you have one we can rinse out from last night?”

When they arrived last night, she had carried in the tote bag from the front seat of the car, and there were the cups in it that they had used on the trip. She rinsed them with hot water and dried them with a paper towel taken from another box labeled “Household.”

“It’s going to be almost impossible to cook anything until we get some of this stuff put away.” She handed Chloe her cup. “If we had milk, we could eat cereal, if we had the box with the dishes and silverware in here.” She smiled, and Garret responded with a chuckle.

“I can run to a store for milk, and get the dishes out of the van, or I can run out to McDonalds. Which would you rather I do?”

“McDonalds would be easier this morning. I can work at some of this while you’re gone.”

“Yeah, and if Mike gets up, we can unload the van when I get back.” Garret’s grin belied his stern voice.

“What time does his flight leave?”

“Not until 1:00. But we have to unload this truck and then take it over to Ron’s to drop off the boxes they put in, and help them unload their furniture, and take the moving van back to the rental agency.”

Garret left to bring back breakfast, and Emily settled Chloe in her booster seat with some animal crackers and her juice. Then she went into the bathroom and changed into jeans and a T-shirt.

Returning to the kitchen, she filled one side of the sink with hot water, finding a rag and soap in a box labeled, “Cleaning.”

When Garret came back with breakfast, Emily was standing on a chair, washing out the insides of the kitchen cabinets. For a moment, his eyes wandered over her jean-clad legs, but he quickly put that out of his mind. He said jokingly, “You’re not going to fall and file a worker’s comp claim, are you?”

She looked as though she were seriously considering the idea. “I don’t think it would do me any good, since you’re not insured for it,” she said lightly. “It looks like the landlord just put in new shelf paper when he remodeled.”

“He probably did. He said they took out the old cabinets and put these in. These were second-hand, and he refinished them and spruced them up a little, he said.”

“They look nice in here, and they’re clean,” she said, climbing down off of the chair.

Mike came wandering out of the bedroom, his hair standing up in spikes on top of his head. He wore the wrinkled T-shirt and sweatpants he had traveled in yesterday, and he was yawning. “Smelled the food, did you?” Garret remarked, and Mike grinned.

“I see it was your turn to cook,” he joked as he passed the kitchen on his way to the bathroom.

Little footsteps sounded on the carpet, and Cody raced into the room. “I up!” he yelled excitedly, waving his arms.

“You’re up, huh?” Garret caught him up into in his arms. “How do you like your new bed?”

“F’ies!” Cody shouted, reaching for the bag of food.

“It’s not fries, buddy, but there’s a couple of hash browns in there.” Garret put Cody in a booster seat in the chair next to him. Emily looked at the table and realized they only had four chairs. When Mike came out of the bathroom, he saw the dilemma as well.

“Go ahead and sit at the table, Emily,” Mike said. “I’ll go in the other room.”

“Just pull that end table over here and sit on that, Mike,” Garret said. So Emily sat in the remaining chair and Mike sat on the solid oak end table. His head was even with Cody’s, and Cody reached over and patted him on the head.

Mike grinned at his nephew. “You think he’ll get as tall as me?”

“It’d be nice, but I don’t think two accidents of nature can happen in the same family,” Garret joked. Mike reached a hand out as though to slug Garret, but Garret looked pointedly at Cody. “Sorry, you can’t hit me in front of my son. You’ll teach him bad things.”

Emily tried to hide a smile. Garret noticed that her eyes sparkled, and he found himself wondering if they always did when she laughed. He hadn’t noticed before, and was frustrated with himself for noticing that now.

After breakfast, Garret and Mike unloaded all of the furniture and boxes from the van except for Ron and Taylor’s things. They carried Emily’s furniture and boxes upstairs. The wardrobe presented a problem. It was large and heavy, and Garret and Mike debated whether they could get it up the two flights of stairs.

“Why don’t we trade it for the dresser I brought in for the twins?” Garret suggested. “We can get the dresser upstairs much easier.”

In response, he saw Emily’s lower lip tremble. For some reason, the wardrobe meant a lot to her.

Hiding his frustration, he turned back to Mike and the wardrobe. “I think we can take the drawers out and turn it on its side,” he said. Mike scowled. “We can try,” Garret insisted.

They got it up the first flight of stairs, but it was tricky getting it around the corner at the landing. Garret’s fingers were pinched between the wardrobe and the wall as it scraped against the wall, and he yelled. At last, the wardrobe was situated against the wall inside Emily’s studio apartment. Emily stepped over to it, putting one of the drawers she had carried up behind them in the dresser side of the wardrobe. She opened the other door and showed them the clothes rod.

“There’s no closet up here, but I can hang clothes in here.”

The sparkles were back in her eyes, and Garret found himself somehow drawn in.

He turned and his eyes met Mike’s, who was watching him curiously.

There was a moment of odd tension, then Mike said in a joking tone, “Just don’t call me when you want to move it back downstairs.”

Emily laughed, and so did Garret.

“We have to get the van over to Ron and Taylor’s.” Garret glanced at his cell phone. “We’ll pick up my car from their house, where I left it while we were gone. Then after we drop the moving van off at the rental place, I’ll take Mike on to the airport.”

Emily nodded, and smiled at Mike. “Thanks again for your help,” she said. He shrugged and grinned.

“Do you want to get out to the store yourself, or do you want me to stop and pick up milk on my way home?” Garret asked.

“I’m pretty tired yet, and the twins aren’t going to want to get in the car again today.” Emily voiced her thoughts. “I think we’ll hang out here. Can you get a loaf of bread and some diet Coke, too?”

As Mike and Garret left the house, Mike said, “That sounded like a wifely thing to say.”

Garret frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Emily and you. You don’t think I’m blind, do you?” Mike ducked around the side of the moving van.

As Garret climbed into the driver’s seat, he thought about Mike’s words.

“So what’s up? What are you talking about?”

“You don’t even realize it, but you’re looking at her all the time with a goofy look in your eyes.”

“Be quiet or I’ll slug you,” Garret said, with a warning look that Mike did not argue with.

After a few moments, Mike said, “Hey, don’t think I mind, ‘cause I don’t. Emily’s okay. She’s pretty nice-looking, and she loves the kids. You couldn’t find someone better than her.”

“I don’t want to find anyone.” Garret’s anger was reflected in his tone. “I’m not looking for a replacement for Julie.”

“Sometimes you don’t have to be looking to find a good thing,” Mike said. “Sometimes it just takes you by surprise.”

“And you’re the expert on finding love and marriage?”

“Not hardly. I don’t want to settle down with anyone.”

“That’s good, ‘cause no one would have you anyway,” Garret said, his anger fading as he took the opportunity to tease his younger brother. Mike shot him a sullen look, but soon he was grinning back.

After Garret and Mike left, Emily called Peg. She was relieved to get her voice mail. She left a brief message saying that they had made it to Dallas and were settling into their apartments. She made sure to pluralize apartments, as her aunt and uncle were not totally convinced that she and Garret were living separately.

Then she called her parents. “Are you homesick yet?” her mom asked. Emily was frustrated at the tears that came to her eyes at hearing her mom’s voice.

“A little,” she admitted honestly. “But the apartments are really nice, and it’s kind of fun getting everything put in its place.”

“You always did like that sort of thing,” her mom said, and Emily could picture her almost shuddering. “That’s not my cup of tea.”

By now the twins were restless and hungry. Emily opened a can of pasta shapes for their lunch.

“We’ll go out and get some groceries soon,” she promised them, and they smiled at her with sauce on their fingers and faces.

After she cleaned them up, she took them into their new bedroom and unpacked boxes of their toys. Cody was delighted over each toy that came out of the box, and hugged it to him as though it were a long-lost friend. Chloe sat on her new bed, holding her baby doll and looking around the new room with a look of concern in her eyes. After a few minutes, Emily looked over and saw that Chloe had curled up on her bed and fallen asleep.

Garret in at one-thirty carrying a grocery bag and a gallon of milk. He set the milk in the refrigerator and the bag on the counter.

Cody came running out of his bedroom with his hands full of toys.

Garret picked him up and pretended a great interest in the trucks and tractor.

“Where’s Chloe?”

“She fell asleep while I was unpacking the toys.”

“I picked up some hamburger and buns,” he said. “Hope that was okay.”

There was also a package of cheese slices and a loaf of bread, along with bananas.

Cody was excited to see the banana, so Emily peeled one and handed him half.

There was also a cold bottle of diet cola. Emily picked up the pop and hugged it as though it were a cherished treasure.

“Thank you,” she said with an exaggerated grateful look. “It’s even cold.”

Garret laughed. “Without any ice here, I knew better than to bring a warm bottle of pop.”

“Hamburgers okay for lunch?”.

“I can cook them, though. Do you have anything you need to do?”

“It would be nice to get their clothes put away.”

Emily put away the clothes. She and Peg had gone shopping and purchased light weight sweat suits, short sleeved shirts and long pants for them. They had purchased lightweight winter coats but no snow pants. Also jackets, and a couple of sweaters. Peg had insisted on buying a couple of dresses for Chloe and dress pants and shirts for Cody.

“I don’t think Garret is going to want me to take them to a strange church,” Emily said.

“You never know. It’s better to be prepared,” Peg said.

“Garret might not like you paying for all of these clothes.”

“They’re my grandkids,” Peg had told her. “I’ll buy them clothes whenever I want to.”

Emily felt like she was being sneaky, putting the clothes away before Garret could notice most of them were new, even though the tags were off, and they had been washed.

Cody played happily in his room with his toys while she took care of the clothes.

Garret poked his head in the doorway.

“Ready to eat?” he asked.

“Eat!” Cody ran ahead of Emily to the door.

“He had canned pasta earlier, but I guess he could smell the hamburgers cooking.”

Emily cut up a piece of hamburger and put ketchup on Cody’s plate so he could dip it. They ate in near silence.

“There’s not a lot of elbow room, is there?” Garret said. “It’s not a huge apartment, but it is comfortable and clean.”

After lunch, they discovered a negative aspect about the apartment. “No dishwasher!” they said at the same time, as they stood in front of the counter holding the plates.

“We’ll never survive without one,” Garret said.

“I guess we’ll have to use paper plates more often.” Emily started to run water into the sink.

Garret reached out a hand to stop her. “You don’t have to wash these, Emily. I can do it.”

“I don’t mind.” But seeing the determined look on his face, she stepped back.

“We need to talk about the workload, too.” Garret ran the water into the sink. “My mom asked me if I was going to expect you to be both housekeeper and babysitter, and I guess I had not thought much about it up until that point. When Peg watched the kids, she cooked dinner every night and cleaned the house. You did a lot of cooking for us last summer. I don’t expect you to cook for us every night here. Your job is done when I get home from work.”

For some reason his words stung. She had been taking care of the twins 24/7 and was used to spending the evenings with them, giving them supper and giving them baths. She hadn’t thought about how different things would be now.

“I don’t mind cooking sometimes for all of us. I like to cook, and I will be going up to my apartment and cooking meals for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to cook small portions, and I get tired of leftovers.”

“In that case, feel free to cook supper anytime,” he said. “I can take the leftovers for lunch the next day.”

“I don’t want you to get bored with what I cook.”

“I’ve been baching it, and I am sick of frozen dinners and fast food. I will be glad for some home-cooked meals.” His expression turned serious. “But on the weekends, I don’t expect you to come over and cook for us. I can handle cooking a few meals.”

Cody was almost falling asleep in his chair. “I think I will put this guy down for a nap and get some things done in my room,” Garret said.

She felt as if she were being dismissed. “I’ve got a lot to do upstairs.”

Emily worked on putting everything right in her studio apartment that afternoon. As with Garret’s apartment, she found she had brought more than what she had room for, so in one corner of her room she ended up with a stack of boxes almost ceiling high. She put the rocking chair in front of it, until she could think of a better way to hide it.

Around four o’clock, there was a knock on her door. She opened it and found Cody standing on the top step, with Garret a step behind him holding Chloe.

“Hello. We’re from the Welcome Wagon –” Garret said.

Emily laughed as she stepped back and motioned them inside.

He looked around, taking in the neatness of the furnishings, the curtains and the quilt on the daybed. “It looks great in here, Em,” he said. Cody immediately started exploring the room. “Is he okay?”

“Believe me, when I put everything away, I made sure it was toddler- proof,” she said. “Well, except for the cabinets. I have some safety latches for these and the ones downstairs, but I wasn’t sure how to install them.”

“Maybe I can do that,” he suggested. She handed a package of the latches to him, and he studied the instructions on the back. “These are similar to the ones Julie had me put in.” It looked like that bothered him. “I’ll run downstairs and grab a screwdriver,” he said. She didn’t tell him that she had a small toolkit. She thought maybe he needed to get away for a few minutes when the memories of Julie hit him.

While he installed the safety latches, Emily played with the kids, getting them adjusted to her new space. It would be their space, too, as she might bring them upstairs sometimes to explore a different place.

“Do you want to get some dinner somewhere?” He checked his phone “It’s 5:30.”

“I didn’t realize it had grown so late.”

“I thought we could order pizza, if you don’t want to get out,” he suggested.

“Pizza sounds good. Do we live in a neighborhood with a pizza place that delivers?”

“I think there’s one pretty close. We’re in the same neighborhood as the college.” Garret looked at the boxes stacked behind her chair. “I forgot to mention that we have a key to the little storage shed out back,” he said. “For ten dollars extra a month, the landlord told me I could have that for our use.”

“Oh, good. Maybe later we can take some of these out.” Emily followed him from the apartment and locked the door. “There are some boxes of extras in your apartment, too. I guess I did not realize I had packed so much.”

“It’s better to pack too much than too little, isn’t it?” He grinned over his shoulder at her. “It’s a long way back to Michigan if you forgot something.”

They went into Garret’s apartment, and he looked up a pizzeria number on his cell.

While he called, Emily looked around the living room. The toys that were too big for playing with in the house took up a great deal of space along the wall under the window. The TV and DVD player were not hooked up yet, either. Emily’s smaller TV that he had borrowed when he first moved to Dallas was sitting on a table in the corner. It would need to go upstairs.

Garret ended the call, and his eyes followed Emily’s around the room. “There’s a lot of work to be done yet.”

Emily looked at the ride on toys that Peg and Dan had insisted on giving to the kids for Christmas. There was also the double stroller, folded up, a wagon that both kids could fit into, and the grill.

“Will all of this fit in that storage shed, with the boxes?”

They took a walk out to the storage shed and unlocked it. It would be a tight fit, but everything would go into the shed, and still have room for most of the boxes. “I think we should keep the stroller in the apartment somewhere,” Emily said. “I might want to get it out often.”

“I don’t really want you exploring the neighborhood on your own, not until I’ve had a chance to walk around with you and check things out.”

“There’s not much space for them to play outside.”

“Yeah, that was one of the drawbacks with this place. The apartments are perfect, but we only have the little bit of sidewalk in the front for them to ride all of this stuff on.”

“It will be a lot of work to go back and get the toys out, play with them awhile and take them right back to the shed each time,” Emily said. “Maybe when I’m going to be around here during the day, I can bring them up on the porch.”

“We’re not far from the park we visited last fall,” he said. “Maybe we can get out and go there sometimes on the weekends.”

She thought he was contradicting himself. Hadn’t he implied earlier that he would take care of the kids on the weekends? At least, he had said he did not expect her to come over and cook on the weekends, anyway.

Maybe they would spend time together outside of the work week. If not, her weekends were going to be lonely until she got involved in a church.

After the pizza was delivered and eaten, Garret hooked up his big flat screen TV. “I’m going to call next week and get cable hookup. Do you want me to have them hook you up, also?”

“There’s not much on that I like,” she declined. “I have a Netflix account that I am going to update so I can use it here.” She felt exhausted, and saw how tired the twins looked as well. “Do you want some help getting them baths and to bed?”

“I think we’ll manage.”

“Do you mind if I take the diet cola upstairs? I don’t have anything else to drink.”

“That’s fine, go ahead. I’ll drink milk tonight. You can come down here and eat breakfast with us in the morning, if you want to. We can go for a drive after breakfast and I can show you how to get to the stores.”

Emily looked a little doubtful. “I guess I will need to learn all of that, won’t I?” She was glad for Garret’s offer, though. She had a feeling that the little studio apartment was going to feel awfully confining until she knew her way around the city. When she returned upstairs, Emily brushed her teeth and put on pajamas. She searched her small stereo for a radio station that played Christian music, and one came in clear. She left it on, and fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

End of Chapter 23

Come back next week to read Chapters 24 & 25 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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