Authors: Debbie Macomber
To Renate Roth,
the world’s best secretary,
for the everyday miracles
she works in my life.
Be not forgetful
For thereby some have entertained
“I told you not to swear, you little shit.” Seth…
“Reba, there’s a call for you on line one.”
The doorbell jingled at the worst possible moment. Seth was…
Harriett Foster prayed with one eye open as she studied…
“You did what?”
Sharon Palmer’s marriage was dying. A long, slow, painful death…
Seth’s hand lingered on the telephone. Something was wrong with…
“We did it,” Jayne announced triumphantly when she walked into…
Emily Merkle hummed softly to herself as she went about…
Sharon Palmer quietly put dinner on the table. Her husband…
The blue dress. No, the red one. Reba couldn’t decide…
“Daddy, wake up!” Judd bounced onto Seth’s bed with all…
It was her responsibility as a Christian, Harriett Foster determined…
Humming to herself, Sharon Palmer read over the recipe and…
The phone pealed just as Reba started out the door…
“You left the milk out again,” Sharon reminded her husband…
Reba lay on the carpet next to the fireplace, her…
“I’m not wearing any dress,” Judd insisted, crossing his arms…
Sharon couldn’t have been more surprised if Elvis himself had…
Harriett Foster decided she didn’t see near enough of her…
“Your Aunt Gerty and Uncle Bill arrive late on the…
The irony of it was that Sharon had gotten along…
Emily Merkle poured herself a cup of freshly brewed tea…
Harriett Foster decided she couldn’t delay her talk with Pastor…
“Good morning,” Emily Merkle greeted as a bleary-eyed Sharon walked…
“What do you mean your aunt Harriett can’t play the…
Seth hated to turn Reba down, especially now. He knew…
Sharon didn’t see much of her husband the entire day…
The twins were down, and Sharon and Jerry had headed…
Seth sat down at the church piano, poised his fingers…
Be not forgetful
For thereby some have entertained
A lot of people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.
told you not to swear, you little shit.” Seth Webster grabbed his sons by the scruffs of their necks in order to keep his squirming twins apart. It demanded all his strength to keep the two, fists flying, from attacking each other.
“Mr. Webster!” Mrs. Hampston, his housekeeper, the third in as many months, stood with her hands braced against her hips, her mouth thinned with disapproval. “That’s hardly the example to be giving your children.”
Truth be known, Seth couldn’t have agreed with her more, but there was a limit to just how much one man could take. The minute he’d walked into the house, he’d discovered his six-
year-old twins rolling around the bedroom floor, intent on murdering one another. The woman was no help. She’d stood with her back braced against the wall and barked orders, sounding incredibly like a Yorkshire terrier. Before he could fully judge the wisdom of his actions, Seth had entered the fray. Within seconds his patience was shot.
Judd swore. Seth swore. Mrs. Hampston gasped, shocked to the very tips of her toes. Jason stuck his tongue out at his brother and looked well pleased with himself.
Judd retaliated, his tongue resembling that of a Gila monster.
“Judd. Jason. Stop that this instant.”
Both children squirmed. The fight went out of Judd first, and his shoulders slumped forward. “I’m sorry, Daddy.” His son scuffed the toe of his Nike against the bedroom carpet, his gaze lowered to the floor.
The love Seth felt for his children tightened a band around his heart.
“I was wrong, too,” he admitted, affectionately mussing the boy’s brownish red hair. The last few months had been a trial for all three of them. His in-laws had raised the twins for the past four years following Pamela’s death. Judd and Jason had been toddlers at the time of the traffic accident, needy and demanding. Seth couldn’t care for them properly and maintain his engineering position with Boeing. Having the two move in
with Sharon and Jerry had seemed the perfect solution. His own parents traveled extensively and were unable to help. With time and effort the twins had adjusted to life without their mother—something Seth had yet to manage.
“I need to talk to you privately following dinner,” Mrs. Hampston announced stiffly as she walked past him on her way back into the kitchen.
“She’s gonna quit,” Jason announced as soon as the housekeeper was out of sight.
“The same way Mrs. Cooper quit,” Judd added.
“And Mrs. Larson.”
And everyone else, Seth added silently. He felt as if the entire world had quit on him. It’d all started when Sharon had phoned last July and abruptly announced it was time the twins moved back with him. It was long past time, Seth suspected, but he’d grown comfortable leaving the responsibility for the care of his children with his in-laws, comfortable in his role of weekend “Disney” dad. With Judd and Jason due to start first grade in the fall, the time for transition was now. In the months since, Seth wondered if he was ever meant to be a father.
He appreciated his in-laws’ help. They’d done more for him and the twins than he’d ever be able to repay. But Jerry had recently retired, and the two had already sacrificed four years of their lives. Their help had gotten Seth through the
worst of the child-rearing years, or so he believed. He’d taken a crash course in this parenting business and discovered it wasn’t nearly as easy as it sounded.
It shocked Seth how short his patience could be. Within five minutes of promising himself to set a good example, he’d referred to his own son as a little shit. Unfortunately the term fit Judd to a tee. The lad was full of piss and vinegar, into everything. Nothing was sacred. Jason was the follower. On his own he was quiet and shy, but with his brother forging ahead, he was quick to follow.
It had been much easier to consider himself a decent father when he was separated by a thousand miles. He called often, mailed the kids letters, and spent as much time with them as his schedule would allow. The lessons had come swiftly and sharply that summer when Judd and Jason had moved back in with him. The quick succession of live-in housekeepers was testimony to exactly how much of a failure he’d been.
“Are you gonna wash my mouth out with soap?” Judd asked, making a face as though he could already taste the unpleasantness.
Seth sat down on the edge of the bottom bunk bed and weighed the decision.
“He can’t,” Jason assured his twin, flopping down on the mattress beside him. “Dad said the
word worse than the
word?” Jason looked to Seth for the answer.
“The hell if I know.”
Judd’s eyes widened with warning and he whispered, “Watch it, Dad, Mrs. Hampston doesn’t approve of the
“It don’t matter ’cause she’s gonna quit anyway.” This bit of wisdom came from Jason. The kid was probably right, too.
Sitting back against the wall, Seth draped an arm around each of his children’s shoulders and released a jagged sigh.
“What are we going to do now?” Judd asked.
“We need a housekeeper,” Jason added.
His son turned dark, round eyes to Seth, looking for him to supply the answers.
“Hey, she hasn’t quit yet.” Seth tried to sound optimistic but doubted that he convinced anyone. They’d seen it all too often before not to recognize the symptoms. The housekeeper wanted out.
“We tried to be good.”
“I know.” Seth was sympathetic. He’d done his best too and had repeatedly fallen short.
Earlier that week, Seth had stopped off at the grade school for a parent-teacher conference and learned that his children’s behavior wasn’t that much different in school from what it was at home. The term their teacher had used to describe Judd was “high-spirited,” which was later translated as “disorderly, disruptive, ill-behaved, and stubborn.” His brother was a willing accomplice.
The woman assured him there was nothing
malicious about their behavior, but the twins tended to be…affectionate troublemakers. It wasn’t as if Seth hadn’t noticed.
On a conscious level he realized the kids’ behavior had a great deal to do with the recent upheaval in their young lives. They’d been indulged by Sharon and Jerry and had been thrust back into life with a father who’d buried his grief in his job. Following Pamela’s accident, Seth had steadily climbed the ladder of success within the Boeing Airplane Company. He was the youngest senior engineer in the company’s history. To further complicate matters, he’d recently been assigned to the Firecracker Project. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put in fifty to sixty hours a week on the top-secret project Boeing was developing for the Department of Defense. With the arrival of the twins, Seth felt fortunate to get in a regular eight-hour day. His work had suffered, along with his health, his disposition, and just about everything else.
“I better go see if I can smooth the waters with Mrs. Hampston,” he said, inhaling deeply. This wouldn’t be fun. The middle-aged woman possessed all the tact of a Sherman tank. She lived and breathed discipline. Not that Seth was opposed to a little order. Anyone who could bring harmony to the chaos that had taken control of his life was welcome indeed. Mrs. Hampston, however, was better suited to whipping raw re
cruits into shape than dealing with two six-year-olds and one insecure dad.
He’d say one thing for the woman, she’d lasted twice as long as any of the previous housekeepers. One woman had left after only two nights. Another, an older, more mature grandmotherly type, had stayed as long as two weeks. In Mrs. Hampston’s case it had been an entire six weeks. He’d never been fond of the crotchety old biddy, but then Seth suspected Mrs. Hampston knew that. The fact was, she’d probably gain a good deal of satisfaction in leaving him in the lurch.
Crow had never been one of his favorite dishes, and knowing Mrs. Hampston, she’d enjoy serving it to him on a dome-covered silver platter. Taking a few moments to compose his thoughts, Seth stepped into his study and slumped onto the leather wing-backed chair next to the fireplace.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. What the kids really needed was someone who would enjoy their boisterous nature. A woman who would appreciate their creativity and spontaneity. Someone who would laugh with them instead of trying to stuff them into a mold.
His head fell forward at the weight of his burden. Seth remembered the day he and Pamela had gone into the doctor for the ultrasound that had revealed two tiny but distinct babies. Seth’s first reaction had been sheer wonder and an in
credible, breathtaking sense of excitement and joy. Twins. They were having twins. Only later had the weight of the responsibility overtaken him. He’d been able to hide his fears from Pamela. He’d even managed to sweep them aside himself…until after Judd and Jason’s birth. It helped that Pamela was a natural mother. Loving and patient. Perfect.
Then without warning Seth’s flawless world had shattered on a rain-slick street when his wife’s car had slid out of control and she’d slammed into a telephone pole. Her death, Seth had been told, had been instantaneous. The children, tucked securely in their car seats, didn’t receive so much as a scratch. But in those tragic seconds, his wife was gone. His wife and his very heart. His life was as ruined as the twisted metal that had once been her vehicle.
In retrospect it might have been easier to deal with Pamela’s death had there been someone to blame. A drunk driver. A speeder. Anyone to focus his anger and frustration upon. But there had been no one. In the beginning, he’d sought to blame God. He’d longed to shake his fist at the sky and damn Him for stealing away his very heart.
For a time anger had consumed Seth’s soul. Shortly after her funeral, he had sold the piano. Now, four years later, it seemed a bit dramatic to have given up his music, but he’d simply lost the desire for it. Music was something he’d shared
with Pamela. His world had felt devoid of all that had once brought joy, and in his pain he’d destroyed everything that had connected him with his dead wife. It was his way of telling God to “take that.”
Seth’s gaze fell across the room to a row of bookcases. The hardbound version of C. S. Lewis’s
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
captured his attention. The well-read, much-loved book had been Pamela’s favorite, one she’d treasured since childhood. From the moment they’d learned she was pregnant, she’d talked of one day sitting with her children at her side and reading them the story she loved so much.
Seth ran a hand down his face and closed his eyes as he dealt with a fresh wave of pain. Not for the first time he wondered if it’d ever get better. If he’d always feel this raw-edged anguish when he remembered Pamela. The years hadn’t eased it. Having the children with him hadn’t lessened his sense of loss. If anything, their arrival increased his awareness of what he would never have. He carried his grief with him the way some men toted around a briefcase. How different his life would be if Pamela had lived. In many ways it would have been kinder if they’d buried him along with his wife.
He walked over to the oak bookcase and slowly removed the book by C. S. Lewis. The edge of the spine was tattered by love and time. Carefully he laid open the novel in his palm. Inside, a six-year-
old Pamela had carefully printed her name in large square letters. The twins were six.
The sharp pain clenched Seth’s heart. He’d done such an effective job of burying his grief that when it bubbled to the surface it almost always caught him unaware.
Instead of replacing the book back inside the oak bookcase, Seth carried it to the desk and set it carefully in a bottom drawer. He couldn’t explain why. He didn’t want to be sucker-punched a second time by glancing across the room and finding Pamela’s favorite childhood book in his face. He had enough to deal with.
Unsure how to handle the situation with Mrs. Hampston, Seth walked into the kitchen. “You wanted to talk to me.” He struck a casual pose and leaned against the counter.
Mrs. Hampston didn’t possess an ounce of fat. Everything about her was severe, right down to the polish on her black, spit-shined shoes. Disapproval radiated from her the way fire warmed a room.
“As you might have guessed,” she announced primly, “I find my services to be neither appreciated nor—”
“That isn’t so. The kids and I think you’re wonderful,” Seth countered quickly, hoping God would forgive him the lie. “I couldn’t be more grateful for your help, and—”
“I beg to differ, Mr. Webster.”
No amount of coaxing had persuaded her to
call Seth by his first name. But then, he’d never been able to think of her as “Bertha,” either.
“It seems apparent to me, if to no one else,” she continued stiffly, “that I can no longer stay.”
“But you’re wrong, we’d—”
“Please, don’t attempt to sway me. My mind is made up.”
“I’d be willing to offer you a substantial raise,” Seth said, attempting to sound contrite and appreciative and failing, he feared, on both counts.
Mrs. Hampston hesitated, then cocked her chin and gave him a look of mild disgust, as if she’d been deeply insulted by the mere suggestion that she could be seduced with money.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d stay until after the holidays,” he added, growing more desperate.
“Mr. Webster, apparently you didn’t understand me. When I said I’d reached this decision, I wasn’t looking for you to change my mind. I refuse to be bribed.”
“Bribed.” Seth did his best to sound confused.
If her nose got any closer to the ceiling, she’d be in serious danger of have a bird roost on it.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” Seth sincerely hoped he sounded regretful, but he doubted he’d be any more successful in pulling the wool over this woman’s eyes than he was with his own children.
“I’m afraid I don’t share your regrets. Of all the positions I’ve held in my fifteen-year history of
domestic service, I can never remember having to deal with a worse pair of undisciplined children. I understood when I accepted the position that the twins were considered a handful, but this is ridiculous.”