A lot of people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.
-- Mrs. Miracle
"I 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 S word."
"Is the F word worse than the S 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 H word, either."
"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.
Excerpted from Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber Copyright © 2005 by Debbie Macomber. Excerpted by permission.
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