Chapter 10: The Holiday Party

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Wednesday evening, Andrew left work and went straight to the hotel for the BI holiday party. He called the girls on his way.

"But why won't you be home until late?" Devon whined over the speakerphone.

"I have to go to the company Christmas party."

"But why can't we go?" Bella added.

"Because it's only for grownups. There's alcohol and boring talk about nerdy stuff. It's not a fun party." Andrew lied. The BI New Jersey branch holiday party was the highlight of the year for the Jersey employees. Although Russell's retirement party had been all the talk for the past few weeks.

"Will Miss Emma be there?" Devon asked.

Andrew's pulsed raced at the thought of seeing Emma again. "I believe so."

The phone rustled and his father picked up. "Andrew?"

"Yep."

"What should I feed these monsters?"

The girls laughed in the background. Andrew gave his father the menu he'd prepared before work for the girls' dinner, knowing he'd be back late. He'd even organized their pajamas and their toothbrushes, and left a note with the bedtime routine. "It's on the note, Dad. I made them pasta. It's in the fridge."

"Oh, okay. Yep, I see it in there. What time should I expect you back?"

"I don't know. Last year I was home by nine, I think."

"Last year you didn't have anyone keeping you there." Jeffrey chuckled. "I heard you tell Devon that Emma would be there. Maybe you'll want to stay longer."

"Please I don't want to go through this again. She's my boss. Maybe we sort of became friends." Friends who have held hands and almost kissed. "That's all."

"I'm just saying. Go have a nice night. Everything's under control here."

"Thanks, Dad."

"No thanks necessary."

***

A few minutes later, Andrew pulled into the hotel parking lot where the BI holiday party was held every year. He remembered his first holiday party at BI, ten years earlier, when he and Hayley had splurged on a room for the night. He could still picture her in the black dress, her blond hair twisted into a knot at the base of her neck. He was fresh out of college, and they'd just gotten married. She wasn't thrilled that he'd taken the job, but they did have a nice time at the party, and an even better time that night in the hotel. They'd felt like royalty when Daniel Ballard himself asked them to sit at his table. "His newest hire," he'd told everyone.

Since Hayley had died, Andrew attended the holiday party as a favor to Stu, and for some extra face time with Russell, but spent most of the time there wanting to leave and get back home to the girls. This year though, his girls were big, and didn't seem to need him as much. They were finally just as comfortable with his father as they were with him.

The thought settled him. He remembered praying for strength, wisdom, and patience, night after night, to get to the point that the girls would start school. For some reason, that was his first parenting goal—get them to Kindergarten. And he'd done it.

The girls were doing well in their class with Miss Robinson, and he couldn't have been prouder. Still, he felt guilty that they only had him and Jeffrey for support—no other family, no cousins, nobody he trusted to babysit except Mrs. Fletcher, who was well into her eighties. Andrew hadn't had time to foster relationships with other parents, feeling odd as a single father amongst the mostly stay-at-home moms.

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