Two years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything Gabriel Brant and his twin sons had, it seems as if he's still struggling to move on. Coming home to his dad's for Christmas--to stay--is not what he had in mind for his life. This is it: no more charity.
Especially not from small-town do-gooder Olivia Marshall, who wants to heal him. The last thing he needs right now is the interference of his boys' softhearted teacher. Or her pity.
Love...? That's a whole other story.
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November 05, 2007
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Excerpt from Comfort and Joy by Amy Frazier
How much pride did a man have to swallow to ensure his kids' well-being?
Gabriel Brant figured he was about to find out. As he drove past a sign that read, Welcome to Hennings, Best Little City in New York State, he glanced in his rearview mirror to check on the twins. Justin's eyes--far too old for a five-year-old's--met his.
"Daddy, Jared's hungry." Ever since Hurricane Katrina had destroyed their home and Gabriel's restaurant a little over two years ago, Jared hadn't spoken. With the uncanny sensitivity of a twin, Justin spoke for him.
"We're almost at your grandfather's." The thought worked Gabriel's stomach into knots. "He said he'd have lunch ready." Something out of a can, more than likely. The old man would do it deliberately. To emphasize that a talent for cooking was no big deal.
A third of the way down Main Street, Gabriel turned right onto Chestnut, where the storefronts gave way to residences. Two days before Thanksgiving and still not a snowflake in sight, yet some of the houses were already decorated for Christmas.
"Daddy, we see Santa!" Justin exclaimed, pointing to a large plastic figure next to one front door.
"Does he come to Grampa's, too?"
The twins could remember the motel, and then the cramped mobile home "city," in which they'd spent the past two Christmases. Where charities had provided a holiday chow line and a few presents for the kids.
Outsiders simply did not understand or want to understand how this particular storm had not gone away. Its devastating effects still lingered months and months and months afterward. The enormity of rebuilding and the inescapable red tape involved with the process kept countless lives in a state of perpetual uncertainty. Gabriel was sick and tired of waiting. Wanting a real roof over his boys' heads this holiday season was one of several compelling reasons he'd finally given in to Walter Brant's appeal to come home. Trouble was, Hennings hadn't felt like home to Gabriel for seventeen years.
"Does Santa come here, too?" Justin pressed.
"I believe he does." Gabriel would make sure he did, even though the money situation was stickier than gum on a New Orleans sidewalk.
He pulled into his father's driveway. Backed by lowering clouds, the squat brick Craftsman-style house with the broad front porch seemed to scowl at him. After the past two years, Gabriel had inured himself to feeling on the outs. Almost.
The return to Hennings galled him, sure, but his sons needed to be in a place that didn't automatically mistrust them, didn't patronize them because of their plight or refer to them as "refugees." As if their misfortune had been their fault.
Whether Gabriel liked it or not, Hennings was his hometown, and he had every right to return. Every right--no, he had an obligation--to give his twins a fresh start. Compared to the protracted chaos left in the wake of Katrina, Walter would be a balmy breeze.
Right. "We're here," he said, trying to infuse the words with enthusiasm.
"You think Grampa will make po'boys for lunch?" Justin asked.
"I doubt it, kiddo. Until I can get to the store for supplies, you two will be eating...the Grampa Walter special. Which definitely won't be what you're used to. But you'll be real polite, y'hear?"
"Yessir. Polite as curtsyin' crawdads."
Gabriel smiled at the silly reply the last of a string of babysitters had taught the boys. She'd been nice. But like so many others, she'd left--out of necessity--for greener pastures. In her case, a sister's in Fort Worth.
Both boys unbuckled and clambered out of their booster seats as Gabriel opened the back door. But when Walter appeared on the front porch, Justin and Jared remained in the car. Gabriel hadn't told his sons much about their grandfather, because he wasn't sure of the reception they'd receive.
"Come on, you two. Let's go meet your grampa." It was a short but frosty walk between the car and the porch, the November day only partially contributing to the chill.
"What took you so long?" Walter asked as they climbed the steps.
"Traffic," Gabriel replied.
"I mean what took you so long? Your rooms have been ready for two years now."
And so it began. "You know I needed to stay close to New Orleans. To see if I'd be allowed to rebuild the restaurant." Into which he'd sunk every last dime of his savings. Lost every last dime was more like it, if the class-action insurance suit didn't pay off. "The powers that be haven't ruled on that yet."
"If you'd stayed in New York, you wouldn't have been in the path of that hurricane."
The two men eyed each other in an antagonistic standoff.
"Well, am I gonna get a proper introduction?" Walter groused, looking down at the boys. "Five years old, and yet to meet their grampa. Kept away that long, you'd think these kids were in the witness-protection program."