Grace laughed as Hannah hit Eliza one more time with the used wrapping paper role.
"It's no fair to gang up on me!" Eliza whined.
"You guys better not let Mommy see you screwing around on her time like this," A fourth unexpected voice said.
The three girls stopped giggling and turned to look at the source of the voice.
"CHLOE!" Hannah yelled, running over to hug her big sister tightly.
"What are you doing here?" Grace asked, straightening a little.
"Hello to you too, big sister." Chloe said, squeezing Hannah a little tighter. "Are the kids outside playing Banana?"
Hannah frowned, knowing why she was asking, "Yeah."
"Can you go out there please? Best not to be around when Mommy spies the mess these two made." Chloe said winking.
Hannah looked around at the chaos they had made, when they were supposed to be working. "That's a great idea, thanks chlo!"
Grace leaned against the art sink, "Eliza, why don't you go outside too?"
"No, I listened to you when I was younger, but I'm an adult now, and I don't want you two to kill each other." Eliza said.
Grace shot her a look, "Go outside please."
Eliza turned to Chloe, "Are you on break from school?"
Chloe nodded, "Started yesterday."
"Lucky, our last day is Friday."
Knowing that getting Eliza out the door was useless, Grace focused back on Chloe, "why are you here? I thought you said you washed your hands of us."
"It's Christmas Grace, I thought I owed it to our parents…."
"When have you ever felt like you owe anybody anything?"
Eliza sighed, "Do Mom and Dad know you are here yet?"
"I'm walking fine, aren't I?" Chloe said.
Eliza frowned, "I don't think they will spank you, if you really come home."
"Where will you sleep? We moved Eliza into your room when you left." Grace said in a clipped tone, letting everyone know that meant that Chloe couldn't stay.
"She can sleep in my room!" Hannah said from the door.
"Go outside Hannah," Eliza said softly.
"If you don't let me stay, I will call Daddy right now." Hannah threatened.
Grace sighed, this was getting out of hand. "Eliza go ask Sam and Lucy if they are good to let us leave, tell them I will come by later and do the chores, I know they are in ratio."
"Mom said that either you, her, Daddy or Eliza always has to be here," Hannah said, as Eliza walked out.
"This isn't the place for a family reunion. You can stay here or come with us, the choice is yours." Grace said.
Eliza grabbed her coat after coming inside, "They said that's fine. Should we text Mom or dad?"
"Only if you want them to tell you that you can't leave." Hannah said.
"So no. Are we taking Chloe's Jeep?" Eliza asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"No," Grace grabbed her keys, "I will need the distraction."
"Where are we going?" Hannah asked, "Mommy and Daddy will be pissed."
"I will deal with it, let's just go." Grace said tersely.
"Wait," Eliza said cautiously, "That doesn't mean that you won't get a spanking later, Hannah, so if that isn't what you want for sure, then you need to stay here. Grace can't save you from a whipping if Daddy decides that."
The girls stood in the door way, waiting to see what she would decide. "I miss you Chole, I'll take a hundred spankings to be able to see you again. Who knows how long you will be here."
Eliza watched the hurt brush across Chloe's face, and she smug one on Grace's face. "I'm sorry Hannah…"
"Don't be, let's just go." Hannah said, walking out the door.
Grace got into the driver's seat and took a breath, thinking of where to go. "We are going to miss lunch time," she said softly.
"It's extenuating circumstances Grace!" Eliza cried.
"Not good enough." Grace said, "What fast food do you want?"
Eliza's frown deepened. Chloe turned around and looking at her little sister's body, seeing how thin it was for the first time. "I don't want fast food."
"Wendy's has salads." Chloe said softly.
"Please Grace," Eliza said.
"You can tell me where you want to eat lunch, and then order and eat 450 calories, as you pushed off some breakfast this morning, or you can go back into work right now."
Eliza pulled out her phone and started looking at the salads. "I will agree to a half size chicken Mediterranean salad."
"How many?" Grace asked, still not starting the car.
"Grace!" Eliza whined.
"No, food is non-negotiable, especially when you are stressed. How many?"
"250. It's the best I can do!" Eliza whined
"How many in the full one?"
"480. I promise I'll have seconds tonight if you let me get a half."
"Grace…" Chloe hedged.
"Stop." Everyone was shocked to hear Hannah's voice ring out against Chloe, "You haven't been here you don't know."
Chloe nodded and sat back. "Full salad or go inside." Grace said firmly.
"Fine." Eliza said, throwing herself back into the seat.
"Buckle up." Grace scolded.
"I don't…" Eliza started.
"So help me, if you make this day any more difficult…" Grace trailed off.
Eliza glared at her older sister, it was frustrating enough to have to eat but to add this was too much. Chloe unbuckled and opened her door, "Banana, switch me seats."
Hannah jumped out, waiting for anything that would stop the war. Chloe sat beside Eliza, and pointed at her seatbelt. Eliza sighed, but handed her the seatbelt slowly. Chloe buckled it, then buckled herself in.
After going through the drive through at Wendy's, Grace pointed the car back towards home. No one had spoken the entire trip, except for ordering. When Grace pulled the car into the drive way, Eliza couldn't help it.
"Why are we home?" She asked.
"We won't be staying here don't worry." Grace said. She had the girls each grab their food. "Follow me." It didn't take long for the girls to realize where they were going as they hiked into the woods. It didn't take long to find their tree fort next to the river.
"Let's eat." Grace said. Chloe shot Eliza a look, then Grace, it was clear that she had missed a lot.
All four girls sat down in silence to eat. "So?" Hannah asked, "Are you going to tell us what's up?"
Chloe smiled, "Can't I miss you guys?"
"You can, but it's been a year and a half, why now?" Grace asked, eyeing her little sister.
"It has been a long time, and I know you probably won't believe me but I missed you guys every day that I wasn't here. I just couldn't take it anymore." Chloe said honestly.
Hannah stood, throwing her burger wrapper in the bag, she walked slowly over to Chloe, "You really hurt me when you left, are you going to leave again?"
"I don't plan on it, I think I'm even going to transfer out to go to college here." Chloe said. "And I'm sorry I hurt you Hannah."
Hannah reached down and gave her a hug, "I'm good then, I'm going to go check out what's changed about this place; I haven't been here in forever."
Grace sighed, "Eat Eliza, so you are staying?"
"I'd like to." Chloe said. She watched Eliza pick at her salad, eating the pieces with barley any dressing first.
"And the meat," Grace scolded.
"I don't know why I care, I'm getting whipped tonight anyway." With that Eliza stood up and stretched.
"Eat," Chloe bossed.
"You don't get to boss me." Eliza said sharply.
"But I do," Grace scolded, "Eat."
"Don't want to," Eliza said hopping down from the tree to follow her little sister.
Grace watched her go before turning to her younger sister. "Are you in trouble?"
"No," Chloe said picking at her shorts.
Grace reached out to still her hand, "If you are, tell me now, so we can fix it all in one swoop. I love you, I will always love you."
"I was, but I fixed it myself…it did break me a little, so I just wanted to come home to my family." Chloe told her, her big blue eyes looking up from her shorts, for a second.
"Okay, then when we go home, I will stand by your side with Mommy and Daddy."
Chloe smirked, her blonde hair falling from her messy ponytail and into her eyes, "I thought there wasn't room for me at the house."
"Well," She said laughing, "You can always sleep in the garage."
"Is Eliza okay?" Chloe asked, watching her sister just below her jump from rock to rock.
"She took you leaving pretty hard, and reached out to whatever she could to grab control. Food met that need." Grace told her, putting the lid on the salad that really was a little over half eaten.
"I'm sorry, really Grace," Chloe said.
Grace smiled at her little sister, all the previous anger she had had for 18 months melting away. "We are working through it." She reached out and pulled her little sister into her arms, something she had longed to do for so long now, "Are you okay?" She whispered into her hair, pulling her into a hug.
"I will be when I get back into a routine here." Chloe assured her.
"Do you have any habits, or new things that will drive the parents crazy?" Grace asked cautiously.
"No, I mean, I drink sometimes, but I'm of legal age." Chloe said.
"That won't get you far in our house." Grace assured her.
Chloe shrugged. "I just want to be home."
"Okay, then lets go face the music." Grace said. The older two cleaned up the tree house and then gathered the younger two to go back to the house.
Things felt right for the firs time in a long time for Grace. The girls seemed to fall right back into the sibling love and teasing. She was just unsure what her parents would think. As they walked down the street she saw her dad's truck in the drive way and figured her mom was at work since they had left.
"Ready?" She asked the three younger girls. They all nodded and slowly approached the front door.
Grace opened it and walked into the living room, seeing her dad on his phone. "They just walked in Mia, I have them…" His eyes settled for a moment, "and Chloe too." He paused, listening to whatever his wife was saying, "Yes, if you can get out of there early, do please."
After he hung up he turned to the group, still standing just in the entrance way. "Come sit down on the couch please." All four obeyed. "So what happened today?"
"Chloe showed up." Grace said softly.
"And what should you have done?" He growled.
"Called you," Grace answered. "Hannah and Eliza wanted to."
"I told Hannah no, but Grace didn't tell us we couldn't," Eliza jumped in, "I made a choice."
"Why did you leave work?" He asked in a measured tone.
"Because I didn't think that would be a good place to have that reuion."
"What is the rule?" He asked.
"That unless we are on vacation, if you and Momma aren't there, then Eliza or I need to be." Grace supplied.
He turned to Eliza, "Why didn't you call?"
"I didn't want you to tell me to have Chloe come home, and have to stay at work." Eliza said honestly.
"Did you remember the rule you were breaking?" He asked.
"Yes Sir," Eliza told him.
"So, you disobeyed?"
Eliza sighed, "Yes Sir."
"And when you don't tell us things, that's called…"
"Dishonesty." Eliza told him.
"Those are two very big violations in this family."
"Do you regret it?" He asked, knowing that she would be the most honest.
"Hannah, did you know it was dishonest not to call?" He asked.
"Yes Sir." She told him, wringing her hands, knowing that she was in trouble.
"Should you have stayed in the building?" He asked.
"You an Mommy would say that I should have."
"And you know that?" He asked.
"Do you regret your actions?" Hannah moved to twisting her purity ring.
"Does it matter?" Hannah whispered.
"Yes." He told her firmly.
"No Sir, I don't."
His fist bumped the arm of the loveseat, his tell that he was about to lose his temper. "Grace, where was your head in this situation?"
"I know you don't agree, but I think I made the right choice." Grace told her, not backing down as she normally would.
"Even though now you and your sisters are all about to be in trouble?" He asked.
"We all made our own decisions," Eliza interjected.
"I want the three of you to go up to your rooms please. No electronics, no anything, just lay on the bed."
"Yes Sir." Hannah said, quickly jumping up and heading for the stairs. Eliza looked at Grace, and when she saw her oldest sister nod, but not move, she knew she could go upstairs.
When he heard Eliza's door click shut, Ethan turned to Grace, "You are already in for one hell of a punishment, you seem to have forgotten that you and Eliza were already grounded."
"I just wanted to make sure you aren't going to kill her." Grace said.
"I'm not Grace, I promise, go up to your room please." He said.
Grace squeezed her sister's hand before leaving the room.
"So, what made you come back?" He asked.
"I missed my family." She said.
"Why did you leave?" He asked.
"I just needed space Daddy, this," she gestured around "is a lot to always have to live up to especially with you as a pastor and Grace right above me. I just needed space."
"Are you looking to move back in here?"
"If you and Mommy will have me, if you don't want me to, though, I can figure it out."
"We don't really need a guest room." Mia said, walking into the room.
"I agree." Ethan said.
"Why don't you go upstairs and relax in the guest room please?"
"Am I going to be punished?" Chloe asked.
Mia walked over and pulled her into a hug, "I'm not sure, Daddy and I need to talk. I missed you."
Chloe leaned into her mom, "I missed you guys too."
"Okay, go upstairs lovely." She whispered.
Chloe obeyed, and went to the room next to Hannah's room.