The conclusion of the John Overstreet saga.
Available in Kindle and paperback.
“Aunt Melinda! Aunt Melinda!” Ben shouted as he ran up the road from town. He had run all the way and though he was about out of breath, he was long on enthusiasm and that was making the difference.
Afraid something was wrong, Melinda stepped out on the porch and was relieved that he seemed to be shouting it in a happy way. Still calling her name, he ran up onto the porch and into her arms, panting happily like a dog.
“What is it, Ben?”
He tried to tell her his news, but his wind had finally caught up with him (or left him, depending on how one looked at it) and all he could do was stand there and breathe heavily. He was a blonde-headed boy with his mother’s green eyes and his father’s good looks. A little more stout than his older brother, he was still good-sized for his age and becoming very athletic.
His real passion, though, was art. So he held up a piece of paper and managed, “Read this.”
Melinda took the paper and read, “‘Dear Mister Rathum, We are pleased to inform you that the drawing you submitted has been chosen as a finalist and will be on display in the Denver Museum of Art and is eligible for first prize in The Rocky Mountain News’ Young Artist Competition.’ Oh Ben, this is wonderful!” She gave him a hug, which he barely acknowledged as he took the paper back and read it again.
“Can we go see it? In the museum, I mean?”
“You bet we will!’ Melinda told him with another hug. “We’ll take the whole family. And we’ll be sure and let Jo and Leonard know, too.”
“Can I write them?”
“You sure can.”
“Can I tell Uncle John when he gets in?”
“Certainly.” Melinda laughed and added, “You might want to sit down and breath between now and then, though.”
“Uncle John!” Ben practically screamed as John rode into the ranch yard. “I’m a finalist!”
John got off his horse and, walking it to the Hayloft, asked, “A finalist for what?”
Ben quickly explained the commotion and showed John the paper. John read it and gave Ben a hug. “Aunt Melinda says we can go to Denver and see my picture in the museum.”
“You bet your life we will. Come on, let’s put my horse up, then we’ll go make some plans. Which picture was it?”
“That picture I drew of the Old Homestead with that special pencil you got me for Christmas.”
“That was a good picture.” He tousled Ben’s hair and added playfully, “Must’ve been the pencil.”
“And this drawing,” the tour guide explained, “Was drawn by a member of our very own tour group: Mister Benjamin Rathum of Como. Wave your hand, Ben.”
As Ben shyly stuck up his hand, the group of a couple score people clapped politely and several were heard to remark that it was amazing a child of his age could draw so well. He received several pats on the back and more than one vote of confidence that he would win the prize. Nervous beyond belief, Ben held tightly to John Mac’s hand and just nodded at all the compliments. If anyone noticed that Ben’s blonde hair didn’t seem to fit in with the black-haired family he was traveling with, they were polite enough not to say anything.
Everyone involved, including Ben, thought of him as part of the Overstreet family these days. John Mac followed him around the way Andrew and Emily followed John Mac around and John and Melinda treated him like one of their own. In return, he treated John and Melinda as if they were his parents. Almost from the moment he had come to live with them, there had been a bond of love that was so strong as to be unbelievable. But Ben was a very special boy, one bound to make a mark in the world if in no other way than all the people he would be kind to.
As the tour moved on, Melinda realized that Emily was about to fall asleep where she stood. Melinda whispered to John, “I’m just going to sit in that chair over there and snuggle Emily. She needs a nap and my feet are killing me.”
“We’ll come back and get you before we leave,” John whispered in return.
Melinda sat in a big, surprisingly comfortable chair, and Emily eagerly climbed into her lap. She had chattered on the whole train ride from Como and in the carriage from the train station to the museum and had worn herself out. And while she and Andrew were both giving up their naps as a general rule, Emily could still be persuaded to take one in her mother’s lap now and again.
As she sat there, Melinda found that she was almost tired enough to go to sleep herself. They had gotten up early, then all dressed in their best clothes so they could come straight to the museum, and the long day was suddenly catching up with her. Through half-focused eyes, Melinda absently watched the few other patrons who had elected to tour the museum sans a guide.
There was an elderly couple who talked happily about every picture; a college-aged looking young man who scrutinized every piece of art as if he were a world-renown art critic visiting the Louvre; and a middle-aged woman with fading blonde hair who stopped at every picture, examined the name plate then moved on without seeming to have seen the picture at all.
Melinda found herself watching the woman. She moved slowly, her feet almost dragging, as if she had walked to the museum from a great distance. Melinda had read of people who appeared to be “beaten down by life” and, while she had seen a few such people, this woman was the personification of the idea. Melinda couldn’t see her face, but she could see the slumped shoulders, the tired gait, the hands that reached out to every name plate as if for a life raft.
Melinda began to wonder about the woman and what her story might be. She tried not to stare at the woman—even though she guessed that the woman was oblivious to everything around her—but cast furtive glances her way in an attempt to, somehow, read the woman’s story. Suddenly, Melinda was very awake, but was also thankful that Emily was there. An inveterate people watcher, Melinda had spent many hours watching people while holding one or another of her children on the porch of the Como Hotel or the boardwalk on Rowe Street. She had even done it a few times in Denver and had always enjoyed it immensely for there were so many more people to watch.
The woman was wearing a traveling dress of impeccable style, which would have been incongruous with the picture she put forth except that it was still dusty from travel. In a world where the streets were mostly dirt and carriages mostly open, the dust wasn’t necessarily out-of-place. But the dress was so nice, Melinda realized that what looked odd was that normally someone with a dress like that wouldn’t have stepped out of their railway car without borrowing a brush from one of the porters and giving it a once-over.
The train? Melinda suddenly wondered why she thought this woman had just gotten off a train. She realized, with closer scrutiny, that it wasn’t just dust that clung to the woman’s dress but soot. That fine soot that Melinda had been so careful to brush off her own dress before coming over.
So what would posses a person who seemed so ill at ease with life to hop a train and come to a museum? Maybe, Melinda thought, she’s downtown for something else and stopped by the museum to kill time. There were a few lawyer’s offices nearby and the capitol building wasn’t all that far away.
No. She came to believe as she watched the woman (less and less furtively), that the woman was in the museum for a purpose. There was something in these pictures that she was looking for. What could it be?
No again. As Melinda watched the woman’s movements she realized that the woman was looking not at the pictures but the names. One of these pictures was done by someone that meant something to the woman. A grandchild perhaps? All the pictures in this room were done by children twelve years of age and under and it was unlikely that this woman could have a child in that range.
What is it about a grandchild’s picture that would so enthrall this woman, so entrance her that she would travel across country to see it?
The woman came then to Ben’s picture and stopped. She actually looked at the picture, and then put her hand on the name plate as if it and not the wall behind it were holding her up. She put her other hand to her heart as if to keep it from killing her, and just stared.
Just as Melinda began to shoot various scenarios through her mind to explain these events, she mumbled to herself, “Oh my!”