A Mystery Fan (Thanks to Sadie S.'s eagle eye, the mystery fan has now been identified as FAITH). It was posted three years ago. So much for Mrs. M's memory. LOL
Katherine Swanson stepped off the train into Fresno’s depot. This is certainly a big change from Millerton, she thought. Shifting Hannah higher in her arms, Katherine canvassed the lively town before her.
”Mama?” Betsy tugged at her mother’s sleeve, reeling in her runaway thoughts.
Katherine smiled at the girl. “Come on, sweetheart. You’re going to get to meet your Grandpa and Grandma and aunts and uncles.” If they’ll even be willing to see us, she added to herself.
After leaving their bags with the stationmaster, Katherine and the children made their way down the bustling street. “Levi, will you please take your sister’s hand.”
”Aw, Mama. Do I have to?” The nine-year-old grumbled.
Katherine sighed. She wasn’t a stranger to her son’s rebellious behavior. “Levi, don’t argue with me.”
Upon spotting two elderly men spinning yarns on the corner, Katherine decided to ask them for directions.
”Excuse me? Could you tell me of a livery stable where one might rent a horse and buggy?”
”Sure thing.” One of the silver-haired gentlemen pointed down the street. “Go one block down and take a left onto Inyo. Then go three more blocks to K street. It’ll be across the street and to your right. Blake’s Livery; you can’t miss it.”
”Thank very much, sir.”
”You’re welcome, ma’am.”
Katherine brought the buckskin to a halt in front of the large, two-story, Spanish-styled ranch house.
”This is where you lived?” Betsy asked in obvious awe.
”Yes, dear.” Katherine smiled. “For fifteen years.” The best years of my life . . .
A handful of ranch hands were doing various jobs around the dusty yard, while the majority of the working men were bringing in alfalfa from the fields. Her brothers were probably around here somewhere.
Will I even recognize them? Kate wondered. Will they know me? A person could change a lot in ten years.
A young man with a wide-brimmed felt hat approached her. “Can I help you, ma’am?” He removed his hat and swiped his sleeve across his face, before replacing the hat and looking her in the face for the first time.
Kate watched her brother’s face as he realized who she was. ”Hello Chad,” she said quietly, bracing herself for what may come. She had no idea what kind of welcome she and her children would receive from the family she’d abandoned ten years prior.
Clearing stunned, Chad stepped aside, allowing her to alight from the buggy. After her feet hit the ground and she turned to face him, he seemed to find his voice.
“What do you want?” he asked coldly.
Kate winced. You deserve anything you get, she reminded herself. He didn’t have to speak to you at all. “Chad, I . . . I know how you must feel, and I--”
“Do you?” Chad interrupted. “Do you really?”
Kate didn’t answer for a moment. “I’ll go back to town and be on a train by tonight.” She didn’t bother to tell him that the little money she had wouldn’t get her and the children as far as Madera. “But I’d like to see Mother and Father first.”
“What?” Kate was shocked. Dead! No, he couldn’t be. “When?”
“About three years after you ran off.”
Kate sobbed. Her face hidden by her hands, she turned away from her brother.
“Look what you did now!”
Chad whirled around and took notice of the three children in the buggy.
“Levi, be polite,” Katherine warned.
Levi ignored her. Glaring at Chad, he jumped to the ground next to his mother. He slipped an arm around her waist. “It’s okay, Mama. Don’t cry.”
*** Mitch’s POV ***
Mitch, like Chad, had seen the shiny buggy roll into the yard. When Chad didn’t return right away, he sauntered over to find out who had come to call. Seeing the young woman with her back turned and apparently upset, he asked, “What’s going on?”
“None of your business,” Levi blurted out.
Mitch’s eyebrows rose at the boy’s outburst. He glanced at Chad, but Chad just shrugged.
*** Katherine’s POV ***
Kate turned to see who had walked up. She gasped, stunned by the young man before her who had only been a boy of twelve when she left. “Mitch?”
His expression took on a look of shock, joy, and . . . love? “Kate!”
“Mitch!” She wasn’t sure what he would do, but she didn’t have to wonder for long.
Mitch pulled his sister into a tight hug, the sister who had been missing for the past ten years of his life. “I can’t believe it!” He picked her up and twirled her around before returning her to the ground next to Levi.
Pulling away, Mitch noted her tear-streaked face. “What’s wrong?” he asked with genuine concern.
Kate wiped her eyes as she answered. “Chad just told me . . . about Father.”
“You didn’t know?” Mitch implored gently.
“No.” Kate whispered.
Didn’t they realize that had she known, she would have returned home sooner? She glanced passed Mitch to her dark-haired brother. She hadn’t been sure how her parents and siblings would react, but Chad’s response was more like what she expected. He stood next to the buggy’s horse, arms crossed, staring across the yard at nothing in particular.
The long-lost siblings hugged again. “Oh, Mitch, I’ve missed you!” Kate studied him head to toe. “Look at you. All grown up, and rather handsome I might add,” she teased.
Mitch laughed. “Just wait until Mother sees you!”
*** Mitch’s POV ***
Mitch glanced over his shoulder. Nope, Chad hadn’t budged. She’s your sister! He wanted to shout at him, but he didn’t. Looking from Chad back to Kate, Mitch’s gaze fell on the dark-haired boy standing next to her.
Kate must’ve caught him watching the boy, for she said, “This is Levi, my oldest.” Then motioning over her shoulder, she continued, “and this is Betsy and Hannah.”
Mitch smiled at the girls and held out his hand to Levi. “Nice to meet you, young man.”
Levi looked at the offered hand and then back to his uncle. By the glare on the boy’s face, well, if looks could kill, Mitch would already be dead.
Mitch ignored it and turned back to Kate. He motioned to the other side of the buggy. “Come on. Mother is in the house.”
Katherine lifted Hannah from the buggy. “Come on, girls.”
Mitch held out his hand to help Betsy down, but the young girl shrank back, eyeing him suspiciously.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” Katherine assured her daughter.
Betsy allowed Mitch to help her down but immediately ran behind her mother’s skirts.
Katherine gave Mitch an apologetic smile. “She’s not used to being able to trust people.”
A child who can’t trust anyone? What kind of life have they lived? Mitch wondered.
*** Elizabeth’s POV***
The kitchen door swung open. Elizabeth was standing over the cook stove adding sugar to a pot of apple-mush.
Chad stuck his head into the hot room. “Mother.” His tone was uncharacteristically quiet.
”Yes, Chad.” He isn’t acting right and he’s awfully quiet. “Is something wrong?”
”You need to come with me.”
”Was there an accident?” she asked, setting aside what she had been doing.
”No. There’s someone here who wants to see you.”
Chad didn’t offer any more information as she followed him to the parlor.
When they reached the parlor doorway, Chad stopped. Elizabeth looked past him and saw Mitch talking to a young woman with three children. The woman said something, and then Mitch hugged her.
When Mitch saw Chad and Elizabeth standing there, he turned the young woman towards them.
Kate wiped her eyes and smiled. “Mother.”
Elizabeth stepped backward and covered her mouth in surprise at the sight of her missing daughter. “Katherine?”
She nodded. “I’m home.”
Elizabeth ran forward and hugged her. “Oh, Katherine! It’s a miracle!”
Upon pulling away, Katherine introduced the three children. “Mother, this is Levi. He’s nine. And this is Elizabeth, we call her Betsy. She’s six.”
Elizabeth smiled down at her namesake.
“And last, but not least, this is Hannah. She’s three,” Kate finished.
“Hello, children.” Elizabeth greeted. She didn’t receive an answer.
“This is your grandmother,” Kate told them.
Elizabeth turned around to find Chad and Mitch watching from behind them. “Mitchell, Melinda is in the kitchen. Would you fetch her please?”
*** Melinda’s POV ***
Melinda looked up from where she sat at the table peeling apples.
Mitch sprinted into the kitchen. “Melinda. Come on, you gotta see this!”
“What is it?”
Mitch pulled her to her feet and nearly dragged her down the hall. “We’ve got company.”
“Since when does that excite you so much?”
“Normally it wouldn’t, but this company is family.”
“Aunt Rebecca is here?” Melinda gasped, looking down at her applesauce-splattered apron.
“Nope.” Mitch was enjoying keeping her guessing. “This relative hasn’t been here for ten years.”
They were now just outside the parlor.
Melinda’s brow furrowed. “Ten years?” She gasped. “You don’t mean---”
Mitch grinned and pushed Melinda into the room in front of him.
Katherine looked up when they entered. “Melinda!”
Melinda hurried toward her. Kate stood to embrace her sister. The sisters hugged. Kate introduced her to the three kids and then Mother spoke up. “Melinda, dear, would you please take the children to the kitchen for milk and cookies?”
Melinda read between the lines. Mother wanted to talk to Kate alone. “I’d love to, Mother.” Melinda scooped up Hannah and motioned for Betsy and Levi to follow her.
Mother looked up at Chad. who stood in the doorway. “Chad, would you please go find Andrea? She went riding with Cory and Rosa.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Glad for an excuse to leave the house, Chad nearly ran through the foyer and out the door, letting it slam behind him.
And everyone knows what happens next! ;)
We sure do, but Mrs. M copied and pasted it below anyway. It just didn’t seem like it should end without Andi’s POV. She has just seen the rented buggy in the yard and is sure it’s Aunt Rebecca come for an unwelcome visit:
The sudden bang of a door slamming saved Andi from having to reply to Cory’s sensible suggestion. She shaded her eyes and looked across the yard. Her twenty-seven-year old brother Chad was striding purposefully toward the barn.
“Chad!” she hollered. It would be best to find out what Aunt Rebecca wanted beforehand, rather than stumble into the house unawares.
Chad turned. He gave Rosa and Cory a friendly nod then hurried over to Andi. “I’m glad you’re back. Saves me the trouble of fetching you home, especially when I’ve got too much else to do.” He jerked his thumb toward the house. “You’d best go inside. Mother wants to talk to you.”
Andi froze. “Is it Aunt Rebecca? Has she come to drag me back to San Francisco with her?”
Chad’s face was pale under his dark tan. “No, little sister. It’s not Aunt Rebecca. It’s worse.”