* * *
What was he going to do? Luke settled his shoulder against the glittering gold doorjamb of his grandfather’s bedroom, a room he hadn’t yet entered since arriving in Valley Falls, and rubbed the back of his neck.
Coming to Valley Falls was supposed to be simple. He’d had two goals in mind: sell off Grandpa’s estate and take Sam back home. What had happened to his plans? It seemed the longer he stayed here, the more confused he became. He was supposed to hate this town, this house, the staff, the insurance and accounting company. But he didn’t.
Oh, sure, he’d been slow warming up to it all; but after a week of staring at numbers and looking over his grandfather’s businesses, the companies didn’t seem so intimidating. He wasn’t a fan of the gilt trim and pristine decorations tacked up all over the house, but the structure itself was rather pleasant, with its sprawling design and wide window-filled rooms and kind staff.
But even more than the house, his work here mattered. Ranchers were a dime a dozen west of the Mississippi and though he’d employed a handful of people, his ranch only affected the dozen men that worked for him.
As head of Great Northern Accounting and Insurance, he had hundreds of employees depending on him, and that wasn’t even considering the staff he employed here at the house, or all the good Grandpa’s charitable endeavors had wrought.
Time was when he’d not been able to imagine himself living anywhere but on his ranch. But now, after a mere week in Valley Falls, he saw himself here, too. Waking up every morning to those shadowed Catskill Mountains and managing the legacy his grandfather had left.
He stared into his grandpa’s room, fully lit in all its gaudy, golden splendor. Did the man regret the choices he’d made? The one that had forced his son away? He appeared to have changed at some point in his life. To hear Pa speak, Grandpa was a controlling, greedy self-made man. But a greedy man wouldn’t give half his profits to charity or one of his houses to a schoolteacher.
Luke ran his eyes over the walnut-and-white-silk headboard, the gargantuan bed covered in snowy white, the elaborate nightstand and dresser. Who was this man, his grandfather?
He took a step into the room, then another and another, until he reached the dresser. The sun cast its fading rays through the windows as he opened the top drawer and began to sort.
Three hours later, chaotic piles littered the room. Clothes to be donated over here, things to be discarded over there, items to be saved beside it. Sam had already gone through the closet, leaving the heaps of clothing and other items on the far side of the room, and he was making an even bigger mess.
Luke opened the top drawer of the nightstand and pulled out a Bible. Flipping through, he trailed his thumbs over the worn, note-marked pages. He stopped at a passage in Psalms where it seemed every verse had been notated, then turned a few more pages. The Bible seemed to fall open to the first chapter of Proverbs on its own. And there, at the beginning of the book on wisdom, lay an envelope with the name Luke Hayes scrawled across it.
He ran his finger over the sprawling letters. Was it truly for him? Sure it carried his name, but a letter of any importance wouldn’t be tucked into an obscure corner of Grandpa’s room, would it? Still, he slipped a finger beneath the seal and opened it. Inside lay a single piece of stationary and a smaller envelope with Pa’s name.
If you hold this letter, that means you have arrived in Valley Falls, likely as my heir, and are busy seeing to the business matters which I left you. It brings me joy knowing the son of my son is in my house caring for my legacy, and it brings me pain knowing I died without ever laying eyes on you.
Be wise, Luke. I leave you a life’s work, some of it built upon ambition and greed, some of it built upon love and hard work. Do not make the mistakes I did during my early and middle years. Do not sacrifice family for ambition or love for greed. I pray when you one day reach my age and sit penning letters to your children and grandchildren, you’ll look back on your own life with no regrets.
Keep the Bible, keep the house, keep anything of mine you wish. Use it wisely, and please give the enclosed letter to your father.
Jonah P. Hayes
Luke stared at the large, uneven handwriting until the words blurred. Don’t sacrifice family for ambition or love for greed. The man would know. He’d made mistakes for most of his life and evidently only set about correcting them at the end.
But Luke was already on a better track than Grandpa. He sought to sell the things Grandpa left, so he could return home and reunite his family before Ma’s death. Yep, he would place his family before ambition by selling the house and everything else.