A Picture for Steve


Kelly stepped back from the easel. Something was not quite right about that lower limb of the tree—there! A tiny swirl of brown paint added the knot that had been missing from her painting. Now it was perfect.

“Kelly!” her mother’s voice came through the screen door. “You were supposed to watch Steve while I was at the grocery store. Instead you are painting again. Do you have any idea where your little brother is?”

“He’s probably around at the side of the house,” Kelly answered, putting down her paint box. “I’ll go get him.” She couldn’t understand why her mother worried so. Steve was a handful, but even Mom didn’t watch him every minute. What’s wrong with painting a picture and watching Steve at the same time? she wondered. I only have two more days before the school art contest.

“I’m going to China!” Steve announced proudly from where he was digging.

Kelly groaned. “Oh, no! Did you have to start your trip by going through Mom’s flower bed?”

The smile faded from her little brother’s face. He didn’t know what he had done wrong but he could see Kelly was unhappy with him. “I’ll buy you a present when I get there,” he promised. “I have lots of money.” He put a muddy hand into his pocket and pulled out a nickel and a penny.

Kelly had to smile in spite of the fact that she knew her mother would scold her about the flower bed. “That’s nice, honey, thank you,” she said. “But what will Mom say?”

“I’ll buy her a present, too,” Steve said with a bright smile.

“Do you think any present you could buy would be as nice as the flowers you spoiled when you dug that hole?” Kelly asked.

Steve’s mouth dropped open with surprise. Then he looked down at the ruined flower bed. “They’re not all dead are they?” his eyes and voice pleaded. Tears hung from his lower lashes.

“Well, maybe not. Maybe we can save some of them,” Kelly answered. She picked up the spoon Steve had been using as a shovel and started scooping dirt back into the hole. She picked up the wilted flowers and gently shook the dirt from them. Some of the plants were broken or missing roots but Kelly replanted them all, hoping that at least a few would take hold and start growing again.

“That should do it,” she said as Steve flattened a lump of dirt.

“Maybe the flowers would like a drink of water,” he suggested.

“Oh no!” said Kelly. “They don’t need a drink right now. Let’s go get you cleaned up for supper.”

It was a quiet meal except for Steve’s excited chatter. Mom was still upset because Kelly had been painting instead of watching Steve. Dad was tired because he had worked hard at the welfare farm since six o’clock that morning. Kelly was wrapped up in her own thoughts about the school art contest. I hope I’ll win the prize. It would be great to have a complete set of oil paints, she thought.

“Is that party at the ward tonight?” Dad asked Mom.

“Yes, it starts at eight o’clock,” Mom answered, “and I’ve asked Kelly to watch Steve.”

Kelly felt her mother’s eyes on her. “I’ll take good care of him,” she promised. “I’ll read to him from his storybooks.” Then turning to her little brother, she asked, “Would you like that, Steve?”

Her brother’s head bobbed up and down. He gulped the last of his milk and climbed down from his chair. He raced from the room and came back holding a tattered book. When Mom and Dad left later that evening Kelly and Steve were sitting on the sofa. Their heads were close together so that Steve could “read” the pictures in his book while Kelly read the words.

Later, Kelly closed the book and her little brother sat back with a happy sigh.

“That was a good story,” he said and pleaded, “ ’Nother one?”

Kelly looked up at the clock and saw that it was eight thirty. “Well, just one more, if it’s a short one,” she answered.

Steve ran to his room for another book. While waiting for him to return, Kelly remembered her painting was still outside where she had left it that afternoon. Funny, she thought, bringing it into the kitchen, in this light the green on that side of the tree doesn’t look dark enough. The sun must have been in my eyes.

Kelly rinsed her brush and began to touch up the green of the leaves. She became absorbed in her work, until the sound of their old chiming clock caused her to look up. “Is it nine o’clock already?” she gasped. “Steve went to his room half an hour ago to get another book!”

Kelly hurried to Steve’s room but there was no sign of her brother. She checked all through the house, but he was nowhere in sight.

An icy feeling crept over Kelly. He must have gone outside, she thought. But where would he go? “Mom isn’t going to care about my winning the prize if I let anything happen to Steve,” she muttered to herself, “and I wouldn’t care very much about it either.”

Kelly skidded to a stop. I’ll bet he’s back in that flower bed, she decided. Steve was afraid the flowers would be thirsty.

She found her brother in the flower garden. Dad’s flashlight was lying on the ground and Steve had a cup in his hands. He was giving water to the drooping plants. The dirt in the flower bed was soaking wet and Steve had mud up to his knees. But Kelly didn’t care about that when she picked him up and hugged him.

“I ought to spank you,” she scolded. “And Mom ought to spank me. But oh, I’m glad you’re all right!”

Steve squirmed to get out of her arms. “I was just giving the flowers a drink. Let me down, please. They’re still thirsty.”

“No, they’re not thirsty anymore,” Kelly said. “They’re tired, just like you. Let’s go inside so the flowers can sleep. And I can give you a bath.”

They went to the back door so they could wipe their muddy feet on the porch mat before going inside. On the way through the kitchen Steve stopped to look at Kelly’s painting.

“That’s the tree in our backyard!” he shouted with surprise. “It’s beautiful!”

Kelly was pleased. “Do you really like it?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” Steve answered. “I wish it was mine.”

There will be other art contests, Kelly thought, and I can always paint another picture. But I’ll never have a sweeter brother than Steve.

“Tell you what,” she said. “You take a bath and let me tuck you into bed and I’ll give you this picture.”

“To keep?” asked Steve.

“To keep,” Kelly answered with a loving smile.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Muir