Welcome to The Writer's Corner
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Written by Morgan
It was a
cool, crisp evening at the end of October, and I couldn’t resist
the urge to spend a few moments on the back porch. With the last
of those dreaded dishes finished, I wiped my hands on the dish
towel and reached for my shawl. I took in a deep breath as I
stepped outside, enjoying the pleasant aroma of the trees that
surrounded our home.
It was a beautifully magnificent evening. The moon shone
brightly as the stars glistened against the backdrop of the
cloudless night sky. As was quite common, I became so lost in
the grandeur of the evening that I didn’t hear the heavy boots
clomping across the porch behind me. A set of hands suddenly
fell on my shoulders as a gentle voice whispered into my ear,
“You shouldn’t be out here.”
A smile swept across my face as I fell back against my husband’s
chest, his strong arms wrapping around me. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
I asked, letting out a contented sigh.
“And it would be just as beautiful looking at it through a
window. Inside. Where it’s warm.”
I contemplated how to respond. He was trying to protect me, and
I loved him for it. Very few souls knew just how gentle and
caring that wild, wild Lucas McCain could be. But it had been
six months, and I must admit that I was beginning to tire of his
ability to spoil the most perfect moments.
“Just a few minutes more. All too soon it will be so cold
neither one of us will be stepping foot outside of the house.”
I felt his arms tighten around me as he rested his head on mine.
That was something I would never tire of. In his arms I felt
safe; I felt protected. And until I had married Lucas, that was
something I hadn’t felt since my mother died. The thought of Ma
suddenly reminded me of Ruth, causing me to break the silence.
“Your mother stopped by today, and we got to talking about
“Oh no,” he teasingly complained. “What have the two of you
conjured up this time?”
“Well my initial thought was to talk to you about hosting…”
The unexpected change in Lucas’s posture made me smile as I
realized he was no longer amused. “Us? Here? Maggie, there’s
hardly enough room when Abe’s family comes over. How do you
expect us to fit everyone inside?”
“You’ll be relieved to know your mother reminded me of just that
predicament. She and your father will be hosting this year, but
I want to spend a few days over there helping Ruth prepare.”
“...Are you sure you should?”
I let out a heavy sigh before turning around in Lucas’s arms,
looking deep into his worried eyes.
“I’m alright. I promise you.” I reached up and put a hand to his
cheek. “It’s been six months, Lucas. You can let go of me, I
He bent down and kissed my forehead before again pulling me into
his arms. “...I know,” he whispered.
It was rare that I heard such emotion in my husband’s voice.
Neither one of us were prone to tears, but this… the loss of our
child, had an overwhelming and, at times, uncontrollable power
over both of us.
“I won’t over do it, I promise.” In an attempt to lighten the
mood, I added, “Someone has to be around to keep you out of
“Trouble? Me?” He pushed through the lump in his throat to
quietly chuckle. “Now just what trouble could I get into?” There
was a brief moment before Lucas went on, “Speaking of trouble,
why don’t I wire Johnny and invite him to stay with us through
I looked up at him with a hopeful smile. “Would you?”
“It’s been too long since he’s come to visit. It would do all of
us some good.”
My smile began to fade, concerning Lucas.
“What is it?”
“My father. I can’t… what if he hears?”
“The show should be in Nebraska this time of year; how would
word get all the way to Indiana that you invited your brother to
I nodded in agreement. “...I just hate them being at odds. It
makes me so angry that Pa makes me choose between them.
Especially since he doesn’t make Olivia disavow Johnny.”
“Isn’t disavow a little strong?”
“The exact words in his last letter were, ‘I want your word that
you will not support your brother’s reckless behavior, and that
you won’t have anything to do with him.’ I think disavow is
putting it lightly.”
“Give it some time, I’m sure things will work out.”
“...Maybe we should invite them both to Thanksgiving. Lock them
in a room together until they learn to get along.”
Lucas and I laughed before he bent down and gave me a kiss on
the cheek. “We really should be headed inside, the temperature
is going to keep dropping.”
I nodded, took his hand in mine, and together, we walked inside.
The weeks between that evening on the back porch and
Thanksgiving day seemed to vanish into thin air. Before I knew
it, I was in Ruth’s kitchen preparing another dessert for that
afternoon. This time I did hear my husband's boots falling on
the wooden floor, and without hesitation I turned around,
pointing a spoon at him.
“Mr. McCain, you leave that pie alone!”
He froze, mere inches away from dipping his finger in my pie
filling. An innocent, mischievous grin played on his face as he
folded his hands behind his back and walked towards me. “Mr.
McCain, is it?”
“Well, if you’d rather go back to Lieutenant McCain, I’m sure we
could see you assigned to the kitchen- after the meal.”
Lucas wrapped his arms around me and gave me a long kiss. He
then took a half step back and brushed a strand of hair out of
my face, smiling down at me. We had been married for most of
four years, but he still hadn’t lost his ability to make me
blush; something I was just fine with.
However, the smile on my face disappeared when I watched him
lick the cake batter from a finger on his other hand.
“Lucas…” I warned.
“...You forgot the cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon?” I asked in confusion. “That’s a chocolate cake, not
a spice cake!”
“What, you don’t think I know how to make a cake? I’ll have you
know, my chocolate cake won first prize every year back in
“You better listen to her, Luke.” We both looked up to see
Johnny walk through the kitchen door. “She’s pretty proud of
that recipe of hers!”
But Lucas was giving me one of those looks, and I was in one of
those moods. I turned around and picked up my bowl of batter
before placing it in his care.
“Alright, if you think you know better than me, you can take
this over to your sister’s and finish it. And Johnny, you go
“Me? What did I do to get into trouble?”
“You’re going to make sure he doesn’t sit there and eat all the
Lucas started to follow my brother out of the house, but I
caught his arm and pulled him close. I reached up to kiss him on
the cheek before teasingly warning him not to ruin my cake.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it. Just don’t burn the
turkey this time!”
“That wasn’t my fault! You know very well…” I stopped as a
teasing grin crossed his face. Shaking my head, I grabbed a
towel and shooed him out of the kitchen.
I stood at the door for a few moments, watching Luke and Johnny
cross the yard to the other farm house; smiling as I played our
conversation over in my head. Had my mother been alive, she
would have been chiding me for daring to order my husband around
in such a manner. But Lucas was different than most men. He
welcomed the banter between us, as well as the friendly
competition it often led to. Another reason I felt so immensely
blessed to have him as my husband.
The day wore on, more guests arriving at my father and
mother-in-law’s. My dear friend Ann and her husband were among
those who had been invited to the McCain gattering, and it was
such a delight to have her company as us women worked in the
kitchen. Yet as time went by, I could tell something was… off.
At long last I had the opportunity to run to the barn to look
for more eggs and asked her to come with me. As we made our way
inside the building, I turned and looked at her.
“Ann, you’ve hardly said anything to me all morning. What is the
But Ann, being her sweet self, hesitated. In the moment I
couldn’t understand why she was being so apprehensive; we were
quite accustomed to telling each other everything on our minds.
But then it struck me that Ann wasn’t as given to confrontation
as I was.
“I didn’t do something to offend you, did I?”
“Oh no,” she quickly assured me, shaking her head. “It’s just…
I… oh, Margaret, I’ve wanted to tell you for so long, but… I was
worried it might hurt you. I wanted to tell you first and
insisted that we wait until I had, but… I could never find the
right time. And now Hal is insisting on announcing it today, and
I didn’t let her finish. Perhaps it was a bit childish of me,
but I was so excited for Ann. I squealed in delight and gave her
a hug as a wide smile crossed my face.
“Oh, I wish you would have told me sooner!” I stepped back,
taking her hands in mine. “When are you due??”
“...Early May,” she sheepishly answered.
“That’s wonderful!” I suddenly laughed as I remembered who her
husband was. “How is Hal taking it?”
Ann quietly chuckled. “He’s nervous. He continues to insist that
he won’t make a good father. However, I do know that behind all
that worry, he is excited. I’m sorry I waited so long to tell
you, but after…”
“Your concern was sweet, but really, it’s alright. I’ve accepted
it. And I cannot wait to meet your little one!”
Ann and I spent a while longer than necessary in the barn,
discussing her pregnancy and how excited we both were for this
new life. And, as it so turned out, the Dodds weren’t the only
family to make an announcement that day. Katherine, Lucas’s
sister, and their sister-in-law, Priscilla, were both expecting
as well. Words could not describe how happy I was for them. I
reflected back on the five wonderful months that Lucas and I had
been aware of our own blessing; remembering the awe, wonder, and
love that had filled our beings. Looking around the table, I was
pleased to see the same things in those six parents-to-be.
I hate to admit that I was a bit vainly satisfied with myself in
regards to how the day had gone. Everything had fallen into
place; every detail had been perfectly executed. Not one morsel
of food had been over cooked and not one dish had been broken; a
long-standing tradition in both the McCain and Gibbs families.
Even the parlor games were a success. …But I would have traded
all the perfection in the world if I had realized what it had
distracted me from.
That evening, I was finishing the dishes with one of my
sisters-in-law when Johnny walked into the room.
“Margaret, I’m going to head back to your ranch. I have to pull
out early tomorrow.”
“Alright. We should be awake, but don’t you dare leave without
“I won’t. See you in the morning. Jenna, it was good seeing you
“You too. Don’t be such a stranger, we miss seeing you around
“I’ll be sure to come back through when I can. Goodnight!”
I saw Jenna’s gaze follow Johnny as he left the house and make
his way to the barn. “I can drop a hint if you’d like,” I
“What?” Her head snapped around as the color disappeared from
I chuckled, shaking my head. “It’s alright, I haven’t said a
word to a soul.”
“...Do you think… I mean, would he ever… I know I’m not the
prettiest woman that ever lived, but…”
“Oh, hush. You have a beautiful countenance. If Johnny ever
stopped thinking about horses and started thinking about
settling down, I’m sure it’d be no time at all before he was
calling. Next time he comes for a visit I’ll do a little…
Jenna and I both chuckled as she blushed, then went back to
finishing the dishes. When Ruth’s kitchen was finally put back
in order, I walked the farmhouse in an attempt to find my
husband. I eventually found myself back in the front room asking
John and Ruth if they knew where their son was.
“No,” Ruth began. “...As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen him
for a few hours.”
“Did you check the barn?”
I shook my head and thanked them before making my way outside. A
lantern’s glow could be seen coming from the barn, and as I
stepped inside, I found Lucas standing in front of one of the
stalls; petting his father’s horse.
“There you are. What are you doing out here? I’ve been...” I
quieted as I stepped close enough to make out the expression on
my husband's face. “...What’s the matter?”
But he didn’t answer me. He just stared at the horse as he
continued to mindlessly pet it.
“...I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
The look on his face broke my heart. I don’t know how else to
describe it aside from saying that he looked utterly… lost. I
reached up and cupped his face in my hands, turning him to look
“Please, don’t shut me out.” I studied his eyes for a long
moment, concerned by the pain I saw in them. “What’s troubling
He took my hands and set them by my side, giving me a kiss on
the forehead. “We should get back home.”
Now I was worried and a little upset. From the very beginning,
my husband had made it clear that there was no room for secrets
in our marriage. With the exception of one occasion
long-forgotten, we had always been honest with each other. His
evasive behavior told me something was horribly wrong.
The hard-headed, stubborn-willed part of me wanted to demand
that he tell me what was going on; declaring that we weren’t
leaving the barn until he did so. ...But as I again looked into
those lost eyes, I knew that wasn’t the part of me he needed. I
knew this wasn’t the place to attempt to draw it out of him.
It was a quiet ride back home; that was, until my teeth started
chattering. I realized I had left my coat at John and Ruth’s,
but I didn’t want to ask Lucas to turn around. I thought I was
doing an adequate job of keeping my chattering and shivering to
myself, but Lucas’s voice suddenly broke the silence between us.
“Where’s your coat??”
“...I forgot it at your parents’.”
“Margaret…” Lucas’s voice held concern as he told me to take the
reins. I began to protest, but he insisted on giving me his
jacket. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“I thought it would be fine.”
Lucas let out a heavy sigh before taking the reins back. He then
placed them in one hand and wrapped an arm around me, pulling me
close to him. But it didn’t feel normal. There was tension in
his embrace. And while I couldn’t have been any closer to him, I
felt as though the distance of a thousand miles separated us.
We finally returned home and I gave him his coat before heading
inside. As I prepared for bed, I thought back on the day, trying
to understand what was plaguing my husband. Everything had been
fine that morning. And when I had sent him out with the cake…
It finally struck me. There had been something different in his
disposition ever since he came back with the cake from his
sister’s... but I had been too busy to notice. I closed my eyes
and fell back on the bed as I realized when Lucas had
disappeared, and why.
It seemed to take an eternity for Lucas to finish the barn
chores. I finally heard him come in through the front door, but
his tall frame never made its way into our room. Too concerned
to keep waiting, I put on my robe and walked out to the front
room where I found Lucas sitting by the fire. I walked up beside
him, but he never looked at me.
“Katherine told you when you went to bake the cake, didn’t she?”
I saw his brow furrow in confusion as he nodded, but he didn’t
“The announcements. That’s why you left, isn’t it? That’s what’s
There were a few agonizing moments of silence before he reached
out to take my hand, pulling me into his lap. “I didn’t want… to
hurt you. ...I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Hurt me? Lucas… how could you hurt me?”
“...Because it’s not the pregnancies that are so difficult. ...I
am happy for them. ...It’s… it’s that we didn’t have a child
there today. It’s that you’re not expecting, now.”
“...I still don’t understand why you think that might hurt me.”
He looked at me for a long moment, this time with a deep love in
his eyes. “...I don’t want you to ever again think this is your
fault, or that I’m upset with you for what happened… or what
might not happen in the future. ...I don’t want you to start
blaming yourself again. I can’t watch you carry that guilt
“...But we’re beyond that. I know you don’t blame me. I know
this isn’t either one of our faults...” I hesitated to go on,
coming to realize how much had been left unspoken in the past
six months. I had known how excited Lucas was about our baby,
and how devastated he was when I lost the child. But I had
failed to see how much deeper it went.
“I know I was the one to always avoid the conversation. I was
scared about fatherhood and I felt woefully inadequate. I always
thought when the time was right, it would just happen… no sense
in trying. But after three years… I began to wonder if we would
ever have children. And as soon as I was faced with that
possibility… I realized how much I did long for children… our
children. To hear their laughter echo off these walls and their
feet run across this floor. ...And when you told me you were
expecting…” We both wistfully smiled at the memory. “...But when
we lost the baby… and when in the process, I nearly lost you…
everything seemed to break. I thank God every day that you’re
alright, but there are pieces of me missing. Pieces of us
missing. And our child will never be replaced… but I can’t help
but want more. I can’t help but feel that emptiness when I see
someone else’s child at play. I can’t help but wonder, why just
them, and not us, too? I know there’s nothing we can change,
“Lucas.” I waited for him to look at me one last time before I
gave him a long kiss. He drew me into his arms as I rested
against his chest. “I understand. I have the same feelings at
times. ...I wish you would have told me. I… I knew how painful
losing the baby was for you, so I didn’t want to ask you to try.
I’m sorry I didn’t ask more questions… you never seemed to want
to talk about it.”
“...We’ll make it through this. And one day, there will be that
laughter bouncing off the walls, and little feet scurrying
across the floor, and little Lucas McCains getting themselves
into all sorts of mischief. ...But until then, please, don’t
shut me out. Please don’t keep your hurt to yourself. And more
than anything…” I looked up at him, concern etched on my face.
“Don’t forget that I love you.”
“How could I forget that?” Lucas gently smiled, tenderly running
his thumb across my cheek.
I rested my head back on his shoulder, waiting a few moments
before breaking the silence. “...I hate to admit it, but your
cake turned out better than mine ever has.”
“I don’t know what you put in that thing to start with, but I’ve
never made a cake that good. And we better figure out what we
did, because Katherine wants the recipe.”
“Where did you learn to bake, anyway?”
“You had time to bake in the army?”
“Not usually. But when I was a training officer, the colonel’s
wife at the fort was injured and I got enlisted to help her
prepare for the colonels birthday. Took six tries, but it
finally turned out.”
Lucas gently laughed. “It’s a long story…”
I wish I could say that things were right again after that
night, but life is too complicated for that. He was willing to
talk to me, but Lucas still wasn’t his usual self for the next
several weeks… neither of us were ourselves. Watching Lucas
struggle with his grief over the loss of our child reopened that
wound in my own heart, and listening to his concerns about us
never being able to have children made me wonder if he was
What added to my worries was that I knew there was no one aside
from myself that Lucas could discuss this with. I was blessed to
know a handful of women who could walk me through my own
troubles, but my husband was surrounded by men that were still
young and wild; few of which had navigated marriage, let alone
the loss of a child. ...Or so I thought.
I woke early one morning to hear something drop to the floor in
the kitchen. Realizing it was only four and that Lucas wasn’t
beside me, I quickly put on my robe and made my way to the next
“Lucas, what are you doing awake?” I sat down at the table as he
finished pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“I need to go out to my parents’. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“Your parents’? This time in the morning?”
Lucas nodded. “...I need to talk to Pa… alone, before it gets
too late. He’ll be up by the time I get over there.”
“But why?” I really wasn’t thinking as I asked the question.
What else would be bothering him?
“...I didn’t want to talk to him about this. I thought… I
thought I could manage on my own. But I can’t. And as much as I
don’t want to admit it… I need his help. He’s the only one who
just might be able to understand.”
I was quiet for a moment before responding. “...I didn’t know.”
“Few people do. ...When we lost the baby, my mother tried to
tell me to talk to him, but… I was too proud. ...Too afraid of
what Pa might think of me if I admitted… if I admitted how hard
this has been. ...That I can’t find a way to move on.”
“No one is asking you to ‘move on.’” I stepped forward, cupping
his face in my hands. “Your father loves you, Lucas. And if he’s
gone through the same thing, he will do everything he can to
Lucas nodded and gave me a kiss on the forehead before drinking
his coffee. “I’ll be home after breakfast, don’t wait for me.”
“I love you.”
It was only two hours later when I heard a horse in the yard
again. Confused that Lucas was back so soon, I made my way onto
the porch, only to find our sheriff dismounting.
“Morning, Sheriff. What brings you out this early?”
“I need to talk to your husband. Where is he?”
“I’m afraid he went out to his parents’ place this morning. I
can tell him you came by.”
“I’ll ride out there.”
“Your husband will let you know if he sees fit.”
I watched him mount up and ride out, shaking my head as he
turned away. The man infuriated me to no end. It wasn’t that he
and I didn’t get along. If it were simply a personal grievance,
I would have seen that it was sorted out when I first moved to
Enid. But Sheriff Jacobs seemed to make a point of disrespecting
every woman in his jurisdiction. He learned quite quickly not to
do so when my husband was around, but the man took every other
opportunity to degrade the women of Enid; taking a special
interest in myself.
As the dust settled behind the sheriff, I returned inside and
began gathering our clothing to launder. Nearly an hour later, I
watched my husband walk through the front door. But something
was wrong… very wrong.
“Lucas?” I walked to him, concern etched on my face. “What’s the
matter? ...Your father, did he…?”
Lucas shook his head, letting out a deep sigh as he set his
rifle beside the door. “...It’s not Pa. ...He understood more
than I ever thought he would.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“...Jacobs was holding a prisoner for the U.S. Marshals… he was
discovered missing this morning. …Cal needs me to help track
“No! You’re not a deputy anymore!”
“...I’ll be paid for my time.”
“That’s not what I'm worried about and you know it! Just because
Cal can’t do his job doesn’t mean you have to go out and get
Lucas reached out, putting his hands on my shoulders. “Margaret,
I’m not going to get shot. It won’t be like last time.”
The fact that he even mentioned the last time infuriated me, and
it showed. A week after Lucas gave notice that he was going to
be leaving his position in town, he was asked to deliver a
prisoner to Lawton. Two weeks after he was due to arrive home,
he came back with a gunshot wound and broken arm. He only told
me that he had been delayed.
“You won’t get shot or you won’t tell me?!”
“We’ve been over that,” he firmly answered. “I’ve apologized a
dozen times over and I’ll apologize again, but that doesn’t
change the fact that there’s a killer on the loose and that I’m
one of the few people who can help bring him in again.”
“Fine! If you want to go and get yourself killed, go ahead!”
Before Lucas could say anything else, I stormed out of the house
and made my way to the barn. I reached my horse’s stall and
began petting the mare, mumbling and muttering to myself. ...But
as the minutes passed, I realized how unfair I was being to
Lucas. One of the many reasons I married him was for his
character. How could I be upset at my husband for standing by
his principles? How could I ask him to not do what he thought
I suddenly felt my shawl being draped around me and turned,
wrapping my arms around Lucas as I rested my head on his
“...I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken that way. ...I shouldn’t
have gotten upset.”
“I understand.” Lucas bent down and planted a kiss on top of my
head. “You’re not the only one who worries.”
I looked up at him, concern in my eyes.
“Please be careful.”
“You know I will be.” He reached out and put a hand to my cheek.
“Cal said a week at the most. If we can’t find him by then,
we’ll turn around. I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
Lucas drew me close and gave me a long kiss, smiling as we
parted. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I spent the next several days taking my worries out on the
house, scrubbing anything and everything in sight. When I
finally ran out of extra cleaning to do, I turned to sewing and
eventually to baking. Four days after Lucas had left, I was
taking a coffee cake out of the oven when a knock sounded at the
door. I set the pan on the stove and quickly crossed the room to
answer the door.
“Olivia??” Confusion shadowed my face, but it was quickly
replaced with a broad smile as I pulled my sister into a hug.
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you send word?? Oh, it’s
been far too long! Come in out of the cold!”
I quickly brought Olivia inside, not giving her the chance to
answer one question before asking the next; a habit I was
failing miserably to put a stop to. Finally, I took a moment to
look at my sister’s expression and could tell something was
“...Olivia, what is it? ...Is it Pa?”
“Is it Pa,” she mused. “Who else would it be??”
Olivia flamboyantly threw her arms in the air as she answered,
“I don’t even know where to begin! First he forbade my marriage,
“Your marriage?? You’re hardly sixteen!”
“What difference does it make?? Andrew and I are in love and
that’s all that matters!”
I took in a deep breath, realizing how much things had escalated
since her last letter. “...We can discuss that later. What
happened after that?”
“Pa sold the farm, that’s what happened! He just came home one
day and said we were leaving on the evening stage. He paid the
last of his debts and just like that, he left town, dragging me
with him! And at the very least, I thought this all might mean
some kind of change in his behavior. I was foolish to be so
naive. You would think the first thing he would want to do is go
visit the daughter he hasn’t seen in three years. But what does
he do as soon as we get into town? He makes his way straight to
the saloon to get himself blubbering drunk!”
“...Is he still there?”
“Of course! Where else would he go??” Olivia fell into a chair
as she let out a sigh of frustration. “I can’t do this anymore,
Margaret! I can’t live like this! You don’t know what it’s
“I don’t know what it’s like?” I quietly asked.
“No you don’t! And don’t you start defending Pa again; there’s
no excuse for his actions! He can’t do this to me!”
I sat down, staring at my sister in utter disbelief. At first,
her words made my blood boil. But then I realized, she was too
young to remember the way things were before. Things had changed
in the last fifteen years. A lot of things. ...Things I had
chosen to forgive, but simply could never forget.
Part of me was almost willing to leave Olivia to her ignorance.
But I realized that if I did, I would also be leaving my sister
to her self pity. And that was something that would destroy her.
“...Maybe I don’t understand,” I answered in a soft tone. “How
could I? After all, when I was in your shoes, the only time I
had to be alone with Pa was late at night when he came home
drunk. The rest of the time, I was busy working or raising my
siblings. And when I think about it, I suppose he wasn’t the
obnoxious, boisterous, dumb drunk you have to deal with now. I
only had to deal with the angry, mean, bitter drunk that…” I let
the words die on my lips. The only person I had spoken those
horrors to was my husband, and my goal was not to make Oliva’s
perception of our father worse. “...And Pa selling the farm, I
know I can’t understand how that must feel, either. Because I
only had to watch him drink away my hard-earned money. I didn’t
have to stand aside as he acquired debt and paid it off with his
own assets. And I’m sure packing everything up and leaving your
home behind is much more difficult when you’re not responsible
for four other people, including a sick baby you have no idea
how to tend to. But Pa not letting you marry Andrew, that, I
think I can understand. Because when I was just a little older
than you, I thought I had found the man that could solve all my
problems. But our father would not give his blessing for our
marriage. Nevertheless, I was determined to marry him and had
plans to elope. Pa somehow found out and finally gave me some
ludicrous explanation about why he said no. Something about the
man having been married three times before. I shouldn’t have
listened to him… I can’t help but wonder where I could be now if
I had run away instead of staying.”
This time, Olivia was the one who stared at me. She had been
just a baby when our mother died, and it had taken Pa a good
five years to realize what he was doing to our family. He
eventually began to change; becoming an actual father to his
children again. But his gambling and drinking are things I still
don’t think he’ll ever give up.
I waited a few more moments to let everything sink in before
“...Livy, my intention has never been to make excuses for Pa. I
know he’s made a lot of mistakes and done a lot of wrong. I’m
sorry Lucas and I had to leave Indiana so abruptly, but there
was no other choice. ...I know your circumstances aren’t easy
and that they must be extremely frustrating, but I also know
that you don’t have to sit there and feel sorry for yourself.” I
could tell what I had said upset her and quickly went on.
“Instead, I suggest you try doing something about it.”
“For starters, have you even given Pa a chance to explain why he
won’t let you marry Andrew?”
“He thinks I’m too young!”
“He told you that?”
“...Well… no, but… what else could it be?”
“A whole myriad of things, Olivia. A farm hand who showed up out
of nowhere six months ago? Has he even told you where he’s
“...What difference does it make?”
“It could make all the difference in the world.” I let out a
sigh, looking out the window to see the buggy my sister had
rented. “You go ahead and take the buggy back to the livery.
I’ll hitch up our team and take the wagon to get Pa. If he’s as
drunk as you make him out to be, it’ll make things easier.”
“Oh he’s drunk alright. He was already sipping a bottle on the
stage. You should probably wait for Lucas to get home.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option. Lucas is out with our sheriff,
tracking down a prisoner.”
“What are you going to do? Waltz into the saloon and pull him
away from his precious bottle?”
“Do you have any other suggestions?”
“What would your husband think if he found out??”
“My husband will understand when I tell him what happened.”
Olivia rolled her eyes and stood, making her way towards the
door. I got into town just a few minutes after my sister and
picked her up from the livery before driving the team over to
“Isn’t there anybody else you can ask for help? That’s no place
for a lady to go!”
“It won’t be my first time in a saloon and I doubt it will be my
last. I won’t be long.”
“What do you want me to do? Leave him in there until he starts
making a ruckus and gets arrested?”
“...It was his decision to get drunk in the first place.”
“You really don’t care what happens to him, do you?”
“...It’s not that I don’t care about him. But things would be a
whole lot easier on me if we went our separate ways!”
Her words angered me, but I knew I wasn’t solely upset at
Olivia. I was upset at myself, because I kept having to dismiss
the same thoughts from my own mind. I shook my head and handed
her the reins.
I jumped down from the wagon and walked to the doors of the
saloon. When I finally caught sight of my father, I took in a
deep breath and marched inside, headed straight towards his
table. The room quieted at my presence; a few of the men tipping
their hats as I passed.
“Alright, Pa,” I declared as I started gently pulling him to his
feet, “It’s time to go home.”
Pa stumbled as he tried to maintain his balance, squinting at me
“M-Marrrr’grrre-t? W...Whhaat arrre y-yooouuu…”
“Never mind that, it’s time to go.”
I started leading him towards the doors, but he turned and tried
returning to the table.
“J...Juuussst… ooonne… mm...mooorrree…”
“No, Pa, you’ve had plenty. It’s time to leave.”
He gave a drunken laugh as I again started pulling him out of
“Yooouuu hh-heeaaarr hheeerr, g-ggents? Sshheee allwaaays waaas
a bossssy lllil’ th… thhiiiing.” I rolled my eyes as he hiccuped.
“Taaakesss aff’err ‘er mmm… maaa!”
After I got Pa outside, Olivia helped me get him situated in the
back of the wagon. We then climbed back into the front seat and
started for home.
“Margaret, I just don’t understand you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t care about what happens to
him. I certainly don’t understand how you can after all you told
me. Just look at him! Why bother? It’ll be the same next time he
goes into town and you know it!”
“Yes I do. But if my childhood, or lack thereof, taught me
anything, it’s that family is all that matters. Because when
everything else is gone, all you have left is your flesh and
blood. So out of necessity, I learned to forgive, and I learned
to look past horrible failures, and I learned to stand by my
own. Pa may never change, but that doesn’t make any difference.
Whether it’s Pa, or you, or Johnny; and if Tate and Dick were
alive, it’d be the same for them- no matter what any of you do,
I will never turn my back on you.”
“Pa is a human being, just like anyone else. In need of
compassion and love and forgiveness, just like everyone else.
That doesn’t make his choices right. But it doesn’t make hating
him right, either.”
I woke up the following morning with knots in my stomach. I
couldn’t understand why; I wasn’t looking forward to the
inevitable discussion with Pa, but I certainly wasn’t nervous
about it. Letting out a heavy sigh, I got up and dressed for the
day before making my way to the front room.
Pa was still passed out on the couch… he hadn’t moved an inch
since Livy and I had brought him home. I shook my head and
revived the fire before starting another in the stove. Grabbing
a lantern and my coat on the way, I headed to the barn and
started on the chores. Halfway through mucking the stalls I
turned around to see that my father had been standing behind me,
fiddling with his hat.
“Good morning,” I greeted, turning back to my task. “Sleep
“...I reckon you know the answer to that,” he shyly answered.
I passively nodded, unsure of how to proceed.
I let out a heavy sigh, turning around again and leaning against
“...I’m sorry things had to turn out the way they did. That’s
certainly not how I had wanted our reunion to go… I was just
going to get one drink… to settle my nerves. ...You never did
answer my last letter.”
“I was still trying to find the words to say. But I suppose
now’s as good a time as any to just come out and say it.
Especially if you figure on settling here, you are going to have
to understand that I won’t… that I can’t turn my back on my
brother. Johnny will be as welcome on this ranch as you and
Olivia. And if you start causing trouble when he’s here, he
won’t be the one asked to leave. This feud between the two of
you is absolutely childish and I am not going to add to the fire
by favoring one of you over the other.”
To my utter shock, my father simply nodded in understanding.
“...Pa, why are you here?”
“To settle; you said it yourself.”
“Why, though? You were already settled in Indiana. Was Andrew
such a threat that you felt you had to drag Olivia away from
everything she’s ever known?”
“...Oh, she told you.”
“Yes, she told me! She’s in love with the man!”
“She’ll get over it.”
“No, she won’t. Unless she’s given a valid reason why she
shouldn’t marry him, it won’t be very long before she’s found a
way back to Indiana.”
“...You’ve always been good with her. Can’t you try to talk her
out of this? Can’t you get her to see it’s not the travesty she
thinks it is?”
“Not when it very well could be. You still haven’t answered
either of my questions.”
Pa let out a deep breath before answering. “...I didn’t want her
to know… I don’t want her to know. But Andrew… I’ve seen him
plenty of times in the saloon, talking with the women… in no way
a courting man should. ...In no way any man should.”
“You don’t want her to know? Pa, she has to know!”
“She’ll just blame me.”
“So you thought moving here would somehow make her not blame
“...Andrew was only a small part of moving. I had to sell the
farm to pay off some debts and… moving here meant...” He shook
his head. “Margaret, I know you’re not her mother. But you’re
the only mother figure Olivia has ever had. She’s getting to be
that age and… she needs a woman in her life to teach her certain
things and… and to… talk to her about certain things. I’m no
replacement for her mother and she doesn’t listen to a word I
say as it is. I figured, if we moved here… she’d at least have
you to talk to again… she’d have someone I trusted to guide her
the right way. And me… I’m getting old and worn out. With Olivia
sure to abandon me as soon as she gets married… Johnny and I at
odds… I wanted to be around someone who… might care what happens
“Might? Pa, you know I do. Which is why I have to tell you that
you can’t keep drinking like this. It’s not only going to
destroy your health, but look at what it’s already done to your
“...I wish I could stop it… but when that urge comes on…”
“Then let us help you stop it.”
“No! ...If I can’t do it… well, there’s just no hope for me.”
It was his pride speaking, and I knew it. But I also knew that
there was nothing I could say to change his mind. “If you truly
believe that, then there isn’t. ...If you want to go around the
back of the house, you can wash up.”
“...Let me finish in here and-” Pa suddenly stopped, confusion
shadowing his face. “Where’s that husband of yours?? Why isn’t
he in here??”
“Lucas is helping track down an escaped prisoner. He’ll be home
in a few days.”
“And he left you here?? Alone?!”
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”
“When that boy gets back I’m going to-”
“Pa, what Lucas and I decide about our lives is our business,
and you have no right to interfere in our marriage. My husband
would never do anything to put me in danger and if he thought
there was even a chance…” I suddenly stopped talking as my
vision began to fade. I shook my head, waiting for it to return
before slowly continuing. “...I’m as safe here as anywhere else.
Lucas isn’t the man you always assumed he was. I hope this time
you’ll give him a chance to prove it to you.”
“We’ll see about that.” Pa stepped forward and took the shovel
from me. “You go inside, I’ll finish here.”
I spent the majority of the morning pushing around the food on
my plate as Pa tried to convince Olivia of Andrew’s true
character. They went around and around for hours, causing me to
wonder if my sister would ever come to her senses. But at long
last, she finally burst into tears and ran to the bedroom. I
caught Pa’s arm as he started to go after her.
“Give her some time alone; she’ll eventually be alright.”
“...I just don’t understand how you girls manage to fall in love
with the wrong men every time.”
“Not every time.”
“...That’s yet to be determined.”
I took in a deep breath, slowly letting it out. “Pa, what is
your issue with Lucas? He’s never done anything against you.”
“He doesn’t have to! Running around with Johnny, getting into
“Mischief at the most. But that was right after the war. They…
they both needed a distraction. Lucas is a good man, and he has
a lot more sense to him than you might think. He may not show
it, but inside he… he’s kind, and thoughtful, and… and very
protective of his family.”
“And that’s why he left his wife alone in the middle of nowhere
for days on end?”
“He left me here because he knew this was where I would want to
be. I’d hate to impose on his family, and we certainly don’t
need to waste the money on a hotel room.”
“Exactly! You need a husband who can provide for you!”
“Lucas works incredibly hard every day to do just that. I’d
rather be barely making ends meet with him than have all the
money in the world and be with a man I don’t love.”
“You’d grow to love him, just as your mother and I grew to love
I shook my head. “Lucas is my husband and there will never be
anyone else. And while I refuse to choose between you and
Johnny, no one comes before my husband.”
“I should’ve never let you marry. Not that you would’ve listened
had I said no.”
“Please, Pa. If you’re going to be living here, don’t go
stirring up trouble with Lucas or his family. We’re going to
have to learn to live with each other.”
He heavily sighed and nodded; standing as he stretched his
frame. “I promise, for you, I won’t cause any trouble. Your
woodpile is getting low; I’ll go chop some more.”
I stared at Pa in confusion as he left the house. Sometimes he
could be so reasonable, so… fatherly. Other times it was as if
he was trying to do whatever he could to upset me. Knowing I
would have to simply take what I could get, I shook my head and
began clearing the table.
After I had finished cleaning the kitchen, I made my way to the
bedroom door and gently knocked before entering. I found Olivia
sitting on the window seat, staring into the yard.
“Are you alright?” I asked, taking a seat across from her.
Olivia shook her head, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “How
could he do this to me??”
“...I’m afraid I can’t answer that. But I am glad you found out
before you got married.”
“If he would have even gone through with it,” she cried. “I hate
“...I know this is difficult, but one day you will find the
right man who will love you the way you deserve.”
“No I won’t! There aren’t any good men left in the world!”
“You can’t judge them all based on a bad experience with one.
Give yourself some time, and you will find the right one.”
“I’ll never love anyone the way I loved Andrew!”
“...I suppose you’re right. You’ll find a man you love even
more, in such a deeper way.”
“You don’t understand! Andrew meant everything to me!”
I tried to suppress my smile as I remembered telling my brother
essentially the same thing almost ten years prior.
“I thought no one would ever be able to replace Charles. But
then I met Lucas… and I realized how absolutely miserable I
would have been if I had married him. I know that right now it
doesn’t seem like you’ll ever be able to live again… to love
again. But one day the wound will heal, and you’ll be able to
look back without feeling any hurt.”
“I wish that was true, but it can’t be. I loved him too much!”
“Trust me,” I assured, taking my sister’s hand. “You will find
love again, and even with it’s trials and hardships, it will be
more than you ever dreamed.”
When I stepped into the front room the following morning, I
found Pa’s bedding folded and set aside; my father nowhere to be
seen. I looked around in confusion before finding a note on the
I’ve borrowed a horse and gone into town to start looking for a
place for Livy and me. Bring your sister to town around noon.
I nodded in satisfaction, thankful I wasn’t the one who had to
make the suggestion. Lucas would be home in a few days, and he
wouldn’t hold to Samuel staying with us for much longer.
After seeing to the barn chores I returned inside and made a cup
of tea to settle my stomach. As I sat at the table, staring out
the window, my thoughts returned to my husband. I wondered where
he was, what he was doing… if he was safe. It concerned me that
we hadn’t heard anything from Cal or Lucas, but I knew there
could be a dozen reasons why they hadn’t been able to wire. ...I
just wished I knew what that reason was.
“Are you alright?”
I looked up to see Olivia coming from the bedroom, suddenly
realizing that I had started rubbing my temples. “Oh, I’m fine,”
I answered, taking a sip of my tea. “Did you sleep alright?”
Olivia nodded, turning from the couch towards myself. “Where’s
“He went into town to start looking for places to live. We’ll
head that way in a few hours.”
“Are you certain it’s safe to leave him alone that long?”
“He’s a grown man, he can make his own choices and take his own
“Is that why you pulled him out of the saloon the other night?”
“I know, I know. It’s different.”
“Are you hungry? I can fix you something.”
“No, thank you.”
“Are you sure? You didn’t eat much of anything last night. If
you don’t eat something…”
“Now don’t you start worrying about me, I’m perfectly capable of
taking care of myself.”
“Start worrying?” I asked with a small smile. “I never stopped.”
“I just don’t have much of an appetite. Besides, I wasn’t the
only one who didn’t eat much. And unlike me, you’re likely to
turn to skin and bones if you don’t eat!”
My smile faded as I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m concerned about
Lucas, I suppose. I hate it when he leaves like this.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. Especially with that rifle of his.”
“It didn’t do any good last time…”
“...Never mind,” I answered, shaking my head. “I’ll make some
oatmeal so we can both try to eat something.”
Once Olivia started eating, she realized just how hungry she
was. On the contrary, I became even more aware of my lack of
appetite and could only handle a few bites before discreetly
getting rid of the rest of my breakfast.
Olivia and I spent the morning sewing before we loaded up in the
wagon and headed to town. Pa was waiting for us by the general
store and helped us down from the wagon before informing Olivia
that he had two homes and a boarding house he wanted her to look
“Me?” She asked in surprise. “I thought you made all the
“I know you don’t like the idea of us moving here. That you
can’t have a say in. But I thought you might want to have some
say in where we make our home.”
I saw Olivia’s expression slightly soften before nodding in
agreement. Pa showed us the houses first, neither of which were
much, but the rent was considerably low for a private home. We
then went to Mrs. Fayne’s boarding house, and it didn’t surprise
me one bit when Olivia insisted they rent rooms there. Her and
Pa would be on separate floors, and in Olivia’s mind, it meant
that much more independence.
Mrs. Fayne said they could move in the following afternoon,
stating that the first week’s rent would be due that evening. We
said goodbye and made our way back onto the boardwalk, Pa
telling Olivia and I to head on back to the ranch.
“I have some business to finish, then I’ll be along.”
“What business?” Olivia asked, eyebrows raised.
“Not that I have any obligation to tell you, but I need to see a
man about a job.”
“Olivia, I don’t care how old you get, you’re to respect your
elders, ya hear?”
“...Yeah, I hear.”
“Now you two go on back to the ranch. I’ll be there later.”
Pa did come home later. Much, much later. It was nearly midnight
when I heard him riding into the yard, his drunken state made
obvious by his boisterous singing. I grabbed my shawl and headed
outside, following Pa to the barn.
As I entered the building, I saw him struggling to unsaddle my
mare. More concerned about him hurting my horse than anything
else, I stepped in and said I would do it.
“Why thank you, Lady Margaret.” He bowed and stumbled across the
barn floor, landing on the haystack.
When I had finished bedding down my horse, I tried getting Pa to
come inside, but he wouldn’t budge.
“No, no!” he declared. “Tonight, I sleep out here, I will! My
friends here get lonely and I must keep them company! They need
someone to talk to!”
“...The cow needs someone to talk to?” I asked incredulously.
“What do you expect her to do, talk to the horse?? Not after
what she did!”
I rolled my eyes and left the barn, returning with a few
blankets. “I’ll keep the door unlocked for when you get too
I turned down the lamps and shut the barn up tight before
walking across the yard. I stopped at the porch, turning around
and sighing in concern. It wasn’t nearly the most drunk I’d ever
seen him, but the brandy on his breath was so strong, the
smell... the smell made me nauseous.
It was then that I began to realize that there was much more
going on than I had realized. As bits and pieces of the past few
days started coming back to me, I shook my head in amusement and
The following morning was an early one as I woke to the sound of
my father chopping wood. Olivia soon roused and the two of us
set to making breakfast before we all sat down to eat. Little
was said about Pa’s late arrival the night before, and I could
tell he was appreciative of that.
Pa left soon after breakfast to start his job at the mill in
town. I started to clear the table, but Olivia’s voice stopped
“Margaret, are you sure you’re not coming down with something?”
“Why do you ask?” I replied, continuing the task.
“You hardly touched your breakfast again, and you’re looking a
“...Just tired. It’s been a long few weeks.”
“Few weeks? What happened?”
“Oh, you know how life is on a ranch. Always something to do…
always something going wrong. But I suppose life would get
rather dull without those surprises.”
“If you’d rather wait to help me get settled in town…”
“No, I’m alright. Once I finish a few chores around here we can
head to the boarding house.”
“Are you sure?”
“When have I not been sure about anything?” I chuckled. “And
afterwards, you and I can enjoy lunch at the cafe.”
“I certainly won’t argue that!”
I saw to a few things around the homestead before briefly
checking on the cattle. Finding everything in order, I returned
to the house and hitched the team before Olivia and I headed to
It didn’t take more than an hour to get both Pa and Olivia
unpacked, so I offered to show my sister around town. After
spending much more time than necessary looking at dresses
neither one of us would ever be able to afford, we finally made
our way to the cafe and ordered lunch.
Just as our food was being served, I saw Ann walk inside and
immediately called her over. I quickly introduced her to Olivia
and asked Ann to join us for lunch. She happily agreed, and
after quite a drawn-out meal, the three of us were headed to the
Dodds’ farm for afternoon tea.
I was happy to see how well Ann and Olivia got on. With the
amount of time Ann and I spent together, Olivia would inevitably
be spending some time with us and I didn’t want that to be an
uncomfortable situation for anyone.
In time, Livy and I took our leave so I could get her back to
the boarding house for supper. We arrived just as Pa did,
greeting him as the horses came to a stop.
“Margaret, I didn’t think you would still be in town.”
“I wanted to show Olivia around, and then we were invited to the
home of a friend of mine’s for tea.”
“Well, I suppose that means one less trip to the ranch for me.
I’ll tie the mare to the back.”
As Olivia got down from the rig, she asked when I would be in
“Not until church Sunday. I’ll save the two of you seats.”
“Don’t bother for me,” Pa mumbled.
Livy shook her head and rolled her eyes. “...I’ll see you then.”
“You two have a good night!”
I made my way back to the center of town and hitched the team
across from the telegraph office. As I entered the building, the
clerk warmly greeted me.
“Mrs. McCain, lovely to see you. What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if anything had come in from Lucas or the
“I’m sorry, haven’t heard a word.” I didn’t realize how
crestfallen my face had become until he went on, “...But you
know how it is. Out in open country like that, who knows when
they’ll reach a town with a telegraph office.”
I smiled in appreciation. “Thanks, Ernie. I’ll see you Sunday.”
“Have a good evening!”
I stepped out onto the boardwalk and took a deep breath in
before slowly letting it out. As I looked down the street, Doc’s
office caught my eye. A nervousness suddenly came over me as I
stared at the clinic. I knew there was no reason to hesitate,
but it still took quite some time to convince myself to start
walking. Finally entering the office, I called for the doctor; a
few moments passing before he stuck his head out from behind one
of the doors.
“I’ll be with you in a few minutes, Margaret. Just finishing up
with a patient.”
I smiled and nodded, taking a seat as he disappeared behind the
door. I anxiously waited, trying to calm my nerves before I made
Ten minutes passed before Doc and Pollie came out from the back
room. He gave her some instructions and walked her to the door
before turning his attention to me.
“Now young lady, what can I do for you?”
I hesitated before answering, “...I know there’s no sense in
worrying, but I…”
“...I can’t help but-”
The door to the office suddenly flew open, men rushing inside.
“Doc he’s shot bad!”
My eyes fell to the man that was being carried; a scream
escaping my lips as I saw my husband’s face. I tried rushing
towards him, but a strong set of hands pulled me back.
“Let go of me!”
“Let the doctor work; you’d just be in the way.”
I turned around to see Cal Jacobs behind me and shook his hands
off of me. “How could you let this happen?!”
“Don’t you go blaming me! It was his idea to split up in the
“I heard a shot and followed it to find Lucas struggling with a
man. He fired twice more before I could get in range. Grazed ‘im
before he ran off.”
“You mean you let him go?!”
“I was trying to save your husband’s life! Now if you’ll excuse
me, I have to go inform your in-laws that their son was shot!”
I stared at Cal as he stormed out of the office and slammed the
door shut behind him. I sank into a chair, worriedly shifting my
gaze to the door my husband now lay behind.
A lonely, eerie silence hung over the office as I waited. It
must have been nearly an hour later when the door to the office
again opened, John and Ruth stepping inside. I stood, giving
them both a hug.
“How is he?” Ruth asked.
“I don’t know. The doctor hasn’t come out yet.”
John helped his wife sit down before turning to me, “Are you
“...I knew something like this would happen,” I answered, again
staring across the room. “I told him not to go…”
“I just don’t understand,” Ruth declared; tears in her eyes. “He
finished deputying over a year ago. Why was he even asked to
“...Because Cal knew he wouldn’t say no,” John answered.
“...Lucas cares too much about law and order to stand aside.”
“No… not law and order,” I whispered. “...People. Lucas… Lucas
cares too much about people. ...And that’s why he agreed to help
track this man down. He couldn’t stand the thought of one more
person becoming a victim of that man’s crimes.”
Another hour passed before Doc Sayre stepped into the waiting
room. We all stood, nervously anticipating the news.
“...I’ve done what I can,” the doctor gravely informed us. “I’m
afraid I can’t say if he’ll pull through… it’s too soon to tell.
We should know by morning.”
There were several moments of silence before Ruth spoke.
“Can we see him?”
“He’s not awake and I think it best that he have quiet. Why
don’t you come back tomorrow?”
John nodded before turning to me. “Margaret, we’d like it if
you’d come back to the farm with us.”
It took me a few moments to respond, still trying to process
what had happened. “...Thank you, but I want to stay in town… I
want to be close.”
“...Alright. Doc, if anything changes, please send someone for
I watched John and Ruth leave the office before turning back
towards the doctor. “Is it that bad?”
“...What do you mean?” he hesitantly asked.
“Ruth and John going in there wouldn’t have woken him. Please,
Doc, tell me the truth.”
“...It’s not pretty. I didn’t want to put Ruth through seeing
him like that until… until we know.”
“I want to see him.”
“...I don’t think Lucas would want…”
“I don’t care!” I quieted before going on. “...I saw him when
they brought him in here, there’s no reason I can’t see him now.
I won’t leave him. I can’t.”
Doc took in a deep breath before slowly letting it out.
I followed the doctor to the back room, a lump forming in my
throat as I set my eyes on my husband’s face.
“Call if you need anything.”
I whispered a brief, “Thank you,” before sitting down at Lucas’s
side. The lamplight illuminated a pale face lined with scratches
and bruises. Bending down to place a gentle kiss on his
forehead, I could feel his cold, clammy skin.
Emotions I didn’t know what to do with unexpectedly welled
inside of me. I couldn’t have loved Lucas any more, but I was
angry with him for leaving. I was angry at Cal for asking him to
go. I knew what a destructive force hatred could be, but it was
all I felt for the man that had shot my husband.
And worry. I knew worrying wasn’t going to do an ounce of good,
but it was all I seemed to be able to do. ...That was, until I
finally set aside the feelings of anger I had for God. Slowly
taking Lucas’s hand in mine, I began a silent prayer.
Most of what I prayed wasn’t even close to being coherent. Had
it been spoken aloud, I doubt anyone could make heads or tales
of what I was asking. But that didn’t matter, because I had
faith that the Almighty knew exactly what miracle we were
Morning dawned with little change in Lucas’s condition. His
coloring was better, but his bruises looked worse. Doc and I did
what we could to improve Lucas's appearance before his parents
John and Ruth sat in the back room with me for quite some time.
Little was said, Ruth inviting me to their home again before
they took their leave.
Minutes stretched into hours as the day drug on. Friends and
family visited throughout the morning and afternoon, and by the
time evening arrived, I had asked Doc to start turning people
away. I couldn’t bear to hold another empty conversation as I
stared at my husband limply lying on the bed.
It was nearing eight o’clock when I unexpectedly heard a knock
at the door. I hesitated, letting out a heavy sigh before
calling for them to enter.
I stared at Cal, again swallowing those emotions of anger,
bitterness, and hate. ...He wasn’t to blame, and I knew it.
“...Sheriff, I’d like to apologize for my-”
“If you think you’re the first wife to yell at me, you’d be
sorely mistaken.” He answered me with something I’d never seen
before: a smile.
“Just the same, I am sorry. ...Lucas knew exactly what he was
getting himself into.”
“...I came by to let you know that we are still looking for the
man that shot him. We had half a dozen men out today, but no
traces so far.”
“Oh, and I thought I should bring this by.” Cal lifted Lucas’s
rifle and set it in the corner of the room. “Knowing Luke, I’m
sure he’ll be asking about it the second he wakes.”
I nodded, gently smiling in appreciation.
“...Well, have a good night.”
He nodded, quietly closing the door behind him. I turned back to
Lucas, watching the steady rise and fall of his frame. I stayed
awake as long as I could, hoping that I would see his eyes
flutter open or hear his voice calling my name. However, my
heavy eyelids won out and I was eventually pulled into a fitful
Several hours later, I woke with a chill running down my spine.
I instinctively turned to Lucas, relaxing when I realized that
he was still breathing.
The events that followed seemed to last an eternity; but looking
back, I realize it could have only taken a few moments for
everything to transpire.
Jumping at the sound of a gun being cocked, I turned to see a
large figure standing beside me, pointing a revolver at my
“NO!” I charged the man in an attempt to pull the gun away from
him, suddenly being thrust backwards into the corner of the
room. My head snapped backwards, hitting the wall as my skirt
caught on Lucas’s rifle.
I remember watching in horror as the tall figure again took aim
at Lucas, but I still have no recollection of reaching for the
rifle. I just remember the boom of the Winchester echoing off
the clinic walls as the man’s tall frame slumped to the floor.
I sank to the ground, shaking; tightly holding Lucas’s rifle to
my chest. I couldn’t take my eyes off the prone figure on the
floor. The door suddenly swung open and I heard voices entering
the room, but they were muddled… distant.
The next several hours were a blur, and I don’t remember much of
what happened. As I later pieced together, Cal and Doc managed
to remove me to Doc’s office while things were cleaned up in the
other room. The sheriff was eventually able to get enough
information from me to dismiss any need for a formal
investigation, and said he would come back in the morning to
discuss the incident at length.
Doctor Sayre and Sheriff Jacobs both attempted to dissuade me
from returning to Lucas’s room that night, but I insisted that I
wouldn’t have it any other way. I suppose their assumptions were
that I was worried about something happening to Lucas, and while
that was true, it wasn’t the whole truth. ...It wasn’t just that
I thought he might need me. More than anything, I needed him.
The following morning, as Doc examined Lucas, I gave Cal a much
more coherent account of what had happened the night before. He
took a few notes for formality’s sake; assuring me that
everything I had done was within the law. ...But as much as I
hated the man that had shot Lucas, I didn’t know how I was going
to live with myself, having taken his life.
When Cal finished, he asked if I had any questions.
“...Can this stay between the three of us?”
Doc and Cal looked at each other before the sheriff answered me.
“...The Marshals Service is going to need to know what
“...But does Lucas have to know?”
“He’ll be asking what happened to Beardsley.”
“But with Margaret involved,” Doc began, “...I just don’t know
if it’s a good idea for him to know, right away. The stress it
could put on him… he’s weak enough as it is.”
“Then what do you suggest? Him thinking Beardsley is out there
isn’t gonna do any good, either.”
“...We tell him the truth. Birden Beardsley was shot and killed
here in town. That should be enough until Margaret and I think
he can handle the whole truth.”
“Suit yourselves. ...If you’ll excuse me, I have a report to
After Cal left, I asked the doctor how Lucas was.
“Stronger. Much stronger. I’d expect him to wake any time.” Doc
studied me for a long moment. “...Margaret, what is it?”
“...Last night, when Beardsley pushed me back, I hit the wall
quite hard. I wouldn’t think anything of it… but I think… I
think I might be pregnant. And, especially with last time… I’m
“...Have you had any bleeding? Cramping?”
I shook my head.
“Any pain in your back?”
“Alright. Let me look you over and then we’ll keep an eye on you
for the next few days, but I don’t think there’s any immediate
cause for alarm.”
The doctor didn’t find anything concerning in his examination
and reassured me that he thought everything would be fine. “Just
take it easy this time around.”
“...Do you still want me to keep people from coming back?”
“...If you would. I… especially after last night…”
Several hours later, I heard an argument coming from the waiting
room before my father unexpectedly burst through the door.
“Maragaret, I’m sorry,” Doc apologized from behind him.
“...It’s alright. Thank you.” I waited for the doctor to return
to his office before looking up at Pa. “What are you doing
“What am I doing here?? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!”
“...Olivia knew, I thought you would have heard.”
“Well I haven’t seen much of your sister the past few days,” he
mumbled. “Margaret, this has to end.”
“What has to end?”
“You and Lucas!”
“Pa, we’re married!”
“We’ll have it annulled! But I won’t stand to see him put you in
danger like this!”
“You don’t know?! The man that shot Lucas came back to town last
night and was killed! I can only imagine what he was here for!
What if he had gotten in here?? What do you think he would have
done to you??”
“That’s not Lucas’s fault!”
“If he were half the man he pretends to be, none of this would
Even with all I had forgiven, I couldn’t take any more. The past
between Pa and me was one thing. But I couldn’t stand by and
listen to the shell of a man my father was say such things about
There was no emotion in my voice as I answered. I looked deep
into Pa’s eyes as I narrowed my own, speaking in a steady,
“For the first sixteen years of my life, I feared you coming
home every day. I hoped you wouldn’t. You were so senselessly
drunk, I didn’t know if me, Ma, or anyone else would survive to
see the next day. When Ma died, I had to quit school and start
working, because all you did was sit around and drink all day
before leaving to gamble at the saloon that night. I had to
raise three brothers and a little sister who almost died more
times than I care to count. I had to sneak her to the doctor’s
because you said it was a waste of money. I still don’t
understand what happened to you, but I thank the Good Lord he
changed your ways, because we couldn’t have survived much longer
the way things were. And that’s why I spent the next six years
afraid you’d go back to your old ways. That’s why I never felt
safe around you. That’s why we stayed in Indiana so long. Lucas
wanted to move back here right away, but I didn’t trust you with
Olivia. My husband put his plans aside to potentially protect
your own daughter from you. I’ve forgiven, Pa. But I won’t ever
forget. So don’t you dare come in here and start attacking my
husband’s character. Especially when he was shot in the line of
There was a long silence before Pa meekly nodded and left. Once
the door shut behind him, I rested my head on the bedside,
thinking over the words I had spoken.
I had never confronted my father over the past. I didn’t know if
he realized how much I remembered. I didn’t even know how much
he remembered. I never said anything because I was afraid that
if I did, I would break. ...But I didn’t. All I felt was a
gaping hole deep inside of me that grew larger and larger as the
memories of my childhood played over and over again in my mind.
My eyes fluttered open as I sat up and looked around for the
voice that called my name.
Recognizing Lucas’s voice, I turned around to see my husband
holding his eyes half open.
His brow furrowed at the volume of my voice as he reached up to
rub the side of his head. I bent down and gave him a long kiss,
gently placing my hand to his cheek. I finally drew back,
staring deep into his blue eyes.
He weakly reached up, tucking a strand of my messy hair behind
my ear. “...I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
I shook my head. “You’re alive; you’re going to be alright.
That’s all that matters.”
“I’m sorry,” he voiced again; this time pulling me into a kiss.
“How do you feel?” I asked as we parted, worriedly looking him
“Sore,” he answered, rubbing one of his bandages.
There were a few moments of silence between us, and as I sat
down on the bedside, I think Lucas could see the question in my
“I picked up a false trail,” he began to quietly explain. “I
suggested we split up and after Jacobs left, Beardsley attacked
me. ...I don’t remember much else.” Lucas began looking around
the room before asking, “Where’s my rifle?”
I tried to hide the terror in my eyes as images from the
previous night flashed through my mind. Pushing the memories
away, I gave a sad smile as I remembered why the sheriff had
brought it in the first place.
“Over there,” I answered, gesturing. “...Cal thought you might
“...Margaret, are you alright?”
“I will be… just as soon as you’re up and around again. I’ll get
Doc Sayre so he can look you over and-”
“Maggie.” Lucas took my hand, stopping me. “What’s wrong?”
I looked at Lucas for a long moment. I couldn’t tell him. Not
yet. So I shook my head and gave him a kiss.
“I love you. That’s what’s wrong. ...But in time, we’ll both be
That evening, I was helping Lucas finish a bowl of soup when a
light knock sounded at the door.
“Come in,” I called, setting the bowl aside.
My sister entered the room, a dozen thoughts suddenly racing
through my head.
“Olivia??” Lucas asked. “What are you doing here?”
I started to explain, but the look on my sister’s face told me
something was wrong. “It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.
Livy, what is it?”
“It’s Pa. He didn’t come home last night and I haven’t seen him
“He was here this morning.”
“I know, that’s what the doctor said, but I can’t find him
“Did you check the saloon?” Lucas muttered under his breath.
“That’s the first place I looked! Margaret, I wouldn’t usually
be worried, but I can’t shake this feeling! Where would he be
besides the boarding house or the saloon? It’s freezing out
there, and if something happened…”
“Alright.” I started to stand, but Lucas took my hand.
“Margaret, I don’t want either one of you wandering around out
“...I’ll help Olivia check around town and if we can’t find
anything, I’ll ask Cal to get a few men together.”
I could still see the concern in Lucas’s eyes as he hesitated to
let go of my hand.
“He’s my father!”
“...Don’t stay out too long.”
“I love you.”
I gave Lucas a kiss before following my sister out of the
clinic. We decided to take separate ends of town, agreeing to
meet back at the doctor’s office.
As I searched, I couldn’t help but notice that same uneasy
feeling my sister had. I was concerned that what I had said to
my father had given him the wrong ideas… or perhaps one horrible
As I started to run out of places to look, I became more and
more worried. What if he was out there, passed out in a ditch?
What if he had gotten himself lost in the woods? ...What if he
had caused trouble with the Indians? I tried to remember if he
had been wearing his gun belt that morning. I couldn’t.
I finally found myself standing at the bottom of the church
steps. I couldn’t imagine that my father had made his way in
there, but the lantern glow from inside the building persuaded
me to look, anyway. And as I stepped inside that old church, I
saw a man sitting in the very last pew, holding his hat in his
He turned around in surprise. “Margaret? What are you doing
“...Looking for you. Livy came by the clinic… she was worried.”
“She said you didn’t come home last night.”
“...Spent the night at the jail.”
“...So that’s how you heard about Beardsley?” I asked, sitting
down in the pew in front of him.
He nodded. “Heard the undertaker talking to the sheriff. ...He
told me not to say anything, but…”
“...Margaret, I guess I’ve done you… you and your brother and
sister a lot more wrong than I can recall. I always thought
Johnny was always just being rebellious. And maybe he still is.
But after hearing what you had to say… I guess I really ain’t
just no good.”
“No… there’s no buts about it. I can’t excuse what I guess I’ve
done. And I’ve always realized I was the hardest on you… but
with you being the oldest… to an extent it just happens. I
didn’t know how to be a father when you were born. I still
didn’t have a clue when your mother passed. So for a time… I
gave up. Now I know you and Livy don’t hold to my drinking
habits, but that’s just a part of me. There ain’t no changing
it. But you also have to believe me when I say, I do want what’s
best for you. And I reckon that’s why I was always so hard on
you and Lucas. With Johnny and me being at such odds… I just
couldn’t see any friend of his being suitable for you.”
“...You never even gave him a chance, Pa. If you did, you’d
understand why I love him so much. Why I’d never want to leave
him. Don’t you think that after almost four years of marriage,
I’d know what kind of man I was married to?”
There was a long silence before he nodded. “I’m sorry, Margaret.
And not just about Lucas. ...I don’t think I’ll ever be able to
understand what all I did to you. But I am truly sorry. ...I
don’t know why you’ve stood beside me all these years. Even
before what you said, I knew I didn’t deserve it.”
“...‘Don’t be deceived by hate.’ ...That was one of the last
things Ma said to me. She said that hate was a cruel master… one
that seemed to offer nothing but satisfaction at the start. ‘But
give it time,’ she warned, ‘And it will destroy every fiber of
your being. So don’t be deceived, and love him. And perhaps one
day, the Almighty will change some of his ways.’ ...So I did
what she asked, even though it wasn’t easy. And in time, you did
allow some things to be changed. ...But you’re still holding
onto your own hate, Pa. And until you let that go, I don’t think
the bottle will ever let you go.”
“I reckon you’re right. But it’s something I can’t let go.”
I let out a heavy sigh, shaking my head. It was a lost cause.
“...We better get back to the clinic so Lucas and Olivia can
“Lucas? Lucas is awake?”
“He woke a while after you left. He’s weak, but Doc said he’ll
be almost back to normal in a few weeks’ time.”
“...Well I’m sure I’m one of the last people he wants to see.
…But tell him I said hello.”
The next few days were difficult ones. I knew that Lucas was
safe; I knew that he would heal. But the memory of what happened
that night in the clinic continued to plague me. My sleep was
fitful and my appetite had all but disappeared. Had it not been
for the life I knew I had to sustain, I don’t think I could have
found it in myself to eat.
Lucas could tell something was wrong. I knew I was worrying him,
but I was afraid that the truth would worry him more. So I came
up with every excuse and distraction I could; forcing a smile on
my face as I swallowed the hurt and fear that welled inside of
At long last, Doc released Lucas from the clinic. Being stuck in
that office had made me feel as though I was trapped inside of a
nightmare, and I thought I was finally free from the horror of
what had happened inside those walls. I thought that once we got
home, everything would be fine again. ...But it wasn’t.
Lucas turned in early that evening, and I tried to do the same.
But the thoughts and fears swirling in my head wouldn’t grant me
the sleep I so desperately needed. Over and over again, I saw
that tall figure attempt to murder my husband. Over and over
again, I watched as that man died. Over and over again, I
realized I had killed him. And while I knew it could have been
Lucas or me lying dead on that office floor, it didn’t relieve
the horror I felt over taking a life.
I finally threw my covers aside and walked to the front room.
Quietly shutting the bedroom door behind me, I lit a lamp, put
on my coat, and walked outside.
I stood at the end of the porch, leaning against the wooden
railing as I gazed up at the stars. I felt so lost… so confused.
Why did I feel guilty for saving my husband’s life? Why couldn’t
I shake the feeling that somehow, someway, Lucas was still in
My scream echoed through the night as the lamp I had been
holding crashed to the ground. I clasped my hand over my mouth
as Lucas hurried across the porch, placing his hands on my
“Maggie, are you alright??”
Trembling, I slowly turned around and tried to answer him. Every
fiber in my being wanted to say yes. ...But I couldn’t.
In our five years of knowing each other, Lucas had seen me cry
on two occasions. The first time was when his best friend shot
him in the back and tried to force me to marry him. The second
was when we lost our child. So I know the worry I must have
caused him when I shook my head, bursting into tears.
I so desperately wanted to explain, but the words wouldn’t come.
Lucas pulled me into his arms, gently running his hand through
my hair. I stood there, crying into his chest until he bent down
and whispered into my ear.
“...Come inside with me.”
I nodded, my arms still wrapped around him as we returned to the
house. He led me to the couch where we sat down beside each
other; Lucas using his thumbs to wipe away my tears as they
continued to fall.
“Maggie,” he began in a broken voice, “What’s wrong? What
More tears trickled down my face as I tried to find my voice.
“...He… Lucas, he… he tried to kill you!”
I nodded, staring into Lucas’s worried eyes.
“It’s over. They killed him in town. He won’t bother anyone
again.” Lucas’s brow furrowed in confusion as he watched me
shake my head. “No? What do you mean, no?”
“They didn’t kill him,” I cried.
“Cal told me himself. Beardsley was shot and killed in town the
night after they brought me in.”
“They didn’t kill him,” I answered in a coarse whisper. “...I
“You-” Shock, horror, and worry all shadowed Lucas’s face.
“...You killed him?”
Desperately trying to stop the tears that continued to roll down
my cheeks, I slowly nodded; my chin quivering.
The silence seemed to last an eternity as Lucas stared at me in
confusion. It was almost as if he didn’t understand… as if he
couldn’t understand. But I finally felt him pull me close,
protectively wrapping his arms around me. He didn’t demand an
explanation; he didn’t start hounding me with questions. He just
held me, allowing me to cry my tears, assuring me that we were
both safe; all without ever saying a word.
I don’t know how much time passed before I was able to find my
voice. It was broken, coarse, and hardly louder than a whisper;
but I knew he needed answers.
“...He broke into the clinic. I don’t know how… I don’t know
when. ...I woke up and… and he was standing there… pointing…
pointing…” My voice cracked, several moments passing before I
could go on. “...He was going to shoot you. I tried… oh, Lucas,
I tried getting the gun away from him! I couldn’t; I wasn’t
“Shh… it’s alright. It’s not your fault.”
“But it is,” I cried. “If I had been able to get the gun…”
“Margaret,” he firmly interrupted. “I fought with Beardsley; you
saw what he did to me. There was no chance of you wrestling that
gun away from him. You had no other choice but to kill him.”
“Then why do I feel so guilty?? Why do I feel…” I stopped,
unsure if I could admit it to Lucas or not.
“...Maggie, I know you love me. I know you would have done… I
know that you did do what it took to save my life. But I know as
well as anyone that saving one life doesn’t make it easier to
take another. And I will never be upset at you for feeling that
pain. But sweetheart, you can’t… you can’t blame yourself.
Beardsley forced your hand. If you’re going to blame anyone
else, blame me. I was the one who went after him… I was the one
who followed the wrong trail. I was the one who got shot… the
one who wasn’t there to protect you.”
I suddenly looked up at my husband, shaking my head. “Lucas,
this wasn’t your fault! Only… only he can be blamed.”
He bent down, gently planting a kiss on my forehead. “I’m sorry
this happened… I’m sorry you got caught in the middle. I… I
never imagined there being the slightest chance of you getting
involved. If I had known…” His voice broke as he gently brushed
“...No one could have known. ...And as much as I wish none of
this had ever happened… if you hadn’t gone, Cal could have been
out there alone and Beardsley... Beardsley could have killed
him.” I pressed myself closer to Lucas, feeling him rest his
head on mine; several moments passing before I continued. “...Do
you remember what you promised me, just before you left?”
“...Margaret, I didn’t ask to be shot.”
“I know you didn’t; that’s not what I meant. About Christmas…
will you promise me again?” I just needed to hear it. One more
I could feel Lucas smiling down at me before he gave me a kiss
on the cheek. “I promise,” he gently assured. “I’ll be home for
Christmas day arrived at last, and while Lucas was still
recovering for his injuries, he felt well enough to drive us to
his brother and sister-in-law’s for the family Christmas dinner.
All the way there, Lucas assured me that everything was going to
turn out fine, but I wasn’t so sure. Katherine and Paul had
invited my father and Olivia to join us, and I was terribly
worried about Pa causing some sort of upset.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the sight that
greeted us as we pulled into the yard. Standing on my in-laws’
front porch were my father and brother. Talking to each other.
“Well howdy, Sis.” Johnny walked to the rig and helped me down.
“It’s about time the two of you got here. Luke, I heard what
happened. It’s good to see you alive!”
“Good to be alive,” he laughed.
“What are you doing here??”
“Decided to take up Katherine’s invitation at the last minute.”
I looked past Johnny to see Pa still standing on the porch, then
looked back at my brother in shock.
“Margaret, are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“...You… and Pa… you…”
Johnny laughed. “Guess no one thought they’d ever see the day
when the two of us could hold a civil conversation. ...We kinda
figured if we’re gonna spend the day together, we might as well
try to clear a few things up. Luke, why don’t you get your wife
inside and I’ll take care of the team? From what I heard, that’s
the last thing you need to be doing!”
That day turned out to be a wonderful celebration. Much to my
relief, Johnny and Pa didn’t even have the beginnings of an
argument. Stories were told, carols were sung, and memories were
made that we would treasure for years to come. It brought a
smile to my face to watch Lucas enjoy his time with the family,
especially as he interacted with his nieces and nephews.
And yet as much as I enjoyed the day, I was having a difficult
time handling the effects of my pregnancy. Lucas still didn’t
know that I was expecting, so I knew I couldn’t ask to leave
early; it would worry him too much. My solution was to make
excuses to go to the kitchen and then sneak out the back door
for a few minutes of fresh air. I thought it was working, but I
guess I left one too many times.
“Margaret?” I turned around at the sound of my husband’s voice.
“What are you doing out here?”
“...Just getting some air.”
Lucas looked at me in concern. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I suppose I’m tired,” I answered with a small smile. “It’s been
a long couple of days.”
He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around me. “We could go
“It’s Christmas. Especially after the month we’ve had, there’s
no reason to leave early.”
“I’m getting a little worn out myself. Guess I’m not quite as
healed as I thought.”
“Are you sure?”
Lucas nodded. “It’ll be dark by the time we’re home already. No
sense in waiting until it’s colder.”
When we did get back to the ranch, Lucas and I worked on the
evening chores together before settling in front of the warm
fire. I let out a contented sigh, sinking deeper into his arms.
“I can’t wait until next Christmas,” I told him.
Lucas chuckled. “This one isn’t even over yet and you’re already
planning for next year?”
“It’s hard not to. There will be so many firsts.”
“Kat and Paul will have their first Christmas as a family of
five. Priscilla and Edward will have their first Christmas as a
family of four…” I took Lucas’s hand and placed it over my
stomach, smiling up at him. “...Firsts.”
“...Maggie?” he hopefully asked.
I nodded, looking up into his blue eyes. “And our first
Christmas as a family of three. ...Merry Christmas, Mr. McCain.”
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch