The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

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 Thanksgiving.”

“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 won’t break.”

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.”

“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 Thanksgiving?”

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 Thanksgiving?”

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!”

“Suit yourself…”

“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 Indiana!”

“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 with him.”

“Me? What did I do to get into trouble?”

“You’re going to make sure he doesn’t sit there and eat all the batter.”

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 matter?”

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…”

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 saying goodbye.”

“I won’t. See you in the morning. Jenna, it was good seeing you again.”

“You too. Don’t be such a stranger, we miss seeing you around here!”

“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 whispered.

“What?” Her head snapped around as the color disappeared from her cheeks.

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… prodding.”

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.

“...Lucas?”

“...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 at me.

“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 you?”

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 say anything.

“The announcements. That’s why you left, isn’t it? That’s what’s bothering you?”

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 again.”

“...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, but…”

“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.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“...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.”

“Our cake.”

“What?”

“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?”

“The army.”

“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.”

“Six??”

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 right.

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 room.

“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 help you.”

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.”

“What’s so-”

“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 him.”

“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 yourself shot!”

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 was right?

I suddenly felt my shawl being draped around me and turned, wrapping my arms around Lucas as I rested my head on his shoulder.

“...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 amiss.

“...Olivia, what is it? ...Is it Pa?”

“Is it Pa,” she mused. “Who else would it be??”

“What happened?”

Olivia flamboyantly threw her arms in the air as she answered, “I don’t even know where to begin! First he forbade my marriage, then he-”

“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 like!”

“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 going on.

“...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.”

“Like what?”

“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 from?”

“...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 the saloon.

“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.”

“But Margaret…”

“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.

“Hold these.”

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 in confusion.

“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 the saloon.

“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.”

“But Pa-”

“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 well?”

“...I reckon you know the answer to that,” he shyly answered.

I passively nodded, unsure of how to proceed.

“...Margaret?”

I let out a heavy sigh, turning around again and leaning against the shovel.

“...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 you?”

“...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 to me.”

“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 relationships!”

“...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 trouble…”

“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 each other.”

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 him!”

“...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 table.

‘Margaret,

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.

Pa’

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 Pa?”

“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 consequences.”

“Is that why you pulled him out of the saloon the other night?”

“Olivia…”

“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…”

“What?”

“...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 at.

“Me?” She asked in surprise. “I thought you made all the decisions.”

“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.”

“...Oh.”

“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 cold.”

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 hurried inside.


—————


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 me.

“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 little pale.”

“...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 town.

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 town next.

“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 sheriff.”

“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 myself sick.

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…”

“You…?”

“...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 first place!”

“What happened??”

“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 alright?”

“...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 go??”

“...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 us.”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”

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. “...Alright, Margaret.”

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 needing.


—————


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 arrived.

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.

“...Margaret.”

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.”

“...Thank you.”

“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.”

“...Goodnight, Cal.”

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 sleep.

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 husband.

“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 happened.”

“...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 write.”

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 worried.”

“...Have you had any bleeding? Cramping?”

I shook my head.

“Any pain in your back?”

“No.”

“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.”

“I will.”

“...Do you still want me to keep people from coming back?”

“...If you would. I… especially after last night…”

“I understand.”

“Thank you.”


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 here?”

“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!”

“Like what??”

“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 have happened!”

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 my husband.

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, consistent tone.

“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 duty.”

“...Margaret…”

“Just leave.”

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.


—————


“Margaret?”

My eyes fluttered open as I sat up and looked around for the voice that called my name.

“Mar… Margaret?”

Recognizing Lucas’s voice, I turned around to see my husband holding his eyes half open.

“Lucas!”

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.

“Oh Lucas…”

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 over.

“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 eyes.

“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 want it.”

“...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 alright.”


—————


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 all day.”

“He was here this morning.”

“I know, that’s what the doctor said, but I can’t find him anywhere!”

“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 there.”

“...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 idea.

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 hands.

“...Pa?”

He turned around in surprise. “Margaret? What are you doing here?”

“...Looking for you. Livy came by the clinic… she was worried.”

“...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…”

“...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.”

“Now Pa…”

“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 stop worrying.”

“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.”

“I will.”


—————


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 me.

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 danger?

“...Margaret?”

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 shoulders.

“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 happened?”

More tears trickled down my face as I tried to find my voice. “...He… Lucas, he… he tried to kill you!”

“...Who? ...Beardsley?”

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 did.”

“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 strong enough!”

“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 my cheek.

“...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 time.

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.”


—————


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.

“Johnny??”

“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!”

“...Thanks, Johnny.”


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 home.”

“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.”

“...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
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