Between — A bridge between 'A Friend in Need' and 'Skull' — This is told from Lucas's point of view.
In the aftermath of the kidnapping, Lucas watches a hopeless struggle of his son while trying to cope with his on fear of letting go.
Having my son kidnapped was one of the worst experiences of my life. You see, he’s all I have in the world. My wife died when he was only six, and I made a promise to her as she lay dying. I promised her that I’d raise him right – that I’d always take care of him and protect him. I promised her.
I took that promise seriously. But as I searched for my thirteen year old boy, I suddenly found myself wondering if I had messed up. This is a precious life I was responsible for. Just because he’s growing up doesn’t make him any less special, yet I allowed this to happen.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t allow this to happen – it just happened. But do you know what thoughts continued to race through my head the whole time I looked for him? – Will I ever see him again? Will I ever be able to hold my son in my arms again? If only I had told him to stay with me…none of this would have happened.
When we face tragedies like this in our lives, a parent naturally begins making promises. I made a few of those myself a time or two. I remember as I stood on the boardwalk outside Micah’s office listening to him read the latest ransom note, crying and praying silently to myself. I made a promise to God and that promise was: If you give me my son back, I promise I’ll take better care of him. I did more then promise though. I pleaded.
As I rode to the relay station all night, I had plenty of time to think and to pray…and to beg – and that’s just what I did. I begged God to give him back to me. I felt totally lost without him. Micah had to do the thinking for me during that time because I couldn’t put two thoughts together – not until my boy was found.
After it was over, I felt relief. I thought I could put the whole matter behind me. But when Micah showed up at the relay station, I watched as Mark walked away and sat on the stump. I saw his face and knew that it wasn’t over. No, the trouble had just started. I didn’t know what he had been through, but I could tell by looking at my boy that he had been hurt. I wanted to cry out to God again. But it wasn’t his fault – it was mine. If only I had told Mark to come with me that day.
I wanted to get him home. That’s why I asked Micah to take care of the prisoner himself. I had a much more important matter to deal with. So I gathered up my son and rode for home – where I knew he’d be comfortable talking.
My boy was so tired. I hated seeing him like that. He loved me and I knew that. I felt like I had let him down. I hadn’t been there when he needed me. I’d abandoned him – a mere child. Oh, I know he was thirteen years old, but for a father, he was a child. My child. He was so exhausted when I finally got him home that I led him to his bed. I heard his stomach rumble and knew he hadn’t eaten. No doubt he hadn’t slept either. After he fell asleep, I took off his clothes like I used to when he was just a young boy. I got rid of them – throwing them into the fire. I don’t know why, but I never told him about it. Never.
It was out in the barn later as he began dressing that I started looking him over from head to toe. I couldn’t help it, I could tell he had been harmed. Part of me was hoping…praying…that the harm had been done on the outside, but it wasn’t. No, the harm had been done on the inside. My heart sank when I realized he had been locked in a dark closet for hours on end. My boy! My poor boy! I wanted to cry, but I had to stay strong for him. He would need me.
I promised him I’d stay by his side. I would never leave him – not as long as he needed me. I’d help him through this. That conversation was hard, though. My boy wasn’t afraid of hardly anything. Oh, he had his normal childhood fears – and still did. But his fear now was like a five year old afraid the monster would come out from under his bed and eat him up. It wasn’t natural – not for my boy.
I owed it to him to help him through this.
But I had to level with him. I was afraid also. My fear was different though. I was afraid of letting my son out of my sight. I had promised God I’d take better care of him. I had promised myself that if I found him, I wouldn’t let him out of my sight again. I was his father – his protector.
But then we rode into town. Micah was there waiting for us. I helped him close the case, then Milly started to lead Mark out of Micah’s office to give him some candy. I stood up to go with them but Micah stopped me. “Later,” I said as I started to go.
But Micah grabbed my arm. “No, now.” He had that look in his eye that told me I was to obey him. I looked toward Mark. “Mark will be fine.”
I swallowed. Mark understood what was wrong. I knew he did because we had talked about it earlier. “I should stay,” Mark declared. My heart leapt for joy. I was happy.
But Micah wasn’t. “He’ll be fine with Milly.” Micah turned to Mark. “Go on, now.”
I didn’t like Micah doing that. I stood at the door and watched to make sure Mark made it across the street alright. “It’s not healthy – what you’re thinking.”
“Healthy?” I asked without turning from the window. “What’s not healthy? I didn’t protect my boy and he was kidnapped.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“Isn’t it?” I asked as I whirled around and glared at my best friend. “If Mark had gone with me to the town council meeting, he wouldn’t have been kidnapped and you know it!” I closed my eyes as I thought back. I didn’t even realize I was thinking aloud. “I promised Margaret.”
“That you wouldn’t let him out of your sight?” Micah asked. He walked up to me. “No, Lucas Boy. All you promised her is that you would raise him right. He survived, didn’t he?”
“He was locked in a closet for hours, Micah. The boy’s terrified!” Micah didn’t understand how it was with us.
But he did. “It’ll take some time. For both of you. Lucas, you have to let go. You can’t hold him by the hand forever. He has to do this on his own.”
I didn’t want to listen then. All I knew is that Mark was my son. He was the only one I had and I had promised God and Margaret that I’d raise him right. I had to do that.
I hurried across the street to Mark. We started for home. I had to hold on to Blue Boy’s reins and speak softly to Mark so he wouldn’t be afraid. I think I helped a bit – but not much. It would take time.
When we got home that night, I sent him to bed, but he wouldn’t budge. “I’m sorry I allowed this to happen, son,” I finally said.
Mark turned and looked at me. “You didn’t do anything, Pa. It was that man. He’s responsible. He locked me in the closet – not you.” But I still felt responsible.
Nothing Mark or Micah…or even Milly…said would change that. I was his father. He was my responsibility.
Mark wanted to be so strong and brave for me. I watched him take a step toward the dark bedroom, but he froze and couldn’t move. I heard his heavy breathing as he reached out to open the door. He saw the closet behind that door.
I hurried forward. “Let me help, son.” I hurried into the room and lit the lamp. Then I stayed at his side as he undressed and crawled under the covers. I tucked him in and sat by his bedside that night. Mark closed his eyes, but opened them again. I kept the lamp on for him that night. He finally fell asleep.
It was a couple hours after I went to bed that I heard his panicked screams. “No, no!” Mark screamed. “Don’t put me in there! Please don’t!”
I leapt out of bed and ran to him. I grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him off the bed. He continued screaming in his sleep. “Mark!” I yelled and shook him gently. His eyes finally opened and he stared at me. Then he wrapped his arms around me tightly and cried.
“I’m sorry, Mark.” I said as I pulled him closer to me.
“He’s still there, Pa! He’s there and he wants to get me.” I was glad it was dark and he couldn’t see my tears. I hurt for him. His scars were deep and would take a lot of time to heal.
I ran my hand through his hair and hushed him. “He’s dead, son. I promise you’ll be okay. I’m here, Mark. I’m right here.”
Mark finally laid back down but I sat with him while he went back to sleep. “I don’t’ understand why it’s so scary,” Mark whispered. “I don’t understand.”
I didn’t either. I couldn’t know what it was like for him in that closet – in darkness for that long. “I’m here, son. I’m right here.”
The next morning, I woke up to another reality. Today I would have to send him to school. I knew I was fighting a demon similar to Mark’s. While my boy was fighting the darkness, I was fighting separation. I had stayed awake that night fretting over my boy and I remembered Micah’s words. He was right – I couldn’t keep holding his hand forever. I had to let go.
And that was my fear – letting go.
The reality this morning, hit me like a ton of bricks. He’d have to go to school today. I knew Mark wouldn’t be afraid, but I was terrified. I had to do this…
somehow…some way…I had to allow this to happen. I went through the motions – the same one’s I did every school-day morning. But when it came to saying goodbye, I didn’t do it. Instead, I got on my own horse and rode into town with him. When we were outside the school, I saw Mr. Griswald. Mark asked me not to, but I dismounted and went up to him. “Will you do something for me?” I asked. him. Mr. Griswald nodded. “Will you keep an eye on Mark today?”
“I heard what happened,” Griswald stated. “I’m sure it was terrible.” I opened my mouth to apologize, but he shook his head. “He’ll be fine. I won’t let him out of my sight.”
But I stood there…outside the school…and watched for the longest time. I couldn’t go home. I had to be near to protect my boy.
I was back at the school when it let out that afternoon. “Hey Mark, wanta go fishing?” I heard Billy ask.
Mark’s face lit up. He turned and looked at me. I didn’t smile. I saw Mark’s smile disappear as he turned back to give Billy his answer. I couldn’t let this happen! I just couldn’t! I hurried up to the boys. I smiled so big it hurt, but I had to be strong. “Go ahead, son. Go fishing.”
Mark looked at me and narrowed his eyes. I knew he was trying to read me. I turned my head away. “Can Pa come too?” Mark suddenly asked.
“Hey yeah! Would ya, Mr. McCain?” Billy answered as he jumped up and down. “I bet you could teach us a lot about fishing.”
I felt moisture fill my eyes and my heart swelled. I couldn’t ask for a better son! I obliged them and all three of us went fishing. What a time I had telling those boys old fishing stories about the big one that got away! We fished a long time. I looked up at the sky. “We better get going,” I stated. I didn’t add that it was getting dark soon. I didn’t want to see that fearful look in Mark’s eye – not yet.
I was glad we made it home before it got dark. There were chores to do in the barn and Mark had homework. He had helped me, so it was my turn to help him. I cleared my throat after wiping the last dish clean. Mark looked up from his book and smiled that loving smile at me. Oh, but he’s growing up so fast! “I need to go do chores in the barn. Wanta bring your studies out there and keep me company?”
Mark jumped up and gathered his books. I knew I’d made the right decision when I saw the look in his eyes. That was the same look I gave him when he saved me from my fear earlier – it was a look of pride. I put my arm around my boy’s shoulders as we walked out to the barn. He smiled at me, feeling safe.
After his homework, it was time for another night of fear for my boy. I told him it was nine o’clock – Mark’s bedtime. Mark looked up from the table where he was reading the Bible (that was done at my suggestion). I saw the look he gave me and it broke my heart. “Go on, boy.”
Mark closed the Bible. “Yes sir,” he mumbled quietly. I saw him walk slowly for the bedroom door. I walked up behind him but this time I didn’t open it for him. “It’s not a closet, son. It’s our bedroom. Go ahead.” I said this gently and quietly as I bent down near his ear. Mark took a step forward and put his hand on the door knob. The room was dark and he knew it. “Go ahead, son. Open it.”
Mark turned and looked at me. He had fear in his eyes. That’s not what got me though. He also had sadness. Sadness and embarrassment for feeling this way. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be sorry you feel this way, son. I understand.” We looked at each other so Mark could see that I was sincere. Then he turned back to the door. He turned the knob and the door opened. Mark backed away. “It’s dark! It’s too dark!” he practically screamed as he clung to me. I felt his body shaking.
“But you opened it, son. Tonight you opened it.” I smiled down at him. I offered this to him as an encouragement. Before he hadn’t been able to open the door to the darkened room. Then I held out my hand to him. “Will you walk in with me?”
Mark looked back towards the room, then turned and looked at me. He gave me a small nod, but didn’t take my hand. My boy wanted to be so brave! I wanted him to be brave for his sake. He swallowed and took a step forward. But he stopped. “It’s alright, son. I’m right here. I’m right here.”
He took a step into the dark bedroom, then backed out, bumping into me. “No!” he cried. I heard anger in his voice.
I thought I knew what the problem was. I stepped in first then waited. He knew I’d never lock him in there, but his fear was greater then common sense right now. I explained that to him as I lit the lamp.
Tonight, I told him I couldn’t stay with him. I wanted to – but he had to learn to do this himself. He had to face his fear. Mark gasped as I walked to the door. “Will you leave the lantern lit?”
I turned from the door and smiled at him. “Tonight,” I answered. “I’ll be right here.” I put my hand on the door to close it. Mark gasped. “I’ll leave the door open a little, son. So I know you’re safe.”
The nightmares came again that night. It was hard for him. Not only was it hard for Mark to understand why he was scared, but he couldn’t accept that what he was experiencing was normal. It was, though…perfectly normal!
The next morning, I saddled up my horse and rode into town with Mark again. We got in front of the school and I watched him tie his horse up. Mark walked up to me slowly. “Pa, I want you to go to town today. You can stay there, but don’t hang outside here. Please?”
I looked down at my son and smiled. “We make a good team, you know that?” I asked. I turned my horse around and rode back to town. I wasn’t fearful of leaving him at the school at all today. I knew he was in good hands.
Micah poured me another cup of coffee. “See Milly today?” Micah asked.
I nodded. “This morning.”
“You two have a fight or something? Don’t act like it was a pleasant meeting.”
I sighed as I placed a hand to my forehead. “She thinks I should go home today.”
“You should.” Micah nodded at me. “The ranch won’t run itself, you know.” He took a drink of coffee.
His words angered me. I didn’t know why just then, but later I’d understand – they angered me because I knew they were true. “You ever been a rancher, Micah?” I asked.
“No,” Micah answered with one of those grins that told me he knew it was myself I was yelling at.
“Well…then don’t try to tell me my business, huh?” I sat down the coffee cup a little too hard then stood up and hurried to the window. “I told Mark to meet me here right after school.” I looked at the clock. “He should be here by now.”
I turned from the door, trying to force myself not to go looking for him. I clinched my hands together as I paced the floor. “You know Lucas Boy, Mark doesn’t need someone riding into town with him.” I turned around and glared at him. “What happened the other day isn’t your fault!” Micah stood up. He walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “You lecture Mark about not forgiving himself, yet you’re doing the exact same thing. Only there’s nothing to forgive because you did nothing wrong.”
“I let him out of my sight!”
“Is that what you want, Lucas? A boy who has to have his father with him when he’s 40…50…60 years old?”
“Oh, now you’re being ridiculous!” I declared as I shoved his hand off my shoulder.
“Then at what age will you allow him to once again go off by himself? At what age will he be able to feel like a man again?” I turned and glared at him. “You can’t make him feel like he did something wrong. He didn’t, you know. He did just what he was told to do.”
I hurried back towards the door, nearly too angry to speak. I turned around and pointed at my friend. “What did I come in here for anyhow?” I asked suddenly.
“For advice. That’s what you got.”
I saw Mark then. I hurried out to him and we started for home. I didn’t feel much like conversation. I was too busy thinking on what Micah said. The more I thought on it, the more I knew the truth.
He was right.
I closed my eyes and sighed. “Son,” Mark turned in the saddle and looked at me. I think he had been worried about how quiet I was. “I want you to know that I’m not punishing you. You did nothing wrong.”
Mark nodded. “I know, Pa. But you can let go, you know. I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll remember that tonight, son.” I smiled over at him. “When it’s dark.”
Mark laughed, but it was a nervous laugh because he knew that when the sun went down, my words would no longer be funny.
And they weren’t. Tonight I didn’t go into the room with him. I told him he had to do this himself. I sat at the table and watch him go over to the door. “You’ll be okay,” I reminded him when he paused outside. This time he put his hand on the door, then he slowly opened it. He ran away. “No!” Mark cried. “I…I can’t! I just can’t!”
My heart ached at the terrified look on his face. Something had to give. I had to do something to make this better. That night, I had to stay with him until he fell asleep. There was a terror in his voice when he begged me to. It broke my heart.
The next morning, I decided I’d stay home. I wasn’t going to ride into town with him today. I had to do this – for Mark’s sake. I watched him walk out the door and get on his horse, reminding him again to come straight home after school. He nodded, knowing how important it was to me. He promised to come straight home.
I waited five minutes. My heart began pounding. I started feeling this…emptiness. What if someone was on the road? What if somehow someone was seeking revenge for the man I killed the other day? What if...My fist pounded the wall. I was angry at myself for what I was about to do. I jumped on my saddled horse and rode towards town. I rode past the school and saw Blue Boy there. I walked to the door and listened. I heard Mark. I sighed and turned away. I’d be here when school let out to meet him.
I decided to talk to Milly and Micah about my problem. I apologized first for my actions yesterday, but they understood. “Neither one of us can shake our fear.” That’s all I said. It was hard saying that much.
Micah listened to me confess everything. Milly gently held my hand and looked softly at my face as I spoke. They were silent for a long time. “I think you’ll have to force this, Lucas.”
I looked from Milly to Micah. “What do you mean, Micah?” I asked suddenly.
“Well, you and the boy go hunting about this time every year, don’t you?” I nodded but said nothing. “I think it’s time you took that trip.”
I stood and walked to the window of Micah’s office. Look out onto the street I sighed. “That would force Mark to face his fear for sure.”
“You take Mark with you when you hunt or do you sometimes leave him back at the camp?”
I turned and looked at Micah. “Well I…” I swallowed suddenly realizing what his plan was. “I usually take him with me.”
“Would he…mind staying at camp and working on his lessons or…doing other things?”
Milly smiled at Micah. “Oh Lucas, that would be perfect! Mark would have to face the fear. I think you’re strong enough to do this, Lucas. Leave him alone a bit more every day until you are comfortable. Then make sure you leave him alone at night before you come back.”
I turned back to look out the window. “Why is it so hard? Just…leaving him alone…”
Milly came over to me and gently touched my arm. “He was kidnapped, Lucas. You were scared for him and for good reason.” Milly looked down at the floor as she pushed back her tears. Then she looked back up at me. “I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like being responsible for a child. But Lucas, you must stop blaming yourself! It’s NOT your fault! Would you rather make him bitter by holding him too close or give him his freedom at the risk of something happening?”
I looked into her eyes. Gently, I laid a hand on her cheek. Her words made good sense. “It’s hard seeing your child suffer like he is. I think that’s the hardest part of all. I don’t ever want him to go through something like that again.”
“Just be there for him,” Micah said as he came to stand beside me. “Just show him that you love him and…pray.”
I looked at Micah on one side of me and Milly on the other side. “It’s good to have friends like you holding me up.”
“I wish we could do more.” Milly let go of me and walked to the door. “But this is something you two will have to resolve by yourselves.”
I nodded. “What are you going to do?” Micah asked.
I picked up my hat and walked to the door. I smiled at Milly and brushed my hand against her cheek as I spoke. “I’m going home.” I smiled. Milly flashed me a beautiful, proud smile. “I think we’ll have fried chicken tonight with apple pie. Then I’ll tell him.”
And that’s just what I did!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Lucas would had seen this episode.
A Friend in Need ― Mark's Story
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The High Country
around The McCain Ranch