The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

The Bullet Episode 163
Mark’s story

The town of North Fork was hustling on its busiest day of the week. Saturday mornings were always an exciting time to ride into North Fork. During the week, everyone was so busy tending to children and doing laundry. On Saturday, it was sort of a come-one, come-all gathering of men who needed to buy supplies for the following week; women who needed food supplies and material to sew more clothing for their ever-growing children; and children who had a sweet tooth and enjoyed the one day they were able to come into town with Ma or Pa and appease it.

I can’t help but remember back to my childhood and looking forward to the candy Pa always allowed me to have in the General Store. As I got bigger, my chances to buy candy became fewer and further between. That’s because Pa expected me to act like a man, and not like a boy. I wondered, though, if today would be an opportunity to satisfy my own, still present, sweet tooth…

We stopped the team just outside the General Store. Pa, out of habit, looked down the street toward the hotel. He smiled a bit and commented if I would get the supplies on the list at the store, he’d allow me to get a bag of hard candy. I grinned at him as he looked at the hotel. “Uh…Pa?” Pa jumped at the sound of my voice. He turned and looked at me. “You, uh…got a little ‘shopping’ to do of your own?”

“Mark…” Pa sighed as he looked at me. “Don’t be an imp!”

I laughed and turned to go into the General Store, but suddenly a poster caught my eye. I slowly backed up and stared at the poster on the wall. My mouth opened and I gasped, “Well, I’ll be!” as I tipped my hat way back on my head.

“What’s wrong?” Pa came to stand beside me. He read the poster out loud.

Saturday, February 13, 1886
6:00 pm-???
Sweetheart Dance
North Fork Town Hall
Potluck and dancing
No firearms or alcoholic beverages allowed!
This is a family dance
Bring your sweetheart (or two) and come join in on the fun!

“Well!” Pa declared as he tipped his own hat back on his head. “I reckon that’s news alright!”

“And this year I’m bringing my own Sweetheart for the party!” I declared.

“Now, look here son…” Pa put his hands on his hips. “You don’t just go asking Lucille!”

I shrugged. “Why not?”

“Well, you…” Pa rolled his eyes. “You take your time…You give her a couple days!”

“Pa, the dance is next Saturday!” I declared as I pointed at the poster. “How many days should I give her?”

“Well…son, these things must be handled delicately!” Pa said.

“You…uh…gonna ask Lou?” I asked.

Pa nodded. “Of course! I’m headed over to the hotel right now.”

I folded my arms. “You just said not to rush out and ask a girl!” I reminded him.

“Yes son, I DID say that but…well…” Pa scratched under his nose. “It’s different with adults. We…” Pa sighed. “I…” He took off his hat and smoothed his hair back. “Well…” I saw annoyance flash in his eyes and he pointed his hat at me. “Things are just different! Just do as I say!”

Pa suddenly turned on his heels. “Oh!” Lou cried out. She had a hand full of papers in her hand. They scattered all over the boardwalk. “Cowboy, why don’t ye watch where ye ere going?”

“I’m sorry, Lou!” I watched as she and Pa worked together gathering the papers. Pa finally straightened up and turned to look at me. “Thanks for your help, son.”

I grinned. “Oh sure…anytime, Pa!’

Lou glanced at the poster announcing the dance. “Sounds like fun,” she said with a smile.

Pa looked over her head at me. I folded my arms to watch the man in action. “Yes it does…uh…” Pa looked down at Lou and smiled. “I was just coming over to ask you…uh…” Pa stopped.

“Yes?”

“Oh…uh, I was wondering if you had those shirts of ours you were washing for Sunday. I….OOF!”

I snickered and threw a hand to my mouth as I watched Lou poke Pa hard in the gut. “Well!” She declared as she walked down the boardwalk.

I shook my head as I watched her leave. “Well…” I shook my head. “That’s the way adults do it, huh?”

“Mark?” I looked up at Pa. He said nothing but jabbed a finger toward the general store. I nodded and scurried on to do his bidding.

Later, when I walked out, Pa was nowhere in sight. After putting our supplies in the wagon, I crossed the street and walked over to Micah’s office. Inside, I found Micah leaned way back in his chair with his hat pulled down over his eyes. His feet were propped up on the desk and he was snoring. I quietly closed the door and leaned my head against the door. Folding my arms I said with a grin…”Sure is a busy day in North Fork!”

“Hm? What?” Micah jumped from his chair and pushed his hat back. I laughed. “You better watch it, you young whipper snapper before I put you to work cleaning my jail!” He sat back down. “As a matter of fact, Mark, I was up all night stopping bar fights and…chasing wild animals…and…” Micah cleared his throat. “…such.”

“Uh huh…” I smiled. “You seen my Pa?”

“Saw him fifteen minutes ago, Mark. He was headed to the hotel. Said he had some unfinished business.” Micah sat back in his chair and closed his eyes.

I chuckled. “Yeah…I’d say!” I opened the door. “Sleep tight, Micah!” He waved his hand.

I walked into the hotel. The clerk at the desk told me she had seen Pa walk back to Lou’s private kitchen. I put a finger to my lips and walked back there. I pushed on the swinging door and stopped at the sight that met my eyes. Pa and Lou were kissing.

“Did you ask her yet?” I asked.

Lou suddenly sprang from Pa’s arms and Pa turned and glared at me. Pa put a hand to his mouth as Lou hurried to the other side of the kitchen. “Mark!”

I held up my hands. “I’m…sorry, Pa!” I put a hand to my mouth to hide my smile.

Suddenly, I felt a hard swat on my back side. It actually hurt! I turned to see Lou standing behind me with her hands on her hips. “Must ye always go gallybatten about???” Lou asked me. “Why did you come in here?”

“Yes, Mark…WHY did you come in here?” Pa asked in an annoyed voice.

I cleared my throat, suddenly realizing they didn’t see the humor in my mischief. “I’m…sorry, Pa…Miss Lou…”

“Now…” Lou said as she led me over to the sink. “What is it Pa was supposed to ask me?”

I looked toward Pa. He shook his head. I cleared my throat…”If you think I’m a pest.”

“YES!” Lou declared as she opened her eyes wide. “Ye are at that!”

“Right…well uh…uh…would ye like me to do anything…” I cleared my throat when I saw Pa’s raised eyebrow. “I mean…would you like me to do anything for you, Miss Lou?”

“As a matter of fact…” Lou walked to the sink and showed me all the dirty dishes. “I was just about to do these when your father came in to uh…talk to me…” She blushed. “You may wash and dry these and put them in the proper place. Your father’s taking me for a ride in the carriage.”

“On Saturday morning?” I put my hands in my pockets and cocked my head to one side. “What about the ranch, Pa?”

“Hm?” Pa turned from smiling at Lou. “Oh…when you’re done paying penance for your sin, you can go on home and get started, son.”

“How will I get there, Pa? We brought the wagon…remember?”

“Oh…Son, you’re smart enough to figure out how to ruin a beautiful moment; I’m sure you can figure that out. Good day!” Pa held his arm out for Miss Lou. Then they walked out of the kitchen. I stared into the sink. “Ain’t worth it!” I declared. “Nope, wasn’t worth it at ALL!”

***
I groaned as I combed my hair for church the next morning. No matter how I seemed to part it it just didn’t look right. “Son, when I went out to saddle the horses ten minutes ago, you were combing your hair! What’s so special?”

“Well…” I set the comb down. “I’m gonna ask her today.”

“Ask her?” Pa walked up to me. “Ask who…what?”

I turned and stared at him. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t remember! “Lucille!”

“Oh. Son, look…” Pa started.

“Did you ask Lou?”

“Yes I did, son…But look, you…”

“Then I want ask Lucille!” I declared.

“I don’t think you should…” Pa stopped and studied me. “What if someone else beats you to it?”

“Someone else?” I turned and worked on straightening my tie. “Like Freddie? He better not or I’ll…”

“…ask someone else!” Pa finished sternly as he looked me in the eye through the mirror.

“That’s not what I had in mind!” I declared as I groaned again. Pa turned me around and untied my tie. “You’d think you could figure this tie thing out at least!” Pa nodded as he re-tied my tie. “Pa…” I sighed. “How old was Ma when you asked her to her first dance?”

Pa smiled. “Your mother and I didn’t actually get together until I came back from the war, son.” Pa straightened my tie. “But there was a time when I was 14 years old…Your mother had nobody to go to the dance with. She was sick up until the day before, so nobody had asked her. She was just getting over chicken pox if I remember right, and she still had some pox on her face, but the doctor said she was safe to go to the dance so…” Pa smoothed my hair down with his hands and smiled.

“You asked her, Pa?” Pa nodded. “And she said yes?”

“She did.” Pa sat down at the table and pulled me in front of him. I sat down as I watched his eyes glow at the memory. “It was a Friday night. I’d come over to see her brother, Andrew…we were going to the dance without dates…Anyhow, I saw your mother sitting in a corner of her kitchen off by herself. She had been crying and was looking so dejected and sad….

***
I’ll tell you the story Pa told me. “Margaret?” Pa called. She lifted her head and turned to look at Pa. Pa took his hat off and walked over to her. “We’ve always been pretty good friends, right?” She nodded. “Well then…what’s got you so upset?”

“You know I’ve been sick all week, Luke and…” Ma lowered her head. “Well…no one had the chance to ask me to the dance…” She laughed. “With these scarred sores on my face, no one would want to take me anyhow…”

Pa touched her chin and lifted her face up. “I don’t see anything wrong with your face.” He smiled at her. “In fact…I would have asked you if I knew…” Pa swallowed a lump in his throat. Ma lowered her legs from her chest and straightened up in the chair. “Would you give me the pleasure of escorting you to the dance?”

Ma batted her eyelashes to keep back the tears, but some squeezed out anyhow. “You don’t have to do that, Lucas…” she said softly as a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“No…” Pa lowered his face and grinned. “I don’t have to, but I want to. Just say yes then I’ll ask your father if it’s okay.”

“I think that would be wonderful!” Grandpa stood in the doorway. He grinned as he walked into the room. “She won’t go unless someone asks her, Luke…And I can’t think of anyone I’d rather take her than you.”

Pa stood up. “Alright,” he said with a nod of his head. “I’ll go home and get cleaned up. You go on and get prettied up for the dance.” Ma looked up at him. “I’ll be back for ya.”

Ma smiled as she watched Pa walk out the door. “I’m gonna marry him someday, Pa!”

***
“She said that?” I asked in surprise.

Pa nodded. “Plain out! Your Uncle Johnny told me at the wedding. She said she felt it deep inside her that someday we’d be married.”

“Pa?” Pa looked up at me with raised eyebrows. “You…want me to wait until the day of the dance to ask Lucille to the dance?”

Pa chuckled. “Oh, I guess I was just thinking back to when I was 14. Andy and I thought it would be fun to go stag…you know…dance with every girl there – but when I saw your mother I just couldn’t help myself.” Pa stood “Well, we best get started for church!”

“Pa?” Pa turned from the door. “Well…Why did it take so long for you and Ma to get together?”

Pa shook his head. “I have no idea, son…I must have been crazy!”

As we rode into town, I asked Pa about my waiting to ask Lucille. Pa pulled up on the reins and slowed the horse down. “I just think you are young and there are plenty of girls you can ask, son. I don’t see any reason for you to settle on one girl. When I was your age…”

“Pa, I’m different than you were.”

Pa turned and looked at me. “You’re right…” Pa sighed. “I guess I’m just afraid of you being disappointed.”

“Disappointed, Pa?”

Pa nodded. “It’s not only Lucille you have to ask, son. It’s her father as well.”

“Her…her father?” I swallowed as I remembered back to the Halloween party a few months ago. “I have to…ask…”

Pa stopped Razor. Blue Boy stopped along side and backed up to line up with his master. “Son, I told you before a girl…young lady…woman…is to be respected. A father protects his daughter. It’s hard to explain, but girls are to be protected and no boy has the right to ask her out without her father’s permission. Again son, it’s culture. And as you grow, you’ll realize it. When you think on marriage, you’ll have to ask the father’s permission BEFORE asking the girl.”

“Did you…ask grandpa?”

Pa’s head popped up. He stared at me. “No.” I sucked in my breath, not liking the way he answered. “He wasn’t around. I asked your Uncle Scott.” We started riding again. “The circumstances surrounding your mother and mine’s marriage is different, son. There were complications…Someday I’ll tell you about them, but for now let’s just say that I hope your courtship, proposal, and wedding are normal…”

“So…before I ask Lucille I have to ask her father.” Pa nodded. “How do I do that?”

Pa turned and smiled at me. “Well son…you open your mouth and ask the question!”

***
It sounded so easy! But as I stood in front of him with my hat in my hand, I felt sweat break out on my forehead. I circled the hat around and around in my hand. “Well?” Mr. Bennet folded his arms and looked at me. “What do you have to ask me?”

“Um…uh…” I looked behind him. Lucille stood with a smile on her face as she watched curiously. We were standing in the churchyard after church. I suddenly felt as if my tie was too tight. “I was wondering if…if…You would…” I turned and saw Pa looking at me. He quickly turned his head back as he pretended to be engaged in an intimate conversation with Lou. “…join us for lunch at the hotel.” I swallowed.

“Oh.” Mr. Bennet shrugged. “I think that would be lovely, Mark. Thanks for asking us. We’ll meet you over there.”

“Yeah.” I turned and rolled my eyes. “COWARD!” I chastised myself. I walked over to Pa and put my hat on. “Well, I did it!”

“And what did he say?” Pa asked.

“He said he’d love to have lunch with us at the hotel.”

Pa turned and looked at Lou. They both laughed and shook their heads at me. “Mark…” Pa sighed as he put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re hopeless!”

“Well, what I was thinking was that…you two could go smoking after lunch and you could casually…”

“No Mark.”

“But it wouldn’t be that big of a thing…just get an idea of…”

“No Mark!” Pa said again.

“But-“

Pa turned to me. “Look son, there are certain things a man has to do for himself. If you think you are old enough to ask a girl to a dance, then you are old enough to talk to her father. You’ve never had trouble talking to him before.”

“Yeah but…” I groaned. “This is different, Pa!”

Pa grinned as he put his arm around Lou’s waste and started into the hotel. “Yes…I suppose it is.”

It wasn’t long before Lou had enough tables together to include our extra guests. She also arranged it so that I was sitting, not beside Lucille; but beside Lucille’s father. When she told me of my spot at the table, I felt my stomach leap to my throat. “You’ll do fine, Mark,” Lou smiled.

I seemed to be clumsy all throughout Sunday lunch though. As was the norm on Sunday afternoons, Pa stood and blessed the food then served us our food. But as I reached out to grab my plate, my hands slipped. I jumped up to clean the mess up, but I hit my knee on the bottom of the table. Half-way through the meal, I found my tie in my spuds. Then to top it off, I dribbled milk all down my front! I excused myself and hurried to the facilities to clean myself up.

Pa was waiting outside the door when I opened it. He folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Mark, it’s just a dance. What are you so nervous about?”

“I reckon it’s after his reception to me at the Halloween party, Pa. I didn’t exactly feel warmth at the party then I left and…”

“Yes…But he came to you later and apologized for his actions. I explained to you…” I turned and looked toward the table. Lucille was smiling at me. Pa pulled on my elbow. “Mark, if you’re this afraid to ask a father to take his daughter to a dance, what’s it going to be like when you ask for her hand in marriage?”

“Yeah… I guess I should be thankful I’m not asking for her hand in marriage.” I watched Pa walk back to the table. Then I thought on that. My eyes grew wide. “Yeah!”

When the meal finished, Mr. Bennet stood and got ready to leave. I stood up, again kicking my shins on the table and spilling my milk. I closed my eyes. Mr. Bennet turned to look at me. Then he turned back. “Lucille, uh…go on with your mother outside. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Yes Pa.” Lucille turned and smiled at me. She wiggled her fingers in a short wave. “Bye Mark. See ya tomorrow.”

“Yeah, uh…I’lll uh…I’ll see ya!” I watched her leave.

“Mark…” Mr. Bennet cleared his throat. I smiled as I watched Lucille walk out the door. “Mark!”

“What?” Pa cleared his throat. “I mean…” I cleared my throat. “Yes sir?”

Mr. Bennet took my elbow. “Let’s go outside where we can be alone.”

There was something in his voice. It scared me a little. I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of being alone with the man who could someday be my father-in-law! Okay, so I was getting a little ahead of myself, but a guy can’t help but to dream! He led me out onto the front porch of the hotel. He sat down in a chair. “Have a seat, son.”

I nodded my head and sat down. “You like my daughter.”

It wasn’t a question. I nodded shortly. “Ye…Yes sir.”

“Well…I remember when you were both ten years old.” Mr. Bennet laughed with a shake of his head. “You two would fight one day and be friends the next. She was such a Tom boy then. I suppose you noticed she’s not a tom boy anymore.”

“Ye…Yes sir…” I gasped. “I mean…”

Mr. Bennet laughed. “I didn’t mean to make you so afraid of me, Mark. The truth is you’re a nice boy. You’ve been to our house for supper several times since the party.” I nodded. “Why’s this different?”

“What do you mean?” I asked as I stared at him.

Mr. Bennet laughed again. “I mean…Do you have something you want to ask me?” I nodded. “Well?” I opened my mouth to ask. “You have to ask like a man, son.”

I nodded. I took a deep breath, then blurted out…” Can I take Lucille?”

Mr. Bennet lost his smile. “Take her…where son?”

“Huh?”

“Just where do you intend to take my daughter?”

Suddenly, I realized what I had asked. “Oh!” I felt my face redden. “To…To the dance…sir…”

“Alright.”

I leaned forward in my seat. “Alright…sir?”

“Yes.” Mr. Benned leaned back in his seat. “But there are a few things I have to say to you first, son.”

Oh boy! I suddenly wished I was cleaning the outhouse at home – a chore, I must admit, that I despise very much! Mr. Bennet took out a cigar and lit it. He took a long puff on it. “God only blessed my wife and I with one child.” He looked at his cigar. “She’s very special to me.” I nodded. “You are both 14 years old. You both have your whole life in front of you and…at your age – it’s hard to know what you do and do not want. Do you know what I’m saying?”

I nodded. “Ye-yes sir.”

Mr. Bennet nodded. “And uh…I’ll just give you fair warning that I’ll be there keeping an eye on you.”

“Yes sir. I…I didn’t expect it any other way, sir…” I swallowed as I loosened the tie around my neck even more. “Uh…uh…My Pa gave me a big talking to after the Halloween dance. I told you some, but I suppose I should tell you more on what it was about. He told me about how a man…” I swallowed. “…treats a woman until they are properly married.”

Mr. Bennet smiled. “Yes. I know all about it.” I stared at him. “Oh…your father and I have talked, son. You see, he’s as concerned about you as I am about my daughter. Sometimes in a town like this, father’s talk. It’s just…you know…one of those things.”

I’ll have to get him for this!

“So you knew the whole time that…” I started. Mr. Bennet nodded. “Oh…”

Boy, oh boy! Wait until I give my Pa a piece of my mind!

“I know what your thinking, son. Don’t. You see, the conversations your father and I have about you and my daughter are very serious. I feel like I can talk to your father more than most men in North Fork. He’s a wonderful man and he loves you very much. You uh…understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes sir.”

“Alright. Why don’t you ask my daughter tomorrow at school?”

I sat up and gasped. “You mean…I have to ask her too?”

Mr. Bennet laughed. “Well, you’re not taking me to the dance!” He held up a finger. “And my daughter has a mind of her own. But let me tell you, any man who comes to me like you did has my blessing. If they go straight to Lucille without talking to me first…well…they don’t. You know what I’m saying?”

I nodded. “Th-thank you, sir.”

***

“I can’t believe I have to go through all of this again,” I grumbled as I combed my hair in front of the mirror Monday morning.

“Do what?” Pa asked absent-mindedly as he read the paper at the kitchen table. “Comb your hair?”

I glared at him through the mirror. “No, Pa…ask Lucille to the dance! I mean…asking her father was hard enough…”

“I’d say that was the hardest part, wouldn’t you?” Pa mumbled.

I turned from the mirror. “Well…I suppose…” I hurried over to Pa and pushed down the paper. “Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “Suppose she says no?”

“Well…then I guess you’ll have to go with someone else, son.”

I rolled my eyes. “Someone…” I gasped. “I ain’t going through all that again!” I declared as I picked up my books. “Well…wish me luck.”

Pa stood up and smacked a hand on my shoulder. “Good luck, son.”

I rode to school. On my way to school, I wondered how to approach Lucille. “What do you think, Blue Boy…’Hey, Lucille, wanta go to the dance together?’”

Blue Boy sneezed.

“No, huh…?” I sighed. “Lucille, did you hear about the dance Friday night?”

Blue Boy sneezed again.

“Yeah, you’re right…that’s stupid! Of course she heard about the dance!” I cleared my throat. “Will you go to the dance with me?”

“Hi Mark!” Lorrie pulled up along side me. I groaned. “How are you?”

“Good. How are you?”

“Did you hear about the dance Saturday? It’s a sweetheart dance. I’m hoping that…somebody will take me.” Lorrie smiled. “You taking somebody?”

“Yep.”

“Who?” Lorrie asked.

“Well, I…” I rolled my eyes. “I ain’t exactly sure yet! I haven’t asked her!”

“I was hoping we could go together.”

Boy, now she sure was forward! “I’m sorry, Lorrie…I…” How do you let a girl down? Pa never told me that part!

“So it’s not me you are asking?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She grew quiet. I didn’t dare look at her. “Well…that’s okay. I mean…I have someone who asked me already. I just…” Her voice suddenly broke. Boy, do I ever feel like a heel!

I stopped Blue Boy. “Lorrie.”

“See ya, Mark!” I watched as Lorrie dug her heels into her horse and quickly rode away.

“Yeah. See ya!” I shook my head. “Women! Boy, you sure don’t have this problem and you sure are lucky!” I told Blue Boy.

It was lunch time before I had the chance to ask Lucille. She was over by the swing. I slowly approached her and leaned against the swing as she slowed down. “Oh, hi Mark!”

“Howdy.” I took a bite off my apple and watched her swing. “Can I talk to you?”

Lucille stopped the swing and sat still. “I saw ya talking to Pa yesterday. I hope he didn’t give you much trouble.”

“No…he was okay.” I took another bite of my apple. Then I studied it intently. “Did he…uh…tell you what the talk was about?”

“No, but I think I know.” She started swinging a little again.

“Oh? What?”

“You want to ask me to be your sweetheart at the dance.” She said it with a smile. My heart skipped a beat. “Is that it?”

“Maybe.”

“Well, ya gonna ask me?” Lucille asked as she again slowed down.

“Ask you? Didn’t I just do that?”

“Nope.”

“Oh.” I suddenly realized my hat was still on. I took it off and held it in my hand. “Will you go to the dance with me Saturday night?”

Lucille allowed her feet to drag on the ground. Again, she stopped the swing. “You asking me?”

“I’m asking you.”

Lucille put a finger to her lips. “Well…I’ll have to think about it.”

“What?” I stared at her.

“I said…I’ll have to think about it!”

“Oh.” I must admit that I wasn’t too happy with that statement. “Okay.” I turned to leave. Suddenly, I turned around to ask. “How long…” I started.

“I’ll let you know by Friday.”

“Oh.” I slapped my hat on my thigh. “But the dance is Saturday!” I declared.

“I know.”

I glared at her. “Now Lucille, look…I…” I slapped my hat on my thigh again as I turned and walked away.

“WOMEN!” I declared loudly.

***
I sat the table as I heard Pa ride in. Yep, it was stew again tonight! Pa didn’t like it, but then he should have been here to cook his own way…”Afternoon, son. How was school today?”

“Fine!” I declared in an annoyed voice.

“Doesn’t sound like it.” Pa went to the basin and washed his hands. He walked to the table. “Stew again, huh?” He sat down at the table. “Mark, you suppose you could fix something different once in a while? Stew’s getting kind of…” He stopped when he saw the annoyed expression on my face. Quickly he led a blessing. Then as we started eating, he asked, “Did you ask Lucille to the dance today?”

I took a bite. “Yep.”

“And?” Pa prodded.

I sat my fork down and looked up at Pa. “Pa…I’ll never understand women…not as long as I live!” I yelled as I banged my fist on the table.

Pa smiled in spite of the situation and leaned back in the chair as he took a sip of his coffee. “Mark…you are learning early…no matter how old you get or how much you try, you will NEVER EVER understand women.” I sighed, thinking on how comforting Pa’s words were. “I know I don’t.”

“Lou said yes, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Of course she did, son.”

“Lucky you!” I grumbled.

“Lucille turned you down?” Pa raised an eyebrow and looked at me.

“Not exactly.”

“Oh.” Pa smiled into his coffee cup. “I see.” I cocked my head to one side and narrowed my eyes. “She said ‘Maybe.’” I nodded, but remained in that look. “A lot of women do that, son. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to go with you. She’s just…playing hard to get.”

“Why?”

Pa chuckled. “Now son….if you could answer that question, you would understand women!” Pa studied me as I started eating again. “Now, look son…” Pa started.

I held up a hand. “I know…I know…Don’t say it, Pa!” I knew he was about to remind me I was only 14 years old, and quite frankly, I was in NO mood to hear it!

***

It was Thursday afternoon. I still hadn’t gotten an answer from Lucille. Freddie was upset because he’d asked Lucille too…without asking her father’s permission first…and she had given him the same answer – maybe. Freddie was fit to be tied. I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous and worried Lucille would choose Freddie instead of me.

Then Friday came. It was the big day – the day Lucille would choose. Pa warned me before I came to school that I was there to learn my lessons – not study girls. I nodded in understanding and told him she wasn’t giving her answer until lunch anyhow. All morning, Freddie turned in his seat and looked at Lucille. I rolled my eyes at his immaturity, but stayed focused on my studies. Then we walked outside.

I walked to Blue Boy and untied his reins. Then I slowly walked toward Lucille. “Meeting Pa in town…” I stated. “He told me not to be late.”

Lucille nodded but said nothing. I lowered my head. “Well…I’ll see ya tomorrow.”

“Okay, Mark.” She smiled.

I slapped my thigh in frustration and started to leave. “Mark!” I stopped and turned to face Lucille. “I want to go with you…really I do…only…” She lowered her head. “I can’t hurt Freddie – not like this…He…He said I’m the only girl he wants to go with and I…”

“I think you’ve made your decision then, Lucille.” I slowly walked away. I could feel her staring into my back, but she had to learn my heart wasn’t a toy she could take out and play with. I had feelings and deserved to be respected.

I walked into town feeling very dejected. I tied my horse in front of Micah’s office and slowly walked inside. “Now Doc, stop fussing with me!” Micah declared from a cot in the cell.

I walked into the jail. Micah was sitting there with his shirt off and a bandage around his gut. “What happened?”

Pa turned when he heard me. He hurried and pushed me out of the jail. “There was trouble in town today. Some outlaw called Micah out on the street. He didn’t have a chance.”

“Micah killed him?” Pa shook his head. “But he’s dead?” Pa nodded. I knew he had killed the outlaw. I didn’t ask any other questions, but knew that if anyone pulled a gun on one of Pa’s loved one’s, they were a dead man…I looked toward the jail where Micah was still protesting. “How is he?”

“Worse off then he thinks,” Pa answered. “The wound was deep. Doc Burrage is afraid the wound will start bleeding again if he moves around too much.”

“Now dang it, Micah! You just stay on that cot!” Doc Burrage yelled.

Pa and I ran toward the jail. Pa busted into the cell and grabbed Micah by the shoulders and forced him down. “Now, you let me up! I have work to do.”

“Now look here, Micah…” Pa’s eyes flashed and his voice held authority. “You are going to do EXACTLY what the doctor says and no less! You will NOT move for a week! You will stay laying down and still or else!”

“What does that mean?” Micah yelled.

“It means that I’ll…” Pa sighed. His voice softened just a bit. “I’ll put you out if you don’t do as you are told!”

“Doc…what about us taking him to the ranch?” I asked then. “We could take care of him. We the closest thing to family he has.”

Doc nodded, but Micah said, “I won’t hear of it! I’m staying right…”

“Shut up, Micah!” Pa yelled. Pa stood up. “Mark, you go home and get the buckboard. We’ll make it comfortable for an easy ride. I have to go to the Cattleman’s Association meeting.” Pa walked over to the desk and took out a badge. He walked back over to the cell. “You gonna deputize me, Micah?” Micah didn’t answer. I watched Pa put the star on. “Alright…I do promise to hold down the law and carry it out to the best of my ability. You just declared me deputy.” Pa shook his head as he walked out of the jail. “Sure is a stubborn cuss!”

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Seems there are two of those in my life…”

“Better count yourself in that, then, boy!” Pa pointed a finger at me. “You are just as stubborn as I am!”

I hurried home and got the wagon ready. I packed it down with blankets and pillows then rode back into town. Pa was mulling over something as he waited for me in Micah’s office. Pa looked toward the jail. “Elliot didn’t show up. I’m worried…we haven’t heard from him and he’s always on time.”

“What can you do, Pa?”

“Well…” Pa put his hands on his hips. “I can ride out to Los Cruses and check on the situation.” Pa shook his head. “No one’s heard from him in over a week, and that isn’t like him…”

“What about deputing?” I asked.

Pa shook his head. “I’ll have to find someone, son…Can’t leave this place unprotected…” Pa opened the jail and went into the cell. “Help me get him into the wagon, son.”

“Now Lucas, I told you that I want no part of this! I…”

“And I told you, Micah, to keep quiet about it!” Pa paused as we slowly walked Micah out. He looked at Micah. “And I mean it.”

I couldn’t help but smile. It always humored me how Pa’s voice could get a dead man to stand if Pa so ordered it! He had a way with his voice…oh, except those stupid enough to challenge it…They always regretted it. I’ve been the stupid one myself a few times…Pa’s wrath was NEVER pleasant.

“I’m staying in town to send a telegraph, son. I’ll try to catch up and be there to help you get Micah in the house. Just put him in my bed.”

“No!” Micah said.

“And if he gives you any trouble…gag him!” Pa declared. Micah frowned, but stayed silent. He knew he was in no position to argue with Pa.

I slowly rode out to the ranch. Every time I went over a rut or hard bump, I heard Micah groan. I apologized, but knew that did very little to comfort him. Pa caught up with us on the trail when we were almost home. He helped me get Micah inside. Then he threatened to sit on Micah if he didn’t take his medicine. Micah was soon asleep.

“Why is he fighting so hard, Pa?” I asked.

“Micah’s the Marshal, son. He’s dedicated. He doesn’t want to feel like a burden to us and it’s hard for him. I hate being tough on him but that’s the way.” Pa said he was going to go do the chores. “You stay in here just in case, son. If you need me, just fire a couple shots in the air. I’ll be here.”

Pa did get home in time to fix supper that evening. While he was gone, I worked on the domestic stuff in the house. I dragged the chamber pot from the barn into the house just in case Micah needed it, but he never woke. I went to do my chores while Pa fixed supper. It wasn’t until we were eating that Pa asked the question. “So how was school today?”

“I reckon she’s going with Freddie…” I answered glumly. This had been the first chance I had to think on it.

“I’m sorry, son.” Pa took another bite of beans. “You okay?”

“Not really…” But I lifted my head and grinned. “But I’m a McCain.” I looked back down at my plate. “What are you gonna do about Mr. Elliot?”

“Leave for Los Cruse in the morning if I don’t hear from him, son.” Pa shook his head. “I wired Santa Fe and the Marshal said Elliot was supposed to ride through there three days ago. He never arrived. Buckhart’s going to come here and watch things while I’m gone. Being a U.S. Deputy Marshal, he feels it’s his duty.”

“You’ll miss the dance.”

“Well, it can’t be helped, son. Elliot is a good friend.”

I nodded. “Maybe so but…” I looked up at Pa and smiled. “You still have to tell Lou.”

“OH!” Pa groaned as if he suddenly got a horrible pain.

I gave my head a shake. “Don’t seem that long ago that you had to tell her of another dance you were unable to attend.” Pa groaned again and said he’d deal with her in the morning.

I suddenly thought on something else. I grew quiet. Pa noticed almost immediately and asked me what was wrong. I looked toward the bedroom. “Well…I was just thinking it’s just as well I don’t have a date for the dance tomorrow night. I have to take care of Micah.”

“Oh no, son…If you have to, you leave Micah here by himself for a few hours, but just try to get back early. I’ll have a talk with him after supper to make sure you don’t have any trouble with him. I’ll tell him you have my orders.” Pa picked up a plate and dished up some food. “In the mean time, I’ll feed him, which I’m sure will be a painful process…” Pa turned before he went into the bedroom. “For me.”

Later, as I rode toward Freddie’s, I saw a horse tied to a tree. Darkness was quickly falling over the range and it was fairly cold outside, but still quite mild for February. I approached the horse with caution. Then I recognized it. It was Lorrie’s horse.

I quickly tied my horse beside hers. “Lorrie?” I called. I suddenly heard sniffing. I turned to see Lorrie sitting under the tree shivering and crying. I hurried over to her. “Lorrie? What are you doing out here?”

Lorrie wiped her eyes and looked up at me. I noticed her shivering and took off my coat. After putting it around her, I sat down beside her. “What’s wrong?”

“Just go away, Mark! Just go away!” She yelled as she turned from me.

“I can’t! I’m your friend!” I declared. “You shouldn’t be out here. Do your folks know you’re here?”

“They don’t understand, Mark…They just DON’T understand! I said some things I shouldn’t have and ran out.” Lorrie sniffed. “I’m sure Pa will lick me when I get home. I know I deserve it.”

“Your father’s never licked you in your life!” I declared. I folded my arms as I sat up straight. “Now, sit up here and tell me the problem!” I ordered sternly.

“I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Lorrie…” I warned as I looked at her. “And I don’t want my Pa to skin me for being caught alone at night with a…lady.”

Lorrie turned and stared at me. “You…really think I’m a lady, Mark?” I nodded. She wiped at her eyes. I handed her a kerchief and flinched as she blew her nose in it. “I don’t feel like one.”

I smiled. “Well…you’re a Tom boy, but there ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

“Really?”

I saw it in her eyes. “Lorrie…I won’t pretend I don’t know how you feel about me. Maybe it’s my fault for staying silent all these months but…” I sighed. “You are a good friend. We’ve always been good friends, but I’m afraid I don’t feel anything more than that for you.” I felt uncomfortable talking about this, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. “Look…We’re both at the age when we feel certain…feelings for those of the opposite sex. I’m sure your folks have talked to you?” Lorrie nodded. “You know I asked Lucille to the dance?” Lorrie nodded again. “Well then…” I folded my arms. “…it’s because I feel something for her and I like it. Now you and me…we’ve always been good friends and we talk about our problems with each other – sort of like now…”

Lorrie sniffed and looked up at me. “Okay. I’ll tell you.” She wiped at her eyes again as she sat in front of me cross-legged. “The dance is tomorrow night and nobody asked me. At school today, I heard some of the boys talking. Freddie doesn’t have a girl to take and Billy was asking him why he didn’t ask me…”

I rolled my eyes. “And Freddie said something that wasn’t too tasteful.” I could only imagine!

“He said that…” Lorrie sniffed as her eyes filled with tears. “That…” She busted into tears again. I wanted to hug her, but didn’t feel comfortable in doing it – especially since she had feelings for me. Instead, I patted her back. “…he’d rather go out with a horny toad then take me to the dance!”

I groaned. I’d deal with Freddie later! “Well, we’ll probably see Freddie at the dance sitting in a chair all night!” I declared as she continued crying.

Lorrie suddenly gasped. “Oh, I’m not going, Mark!”

“What? You have to! It’s the Sweetheart dance!”

Lorrie shook her head. “I can’t go, Mark! All the other girls have escorts! I’m not going!”

I sighed. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

I rode with her to her house and walked her to the door. Her father frowned at her when he saw her standing there. “Uh…sir? Can…can I talk to you?”

He nodded. “Lorrie, go to your room.”

Mr. Trent closed the door as he stepped out onto the porch and folded his arms. “I found her out under a tree crying. She’s really upset about what happened at school today.”

Mr. Trent turned and looked toward the door. “Happened at school today?”

“Lorrie told me she overheard one of the boys say he’d rather go to the dance with a horny toad then your daughter. I know this boy and he likes to talk big with his friends…”

“I know…I imagine it was Freddie Toomey and I imagine he’s a lot like I was when I was his age.” I smiled. “Thanks for bringing her home, son.”

“Oh…” He raised his eyebrows. “Sir, may I ask you not to be too hard on Lorrie? These are confusing times we’re going through. It’s hard to go to the dance without an escort at our age…well…You know…”

Mr. Trent smiled. “Thank you son. I’ll take that into consideration when I speak to her.”

I smiled as I rode to Freddie’s. Something was gnawing at me, but I wasn’t ready to listen to it yet. I had started to Freddie’s to have a friendly conversation, but I was working myself up into a good tongue thrashing and maybe even a black eye. I knocked on the Toomey door. Freddie saw me and told his Pa we’d be outside. “You missed dessert, Mark.”

“I don’t want dessert.” Freddie heard the tone in my voice and turned. I folded my arms. “I came to speak to you about your mouth.”

“What are you talking about, Mark?” Freddie asked.

“Lorrie ...”

“Oh, what about her?” Freddie groaned.

“You insulted her today.” Freddie gave me a look like I didn’t know what I was talking about. “You said you’d rather go to the dance with a horny toad than her.”

“It’s true!” Freddie declared.

“You didn’t have to say it, Freddie! That hurt her!”

“I didn’t know she was spying on me!” Freddie declared.

“Spying…” I muttered. “Oh, she wasn’t spying on you, Freddie! You said it right in the schoolyard in front of a bunch of kids!”

“Nobody wants to go to dance with a…a…Tom boy!” Freddie sputtered. “Why, she’s gonna be an old spinster with those pants and…and…plain looks!”

I felt my temper rising. “She’s a lady!”

“She ain’t no lady!” Freddie shouted. “And I wouldn’t go to the dance with her even if she was the last girl on earth!”

I reared back and let my fist fly…right into Freddie’s eye. My fist ached at the punch. Freddie fell to the ground. “Now, you can explain that to Lucille when you pick her up for the dance!” I shouted. “Explain to her why I gave you the black eye!”

Freddie sat up and wiped at his eye. I had hit it hard enough that there was no doubt it would be black and blue tomorrow. “She told me this afternoon that she was going with you!” Freddie shouted.

I gasped, slapped my thigh, then mounted my horse and rode away.
When I got back to the ranch, I angrily bedded down Blue Boy then went into the house. I gave the door a good slam. Pa looked up from his desk where he was paying bills and raised an eyebrow. I held my hat in my hands. “Alright…I gave Freddie a black eye tonight. You can punish me if you want, but I’m not sorry!” I yelled. “He deserved it, and if he does it again, I’ll make his other eye black!”

I went into the bedroom and started undressing. Pa came to stand in the doorway. “What happened?” I looked over toward Micah who was sleeping. “Don’t worry, son…you won’t wake him. He’s out until morning.” I turned and looked at Pa. “Well?”

I went to sit down on the cot in the front room as I finished undressing. “Freddie said some things he shouldn’t have.”

“What sort of things?” I didn’t answer but busied myself with taking off my boots. “Mark?”

I looked up into Pa’s eyes. “I found Lorrie crying under a tree on my way to Freddie’s. She was crying because nobody would take her to the dance…no…she was crying because she had a fight with her folks…but I really think she was crying because of what Freddie said today.”

“Oh…” Pa groaned. “I can only imagine.”

My blood started boiling just thinking on it. “Pa, he said he’d rather go to the dance with a horny toad then Lorrie. I went over to confront him on it and he didn’t seem to care he’d been heard by Lorrie and most of the other kids at school. He told me she was a plain old Tom Boy and would end up a spinster. Then he told me he wouldn’t escort her even if she was the last girl on earth! AND he said she wasn’t a lady. So…” I shrugged. “I punched him.”

Pa was quiet. Then he finally spoke. “Oh.”

“Oh? That’s all you have to say?”

Pa smiled. “Well…I’d say he deserved it for insulting a lady. And I’d say you are maturing, son, if you see Lorrie as a uh…lady…”

“Well, she ain’t a man!” I stated. “Pa…she really likes me…I mean like a lady likes a man. I told her tonight that I don’t feel anything toward her more than friends. But…” I lowered my head.

“What, son?”

“Well…” I sighed as I lifted my head up. “I still feel like I should…” Pa lifted an eyebrow. “I found out tonight Lucille’s going to let me escort her to the dance.”

“That’s great!” Pa declared. I sighed. “That’s NOT great…” Pa said doubtfully.

“I have a decision to make.”

Pa smiled. “You’re thinking on what I did for your mother when I was your age.” I nodded. “Well, only you can make that decision, son. But I think we both know what your decision will be…don’t we?”

I looked up at Pa and smiled. “I just needed someone else to admit it, Pa. I’ll ride out to the Trent Ranch and talk to her and her father in the morning.”

Pa nodded. “I’m proud of you.”

“Pa?” Pa had stood and walked toward the door. He turned at the sound of my voice. “What was it like? Taking Ma to the dance?”

Pa looked down at the cigar he had just taken from the case. He opened the case and sat it back down. “Well son…” He slapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll tell you…”

***
Pa was just beginning to realize his attraction to the opposite sex himself that year. He had noticed himself getting excited when he saw a pretty face, and when Ma smiled at him, his heart did flutter quite a bit, but the thought of ever getting a girl like my Ma was just so far-fetched, he laughed at the mere idea. My Ma was of a gentle spirit. Her skin, Pa said, seemed to match the color of a beautiful, faded peach-colored rose his mother loved to grow in the yard. And her eyes glowed like two robin’s eggs in a nest. Her lips were a soft pink color that always turned upward in a smile, and her hair…her hair was a soft brown that laid thickly down her back. Sometimes she would wear it in a long, single braid and sometimes it would flow.

But besides her outward beauty, Pa said my mother’s inner beauty was even more breath-taking. She was always caring about others. There wasn’t a person she didn’t like – even those mean to her she would warmly help when they needed it. If a bird fell from a nest, she would take it and nurse it back to health. Pa couldn’t count all the times Ma would take the runt of a liter of pigs either from her own farm or a neighboring farm and feed it until it was healthy enough to make it on its own. Ma could eat fish or chicken, but she didn’t want to hear who had helped the fateful animal to its death.

That’s not to say, Pa said, that she didn’t have sadness or hurt…or faults. She did, but Pa didn’t like to talk about those. I wondered if part of what he told me was because of the love he had for Ma…

Pa straightened the tie around his collar and ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t know why – he never had worried much about his image before. But suddenly he cared a great deal for her. He looked down at the rose he had clipped from his mother’s rose bush before coming over. He suddenly felt very nervous. His hands were sweaty, his knees were shaking, and his heart beat really hard.

He closed his eyes and took a nervous deep breath. Then he knocked hard on the door. When the door opened, grandpa stood there. He looked Pa up and down then opened the door wider and allowed him in. But Pa was scared for some reason. He stepped inside and saw the boys. Andy, the same age as Pa, came to pat my Pa on the back. He started to make a comment, but grandpa caught his eye. Andy stopped.

Uncle Johnny was only ten at the time. He didn’t know much of what was going on. “Margaret’s been running around here like a chicken with his head off!” Johnny declared. “She said she just knows your gonna see her….OUCH!” Johnny yelled out as he felt a hard smack on his back side.

“Now, you just go on out there and chop some wood!” Grandpa demanded as Pa’s cheeks reddened.

Uncle Scott came in all dressed up to shine. He was three years or so older than Pa and held his hand out for a firm handshake. Pa had never seen Scott look at him that way before. “Now…I want you to remember that’s my sister you’re taking to the dance. You disrespect her…I’ll have to bust your face.” Scott held a fist up in front of Pa’s face. He drew his head down really close and said, “You understand me…Luke?”

Pa gulped and nodded his head as he fumbled with the rose in his hand. Then Scott smiled and ruffled his hair. Pa quickly ran a hand back through it while Scott went to answer another knock. When the door opened, Philip stood there. Philip was Ma’s sister, Aunt Beth’s, beau. They were pretty sweet on each other and could be seen together almost everywhere. Pa nodded toward him but suddenly felt uncomfortable since he was the youngest there of the group. He knew everyone was looking at him.

The door opened and giggles could be heard. Pa watched at the head of the stairs as Aunt Beth appeared first. She smiled as she made her way down the stairs and left with Philip. Then he swallowed when he saw Ma. Ma smiled as she slowly made her way down the stairs. Even after all these years, the image was still very vivid in Pa’s mind. Her dress was white with soft winter-green leaves spread over the print. Her hair hung down her back with a green band holding it off her face. Her smile was radiant as she stepped off the last step.

Pa swallowed hard as he stepped forward. Ma swallowed. “I want to…thank you again for asking me to…” Ma batted her eyelids and shyly looked to the floor.

“Well, I didn’t want you to miss the dance,” Pa stated breathlessly. He reached out a hand to take her gloved hand in his as he stared into her eyes. He saw the spots still on her face, but somehow they seemed to just make her that much more radiant.

Uncle Scott and Uncle Andy cleared their throats from behind. Pa dropped her hand and turned. “Oh…I’m sorry.”

“We’ll be escorting you to the dance,” Uncle Scott said. “Just remember what I told you.”

Pa turned in time to see Ma’s eyes grow big with horror. “Scott, you didn’t!”

“Oh, but I did, little sister, and I meant it!” Scott declared. “You let me know if he doesn’t treat you…”

“Scott, that’s enough!” Grandpa declared as he took a step forward. “You are embarrassing the kids!” Grandpa came to hug Ma. “You look beautiful honey.” He turned to Pa. “And I know you will be in good hands. He comes from a good family.”

Pa smiled as he offered his arm to her. She smiled and took it as Uncle Scott held the door for her. They sat on the back seat of the buckboard as Scott and his date for the night sat in front. As they rode, Pa tried to think of something to say. He’d never had trouble talking before, but now he all of the sudden couldn’t find the words to say. Pa and Ma just turned and looked at each other and smiled several times on the way to town.

Pa was very happy when the wagon stopped outside the church where the dance would be held. He jumped from the wagon and held his hand out to help Ma down. Then she took her arm and they walked inside.

Suddenly, he stopped. He could feel the sweat pouring from his skin now. He watched the couples as they danced and how they held each other. Even the young couples held as they danced. He wasn’t sure if he could do that. When he touched Ma, the feeling was like magic. He shivered just thinking about it. Then there was another thing…

He had never actually danced before. He’d watched others dance, and his brothers had tried to teach him, but they weren’t goofing off behind the barn now. Now…he was with a beautiful young lady and he was in a room full of…

“Are you going to ask me to dance?” Ma asked with a smile.

Pa couldn’t think on how to answer that question. He suddenly looked down into her smiling eyes. “Have you…danced before?”

Ma nodded as she looked into Pa’s eyes. “Not at a dance. My brothers taught me.” Pa gave her a small nod. Ma gasped. “You mean you don’t know…” She allowed the words to die in her throat. Pa waited for her to laugh, but she didn’t. She simply asked, “Can we get some punch first?”

Pa led her to the punch. They watched as they sipped their punch. Pa was quite a bit taller than Ma so Ma had to talk louder than she wanted. “When we go out there, you just follow my lead.”

Pa’s head shot down and stared at her. “I can’t do that!” Pa declared. “I’m supposed to lead you.”

Ma smiled as she took the cup from him and sat it down. “Ask me.” Pa raised his eyebrows, unsure of what she meant. Ma laughed softly. “Ask me the pleasure of this dance.”

Ma had come from a family that lived higher on the hog than Pa, so he didn’t know all the proper things he was supposed to do. He nodded as he held out his hand toward her. “May I have the pleasure of this dance?”

He was rewarded by a bigger and more beautiful smile. Her eyes glowed as she took his hand and nodded. Then he nervously led her out onto the dance floor. She turned toward him. He looked down into her eyes as she took his hand and placed it low on her back. Then she gently laid her other hand in his. He felt the strangest feeling as he touched her. She smiled then said, “Stop shaking! You think you’re the only man who learned to dance from a woman on the dance floor? That’s how my Pa learned!”

She started moving with the music. Just move your feet back as I move mine forward. She guided him gracefully as he began watching her feet. In no time at all, he had the hang of it and was dancing beautifully with Ma in his arms. They continued looking into each other’s eyes. “One, two, three…One, two, three…” She said softly as they danced.

Pa couldn’t stop staring into her eyes. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered passionately.

Ma smiled and blushed. “So are you.” Pa raised his eyebrows. Ma laughed softly. “I mean…you are handsome.”

The dance ended. They stopped and went for another drink of punch. They sat quietly and watched. Then when that song ended, Ma stood up. “This time you lead.”

“Margaret…I…I can’t!” Pa declared.

She held out her hand to him. “You can!” She said.

He walked her out onto the dance floor again. And started to grab her hands, but he did it wrong. “You’re leading, so you put this hand around me.” She drew his arm around her waist. “And the other you hold my hand with.” Pa blushed again as he felt the closeness to her. “Just remember bullet.”

“Bullet?”

Ma smiled. “Bullet.”

Pa shrugged then started dancing. Pa felt so happy dancing on the dance floor. They danced every dance together. Each time they started, Ma would always have to say “bullet.” After that one word, Pa would remember the things he was taught then take it from there.

After the last dance, Scott allowed that he could walk Ma home. Scott was going to stay for the later dances, but the younger young men had to leave. They walked home arm-in-arm in the moonlight. “Did you…have a good time tonight?” Pa asked her at one point. Ma nodded as she giggled. “Good.”

They walked in silence. He was just outside their farm when she stopped and turned to him. “I’m…glad you asked me. Thank you, Luke. You don’t know how happy you made me tonight.”

Pa’s mind was reeling from the beauty Ma possessed as the moonlight shone on her. He brushed her cheek with the back of his fingertips and she shivered. “I have to say goodnight I guess.”

Ma nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow night…I mean, we are still coming to your house for supper, right?”

Pa nodded. “I suppose so. I…” Suddenly, he lowered his face and brushed a kiss to her lips. The feelings that kiss possessed made him bolt from her. “I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Luke!” Ma called after him, but Pa didn’t look back as he ran from the yard.

***
“You KISSED her??????” I cried in shock. I jumped from the cot and ran to the chair he was sitting in. “Pa, you kissed her???”

Pa suddenly shuddered as he left the trance he had seemed to be in. “Huh?” He shook his head. “Oh…I guess I got caught up in the moment!”

“Now..or then?” I asked as I raised a disapproving eyebrow. I felt like I should give him a talking to about the proper way to treat a woman.

Pa blushed. I laughed to see it. I don’t reckon I had ever seen him blush like that. “I guess both…” Pa sighed as he held up a hand. “Look son…I told you my brothers taught me about the opposite sex. I wasn’t properly trained.”

“I bet Uncle Scoot took care of that!” Pa shook his head. “You mean…he didn’t do anything?”

Pa smiled as he stood and looked out the window. “Your mother came over the next day. She was bringing my Ma some berries for the pie we were having that night. I hid from her, but she was onto me….

***
Pa hid behind the shed and watched as Ma exited the house. “Luke!” she called. Finally, she stood firmly in the middle of the yard. “Luke McCain, I’m not playing games! I want to talk to you!”

Pa didn’t want his brothers and sisters to hear the angry words he was sure ma was about to speak, so he slowly stepped from behind the shed. “There you are!” Ma folded her arms and walked up to him. “You sure are a coward today!”

“I’m sorry.” Pa said as he hung his head.

“I know what you are sorry for, but I hope it’s not because you didn’t enjoy kissing me.” Ma declared in a louder voice than intended.

“Margaret, shhhh!” Pa put a finger to his lips. He grabbed her arm. The magic was still there but he tried to ignore it. He pulled her further from the house. Then he folded his arms and looked down at her through narrowed eyes. “I AM sorry…I…I shouldn’t have…”

Ma smiled. “I just wanted to tell you that…” Ma lowered her head and sighed then lifted it back up. “It’s our secret. Pa was a bit miffed that you didn’t walk me to the door, but I explained to him that I wanted to be alone to think about the dance. It wasn’t a lie. I DID stay out in the yard for a few minutes thinking on it.”

Pa nodded. “Well…thanks for clearing that up. I have chores to do.”

“Luke?” Pa turned. “I liked it.” He smiled as she ran off.

***
“I don’t understand, Pa.”

“What, son?” Pa asked.

“You said you didn’t get together until AFTER the war. Seems like you loved her from 14.”

“I did.” Pa shook his head. “I surely did.”

“Then why?” I asked.

“Well son…I was footloose and fancy free…I didn’t want to think on girls even when one as wonderful as your mother caught my eye. Never in my whole lifetime did I ever think I could end up with someone as wonderful as your mother. She was too good for me. I came from a dirt-poor family who sometimes couldn’t even afford white sugar from the store. Ma and Pa worked themselves to death taking care of us kids. Your mother…she was so…delicate. She deserved to marry someone who could give her what she wanted. Besides that, I wanted adventure. And I thought I found that in the war.”

“Did you, Pa?”

Pa laughed. “I found adventure alright, son. But your mother was there with me through it all.”

“She was?” I gasped in surprise.

Pa smiled. “That’s a story for another day, Mark.” He patted my back. “As for the kiss…I shouldn’t have done it. And I’m very thankful your mother liked it because I would not have wanted to contend with her brothers! We never told anyone about that kiss. We were the only two who ever knew…and now you.”

“I still think I oughta wash your mouth out with soap or something! I mean…that was my MOTHER you did that to!”

Pa laughed as he stood up. “Goodnight, son.”

***

The next morning, I announced to Pa that I was going over to the Trent Ranch to talk to Lorrie and her father. Pa was anxious to get to Los Cruise and find out about Mr. Elliot so I agreed to hurry. When I got to Lorrie’s, I found Mr. Trent outside tending to the chores. “Oh, hello Mark!”

I smiled as I dismounted my horse and walked over to him. “How’s Lorrie?”

“Fine…just fine…I did go easy on her, Mark. She holds you high in respect.”

I took off my hat and held it in my hands. “I was wondering if I could talk to you about something.”

Mr. Trent sat down the ax and started removing his gloves as we walked toward the fence. We leaned over on it and studied the calves inside. “I wanted to ask you if I could take Lorrie to the dance tonight.” Mr. Trent shot his head around. I held up a hand. “I’ll tell you of my intentions. I want to take Lucille Bennet. Truth is…I asked her Monday after asking her father and she still hadn’t made up her mind yesterday. Now, Freddie told me last night she was planning on allowing me to take her but…” I sighed. “I’ll explain to her the reason for my change of mind.”

“What is that reason?”

I smiled as I turned sideways to look at him. I propped my arm on the top of the fence and rested my head on my fist. “Well…my Pa told me a story about a girl he took to the dance when he was 14. She was the first girl he ever escorted anywhere and he did it because she wasn’t going to the dance otherwise. No one had asked her. Last night, Lorrie told me she wouldn’t go to the dance if no one would take her. Your daughter is a friend of mine, sir…I told her last night I have no feelings for her other than friendship and I think she understands but…I think this should be as special for her as it was for…” I lowered my head and lifted it back up…”My mother.”

Mr. Trent smiled. “What about Lucille? Aren’t you afraid of hurting her?”

“Sir, yesterday after school, Lucille had told me that she was going to let Freddie take her, because there weren’t anyone else he could take. If she’s playing the two of us against each other, then I think… Well, I think I’d enjoy myself better with a friend at my side.”

Mr. Trent smiled. “That’s mighty admirable of you Mark..”

“Understood. But if Lucille is at all a lady, she’ll understand my decision. And if she doesn’t…well, there ain’t much to the inside of her.” I smiled. “At 14, a dance is pretty special and Lorrie’s a good friend. I just don’t want to see it ruined for her.”

“You have my blessing, Mark. Lorrie’s out riding Bullet.”

My head shot up. “Bu…Bullet?”

“Her new horse. Didn’t she tell you?” I shook my head and smiled. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I raced across the range, pretty sure where Lorrie was. I wasn’t mistaken. She was sitting on the bank of the lake staring out onto the water. I quietly climbed off and walked up behind her. “This is where I come to think too.” She turned and smiled at me. I sat down beside her. “There’s something about the water. It makes you think.”

Lorrie nodded. “I remember as a little girl thinking I had a problem when I couldn’t go to the store with Pa and get candy. Now I’m worried about..”

“Lorrie?” Lorrie looked up at me. “How would you like to go to the dance tonight?.”

“Mark, I can’t! I already told you that…” Lorrie started.

“With me.” I smiled. She slowly straightened up as she stared at me. I held up a hand to her. “My feelings haven’t changed. I want to go as a friend and only as a friend. A wise man taught me something this week – it’s more important that the lady is happy then that you get what you want from the dance. My mother almost didn’t get to the dance because nobody asked her. My Pa took her and made it very memorable for her.”

“But they married.”

“They didn’t start courting until after the war. The dance that night was a friendly gesture. And that’s what I’m offering you. I can’t offer you anything else, Lorrie. I’m sorry.”

Lorrie sighed. “I know, Mark.” She turned back and looked over the water. “Freddie’s right. I am ugly and un-lady like!”

“Hey!” I touched her shoulder. She turned and looked at me. “I don’t want to ever hear that again! We’ve been friends since we were ten, remember?” Lorrie smiled and nodded her head. “Outward beauty is nothing. I know your heart and see that you are beautiful on the inside. That’s what matters.”

“So you don’t think I’m pretty on the outside either?” Lorrie asked.

Oh boy! “I think that someday you are going to meet a boy…er…man who thinks you are very beautiful. I wish I could be that man, but I’m not. Different men are attracted to different women. Least wise…that’s how my Pa explains it. But any man who finds you attractive on the outside just darn well better find you attractive on the inside…If he doesn’t – he’ll answer to me!” I grinned. “You understand?”

“I think so. That’s what Pa told me…I mean about being pretty. He said what’s on the inside is more important and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He said he found a beauty in my Ma that no other boy could see…he figured they must have all been blind for not seeing it.”

I smiled. “So…will you do the honor of allowing me to escort you tonight?”

“I’d be delighted!” Lorrie declared. “Will you pick me up?”

“Sure will!” I stood up and brushed my pants off. “I’ll be here at 5:30 sharp!”

I mounted Blue Boy and rode for home. When I got there, Pa was getting ready to leave. “Well, how’d it go?” Pa asked as he stuffed one more thing in his bulging saddle bags.

“I’m taking Lorrie.”

“Good. Buckhart should be here sometime this afternoon, son. I hope to be back in a few days, son.” He turned and looked at me. “I hate leaving now. I wanted to be here for your first date but I’m afraid I can’t wait any longer.”

“Mr. Elliot’s welfare is more important. Besides, this ain’t exactly a real first date, Pa. One of these days…. I’ll forgive you for missing this as long as you promise to come to my wedding.”

“With Lorrie?” Pa asked with a grin.

“Not likely, Pa!” I declared. Pa laughed. “Did you uh…tell Miss Lou?”

“I’m stopping by for some supplies in town before riding out. I’ll tell her then.”

“How do you reckon she’ll take it?” I asked.

“I’ll have to do some sweet-talking with Lou, but it’s sort of what you said about Lucille…if she’s as pretty on the inside as she is on the outside, she’ll understand.”

“Sweet talking, Pa?” I grinned. “Or uh…sweet…you know?”

Pa shook his head as he mounted his horse. “What did I tell you when we had our talk Halloween night?”

“That your brothers told you about sex?” Pa raised his eyebrows. “That the relationship between you and Lou is private and I’m to stay out of it?”

“That’s it.” Pa smiled. “Be good, son.” I watched Pa ride away. Then I turned and went to work on the wood pile.

I hadn’t been chopping very long when Lucille rode up. She tied her horse to the hitching post then walked over to me. “I want to talk to you, Mark.”

“What about?” I asked as I took a swing at the block of wood.

“About tonight.”

I took another hard swing. “I’m listening.”

“Well…” she sighed. “I’ve decided to allow you to take me.”

“I see.” I took one final swing, splitting the block in two. “Yesterday you told me you were thinking on letting Freddie take you to the dance. And now, just a few hours before the dance, you ride out here to tell me you’re going to le me take you?”

I picked the wood up and placed it in the wood pile. “Well…I…I just can’t say yes the first time you ask! What would you think of me?”

I turned and stared at her. “That you wanted to go with me. Were you planning on going with me the whole time?” I asked as I cocked my head to one side.

“Well, I…” Lucille folded her arms and lifted her head. “Yes, Mark…I was.”

“So you were playing some sort of game with me and Freddie?” I accused.

“It wasn’t a game, Mark! It was…” She stopped.

“I really want to go with you, Lucille,” I stated as I folded my arms. “But I don’t like someone toying with my emotions like you are. It’s not nice.”

Lucille hung her head. “I’m…sorry…Some of the girls in town – they told me that…I’m sorry, Mark.”

I nodded. “Apology accepted, Lucille.” She kept her eyes averted from me. I suddenly felt bad for talking so harshly. “That was mean, Lucille. I’m sorry. I have something to tell you. Can you sit down?” I led her to a bench near the porch. “I do want to go with you but I can’t.” Lucille jerked her head up to me and gasped. I held up my hand. “Let me explain. I hope you’ll understand when I’m done.”

Lucille nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Did you hear the boys talking about the dance at school on Friday? Specifically…what Freddie said about Lorrie?” Lucille nodded. “Lorrie heard it.”

She gasped. “Oh Mark! I’m so sorry! I thought it was horrible what they said. I wouldn’t go to the dance with any of those beasts…especially that…that…Freddie Toomey!”

I chuckled. “Freddie isn’t as bad as he tries to act, Lucille. Anyhow, this week my Pa told me about taking a girl to the dance when he was 14. The girl he took was just getting over chicken pox and she was so upset that she’d missed school all week and nobody asked her to the dance. She was embarrassed because she still had some scarred spots on her face that hadn’t healed yet and nobody would want to take her. My Pa asked her and she accepted.

“Then last night, I was riding over to see Freddie when I found Lorrie crying. That’s when she told me about what happened at school. She also declared she wasn’t going because nobody wanted to dance with a Tom Boy anyhow.” I looked Lucille in the eye. “Now…tell me something, Lucille…how would you like to think back to this time in 20 years and remember that you couldn’t go to the dance because nobody wanted to ask you? How would that make you feel?”

“Not too good, I guess…” Lucille answered with a sigh. “Oh, but Mark, Lorrie likes you! I mean…she’s sweet on you!”

I smiled. “Now…don’t go getting jealous on me!” I held up a hand. “I asked her to go with me this morning and she agreed. But it was only as friends and I made that very clear. I also told her that…” I raised my eyebrows and tried some of the McCain charm on her. “…I really wanted to go with you.” I just looked at her and waited.

It didn’t take long. Lucille broke out into a smile. “Thank you, Mark. And I think what you’re doing for Lorrie is very sweet.” She stood up. I stood up with her. “I won’t be mad if you’ll make me one promise.” I nodded. “Just promise you’ll save one dance for me.”

I nodded. “How about the last one? I’ll save the last dance for you,…Lucille Bennet.” We smiled at each other. I heard a noise and saw Micah looking out the bedroom window. He suddenly disappeared. “So…I’m forgiven?”

“With that smile, Mark? You ARE forgiven!”

“You could ask Freddie to the dance, you know. He’d still be willing to go.”

“No…” Lucille slipped her saddle gloves back on. “There’s no one I’d rather go with, Mark.” She laughed. “I know Pa told me I’m only 14 and shouldn’t be settling on one person so young.”

I nodded. “My Pa says the same thing. But my Pa fell in love with my Ma when he was 14.” I smiled. “He told me last night.”

“Is that the girl he took to the dance, Mark? Your mother?” I nodded. She smiled. “Like father like son.” She reached out and gently touched my hand. “I’ll see you at the dance.”

I nodded. Then I stood and watched her mount her horse. She turned her horse toward the road. “Oh Mark…I really AM sorry for toying with you like I did…” I nodded but didn’t say anything as I watched her ride away.

I walked into the house and went into the bedroom. Micah was laying in bed. I leaned against the door jam and folded my arms. “Well now…I know where Lou and I get the spying from.”

“Your father said you two aren’t to be alone together. I was just supervising.”

“Uh huh…” I nodded my head. “I bet you were!” I pushed myself off the door and walked in. “Is there anything you need? I’ll be outside most of the afternoon tending the stock.”

“No. I’m fine, Mark. Your father just gave me some of that stuff they call medicine. Oh…I could use some whisky.”

“We’re fresh out, Micah.” I shook my head. “And I’m too young to go into town and buy some. Pa would tar and feather me if I even considered doing that! No, Micah…I think the best thing for you is to lay here and sleep it off.”

“Oh….” Micah grumbled. “The ladies right…Like father like son!”

***
I took a bath with no problem, but I felt like a three year old when I tried dressing myself. I finally managed to get my clothes on but the stupid tie was driving me mad! I never could figure out the tie thing. I groaned again as I untied the tie. “What are you doing in there?” Micah called.

I stepped into the bedroom. “Just trying to get this thing on right. Pa makes it look so easy.”

Micah chuckled and motioned for me to come sit. “I suppose you’ll have to get married to a lady who can tie your ties, huh?” Micah fumbled a bit but finally managed to get it tied properly. “Now….” Micah said as he lay back down. “Why don’t you tell your grandpa what has you so nervous.”

I sat back down on the side of the bed and sighed. “Well…I know I’m taking Lorrie and all, but…” I allowed my voice to die.

“You’re nervous about what Lucille will think?” I nodded. “Well Mark…she seemed awfully understanding out there while ago when you were explaining everything to her.”

“It’s not that, Micah…” I sighed. “Pa told me about his first dance last night. He told me that..well…about how he felt when he had to put his arms around Ma and dance with her. Micah…I have to HOLD Lucille!”

Micah laughed. “Well…it usually makes dancing easier if you do it that way, son.”

“Yes but I just don’t…I don’t know, I just get all nervous and sweaty just thinking about touching Lucille! I promised her the last dance.”

Micah smiled. “I think you best think on dancing with Lorrie first, that’s appropriate. And if Lorrie is your friend, she’ll understand your promise to Lucille..”

“I guess I’m just afraid of disappointing her.”

“Which one?” Micah asked.

“Both!”

“Mark…” Micah painfully sat up and put a hand on my shoulder. “You want me to give you a piece of advice my father gave me a long time ago?”

“Pa’s already given me ‘THE TALK,’ Micah.”

“He told me, Mark…’Just be yourself.’”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it!” Micah declared.

“And to think I let you break Pa’s rules of staying flat on your back for that!” I stood and walked toward the door. “Thanks, Micah.” Micah smiled.

I was putting my jacket on when there was a knock at the front door. I opened it to find Lou there. “You aren’t even dressed for the dance!”

“I’m not going to the dance!” Lou declared.

“Lou, Pa wouldn’t want you to…” I started.

“Oh Mark, it’s not because of your father, though his news was the thing that made my final decision. I don’t feel comfortable with leaving Micah here by himself while you’re gone. I’m going to fix him supper.”

“Supper!’ I gasped. “I forgot all about fixing him supper!”

“I figured you would.” Lou stepped back and looked me up and down. “Oh, I am sorry your father missed this! I just know he’s sick about it – he told me himself.”

“It’s just a dance, Lou!” I declared. “Everyone’s forgetting I’ve already escorted someone to a dance when we were in Santa Fe.”

“That was different, Mark. You know it.”

“Yes.” I picked up the bunch of flowers I’d picked from the front yard. I felt it was special to be giving Lorrie my mother’s marigolds…sort of out of respect for doing for Lorrie what my Pa did for Ma so long ago. “Does Pa know you are doing this?”

“He does.” Lou nodded. “I wouldn’t have any fun there without your father anyhow, Mark. You know that.”

I smiled. “I know.”

She hugged me. “Oh Mark…this is just the beginning! In a few years you’ll be getting married then you’ll welcome your first child in the world and…”

I held up a hand as I again felt heat creeping up into my face. “Wow! I’m not ready to think on that!”

Lou kissed my cheek. “Have fun.” She turned. “And don’t you worry about Micah! He’s in good hands so don’t you hurry back!”

I nodded. “My rifle’s right here should he get out of hand.” I paused before closing the door. “I’m assuming you know how to use it.”

Lou nodded. “I think I can figure it out. Goodbye.”

***
I knocked on the door. Mr. Trent smiled as he greeted me with a firm handshake. “She’s almost ready, Mark. She’s really nervous.”

I nodded as I stepped into the house. “It’s nippy out there! I have the wagon hitched up and extra blankets for the ride. I promise I’ll take it slow and easy.”

“My daughter’s tough, Mark. I’m sure you’ll treat her well.”

Suddenly, the door opened. Lorrie stepped out. I let out a whistle as I looked her up and down. “Oh…wow!” I gasped.

“You mean it, Mark? You really mean it?” Lorrie asked as she hurried forward. Her Pa helped her into her coat.

I stepped forward and handed her the flowers. “They are my mother’s favorite. I thought they were appropriate for the occasion.” I smiled. Lorrie took them and smelled them. “You sure are a lady tonight. You even smell like one.”

I held out my arm. Lorrie took it. I walked her out and helped her over the wheel. I helped her cover with the blankets. As I started around, Mr. Trent called my name. I stopped and turned back to him. “Mark, thank you for what you’re doing for my daughter...I mean, for making her feel like a lady. It’s truly special. And don’t worry – we talked to her about your feelings. I think she understands more than you know.”

I smiled. “Thank you, sir.” I shook his hand. I sat on the seat and picked up the reins. “Are you warm enough?”

Lorrie nodded. She turned and smiled. I was surprised to see tears in her eyes. I was surprised to see how pretty they looked tonight. “Yes,” she whispered. “Thank you, Mark. Thank you so much!”

I waved to Lorrie’s proud parents and started the wagon. We were quiet for awhile as we rode into town. Finally, I cleared my throat. “It’s a cool night tonight.”

“Yes.” Lorrie agreed. “Of course, in February it’s usually snowing…”

“Yes. It has been rather mild this year at that.” We grew quiet as we rode. “Stars are beautiful.”

Lorrie looked up into the sky. “Yes…they are.” She smiled. “I feel like a different person tonight, Mark. I can’t explain it, but I feel so…different.” She sighed. “I’m sorry your first date couldn’t have been with Lucille.”

“I’m not.” I turned and looked at her. I could tell she didn’t believe me. “Really, I’m not. It’s hard enough with you as a friend…I mean look at us – usually we have no trouble talking and tonight we can hardly talk about more than the weather! If I was taking Lucille, I’d have her father behind me with a shotgun and would be so nervous I couldn’t even talk!”

Lorrie laughed. “Oh Mark, I think you are exaggerating a bit!”

I chuckled softly. “I guess I am. But I made you feel better, didn’t I?” Lorrie nodded. “And I mean it, Lorrie. I’m glad my first date was with you. I have no regrets. There’s only one little thing.” I cleared my throat. “I sort of promised the last dance with Lucille.”

Lorrie nodded in understanding. “I think that’s wonderful, Mark. Oh, I do what you to be happy!”

“I am, Lorrie. I am!”

***

We could hear the music as I drove the wagon down Main Street. Lorrie turned in the seat beside me and saw a line of wagons and horses behind us. “Oh Mark, have you ever seen so much?” she cried, suddenly excited. She turned to me and laughed. “Everyone’s here!”

“Not everyone,” I smiled as I remembered Pa being out of town and injured Micah and Lou back at the ranch. “But almost.” I smiled as I pulled the wagon up along the long row of wagons and buggies. Lorie started to jumped down, but I restrained her arm. “You’re acting like a lady tonight, remember?” I smiled as I took her hand and helped her down from the wagon.

I held out my arm for her to take as we started toward the Town Hall at the other end of the street. We could hear fiddles, guitars, and harmonicas as they filtered through the open doors. People were hooping and hollering. A line was formed for controlled access. “What’s going on?” I wondered.

The man in front of us turned. “The Marshal’s checking everyone’s weapons and making sure no one’s bringing in alcohol.” I smiled, happy to know Sam Buckhart was taking his job seriously.

“Oh Mark, this is so exciting!” Lorrie declared as he kept a firm hold on my arm. The line slowly moved forward as I smiled down at her. “Thank you for bringing me!” I grinned and nodded. This evening was turning out better than I had imagined.

We were next in line. “Name please?” Sam Buckhart asked without looking up.

“Mark McCain,” I answered with a smile.

Sam lifted his head. “Mark!” He stood and shook my hand. “I’ll visit with you later. Tomorrow, perhaps? I’m…assuming you have no weapons to check?”

“You assumed right,” I smiled. “My rifles at home with Lou.” Sam raised an eyebrow. “Long…long story.”

“I’ll expect to hear about it when we meet tomorrow.” I nodded and escorted Lorrie inside. Freddie ran smack into me. He turned to apologize. Our eyes met. A big, satisfied grin spread across my face as I saw the swollen, black eye on my best friend.

“Freddie, what happened?” Lorrie gasped when she saw the eye.

Freddie turned to look at Lorrie. “I thought you were…” Freddie cleared his throat. He stared at me, then turned and looked at Lorrie. “Is this…” he started.

“Lorrie,” she answered with a smile. “Who gave you the black eye?”

Freddie looked at me. “A good friend who taught me a lesson…and I sure DID deserve it!” Freddie turned back to look at Lorrie. “Can I have a dance later?” Lorrie nodded. Freddie turned back to me. “Can I…talk to you?”

“I’m busy. Can’t you tell?” I asked with a smile.

“I thought you were going with…” Freddie started.

“I’m going with Lorrie.” Freddie looked from me to Lorrie, then back at me. “Is there…a problem?”

“Oh…n-no! Have you…seen Lucille anywhere?”

I turned and smiled at Lorrie. “No.”

Freddie slowly walked away. Lorrie grabbed my arm with her other hand and turned me around. “Mark, please tell me who hit him!”

I shrugged. “A friend who taught him a lesson.”

“You, Mark?” Lorrie asked then. I smiled. “You hit him for…for me?”

“When a man insults a lady, he should expect to be slugged.”

“Mark?” I lifted my eyebrows. “Thank you.” She smiled.

“Shall we dance?” I led her out onto the dance floor. We danced through that song and the next. I was enjoying so much making her look so happy, but I still hadn’t seen Lucille. I hoped she was coming.

Freddie came up to us then. “Lorrie, may I have the next dance?”

Lorrie looked at me. She turned back and looked at Freddie. “You’d dance with a…horney toad?”

Freddie looked at me, but I only shrugged. He knew he deserved that. “Alright…I had that coming.” Freddie turned. “I’ll get down on my knees and beg forgiveness if I have to, but I’m hoping I don’t.”

“Alright,” Lorrie smiled. “I’ll forgive you.” She took Freddie’s hand and went out onto the dance floor.

I took the opportunity to seek out Lucille. I found her mother and asked her. “I don’t know. She came with us!”

I thanked her and started looking some more. But I didn’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was avoiding me. Maybe she didn’t want to dance with me after all…

After that dance, I took Lorrie back. We got some food and sat down to eat. Suddenly, Gina, a younger girl in class, came and whispered something in my ear. I turned to Lorrie. “Something happened to Lucille. I’ll be right back. Will you be okay?”

“Is she okay?” Lorrie asked.

“I think so. I’ll be back.”

I hurried away and went into a room off the main hall. She sat there with her foot up in a chair. Her mother sat beside her and brushed the hair back from her face. She had tears in her eyes. I hurried forward. “What happened?” I asked.

“Mark, I’m sorry! I went out back for just a minute. It was dark and I didn’t see the rock. I’m afraid it’s sprained.”

I bent down beside her. “Does it hurt?” Lucille shook her head. “Then…why are you crying?”

“Oh Mark, I wanted so badly to dance with you!” she cried. “I was so looking forward to the last dance.”

I smiled at her. And gently shook my head from side to side. “It’s not important, Lucille. It’s important that you will be okay.”

“But I wanted to…this was my night…my first adult dance and-“ She stopped and sniffed.

I stood up. “Doc?” Doc shook his head. “Isn’t there anything we can do, if only for a few minutes? It means so much to her!” I declared.

“You should get back to Lorrie, Mark. Don’t keep her waiting.”

Doc studied her ankle again. “We’ve sent for ice. If I can get the swelling down, she may be able to hobble on it for a couple minutes, but that’s it.”

I bent back down beside her. “You see, Lucille? You’ll get your dance. I promise.” I smiled at her. “We’ll make it happen.”

Lucille smiled. “I could hug you.” She looked at her father who winked and nodded. She gave me a loose hug. It felt so nice. “Now please…go back to Lorrie. This is her night.”

I stood and walked out. I walked back to Lorrie and held out my hand to her. “Would you be my partner in the square dance?” I asked.

Lorrie nodded. “I will.”

We danced two rounds of the square dance. Then Freddie asked for another dance. I couldn’t believe how fast the night passed. When Lorrie sat back down beside me, she turned. “What’s wrong with Lucille?”

“She fell and sprained her ankle, I’m afraid.”

“What about the last dance, Mark?” Lorrie asked.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t look good. She’s pretty upset and embarrassed.”

Lorrie grew quiet. I could tell she was thinking about something. “Mark?” I turned and looked at her. “If I was Lucille, I’d want you with me – not doing some favor for a friend.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

Lorrie sighed. “I want to thank you for tonight. It’s the sweetest thing anyone’s done. The truth is – I’m not comfortable in dresses and my hair all prettied up. I’m who I am and I can’t change that. But tonight…tonight was special. I’ll always cherish it.” Lorrie lowered her head then lifted it back up. “The truth is…Freddie has asked to take me home.”

“He can’t do that!” I argued. “I brought you – I have to take you home.”

“Lucille’s heart is broken. If she feels for you anything like I do, I know that dancing with you was the one thing she was looking forward to tonight. She needs you, Mark. I think….I think you should go to her.”

“Well…are you…sure?”

Lorrie nodded. “Tonight is special. It’s a night we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.” Lorrie laid a hand on my arm. “Make it good.”

“I don’t know if she can dance.”

“She can sit here with you like I am. You can talk. You can be there for her like you were here for me. Oh, Pa!” I watched as Mr. Trent stopped in front of us. Lorrie whispered something in his ear. He nodded. “Thank you, Mark. Thank you for everything!”

“Lorrie, I can’t!” I declared. “I can’t just…”

Mr. Trent turned and smiled to me. “You’ve made my daughter happy. You’ll make her happier if you allow her to make this sacrifice.” I watched them leave.

I slowly walked back to the room. Lucille looked up at me and smiled. “Where’s Lorrie?”

I leaned on the door jam and shook my head. “She was like a different person tonight. Mr. Bennet stood up so I could sit down beside her. “You know…She really was like a princess tonight! Even Freddie danced with her.”

“Freddie?” Lucille lifted her eyebrows in surprise.

I nodded. “She’ll be the same bratty Lorrie tomorrow, but she’ll always have tonight.” I smiled. “She told me to come to you…to sit and talk with you. She’s leaving with her father.” I nodded toward her ankle. “How is it?”

“It hurts.” She sniffed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to dance, Mark.”

“That’s okay.” I smiled. “We can just talk. You want to sit out there and watch the others dance?”

Lucille shook her head. “I like hearing the music though.”

“Well…we can sit back here and talk. We can’t be alone though.” I lifted my eyebrows. Lucille looked toward her father.

I watched as her mother put a hand on her father’s arm and look him in the eye. I saw them talk silently with their eyes like Pa and Milly used to do. Mr. Bennet nodded briefly. “Your mother wants to dance with me. We’ll leave the door open.”

I watched them leave. “He must really trust me…” I mumbled.

“He must.” Lucille laid her head back on the couch and groaned. “Could you put more ice on there?” I nodded and did as she asked. When she was comfortable again, I said…” You’re dress was pretty.”

“It was a lot better before I fell.” Lucille shook her head. “I’m afraid I tore it.”

“No matter.” I smiled. “It was just a dress.” I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“I was just thinking back to my Pa’s first Sweetheart Dance. He and my mother danced every dance together. I imagined mine being as special. In a strange way, it was. I still feel bad though…”

“That you didn’t get to dance with me?” Lucille sniffed as tears filled her eyes again.

“No, not at all,” I answered gently. “I feel bad about leaving Lorrie.”

“Mark, there’s a lot you don’t understand about us ladies.” Lucille smiled. I nodded. “Sometimes, strange things makes us happy. I think Lorrie knew you wanted to be with me tonight, and it made her happy to give that to you. I understand your feelings, but I think it would hurt her if you tried to take that gift back. She had most of the night.”

I nodded. “She sure did.”

Lucille and I sat there for a long time and talked. I was disappointed when Mr. Bennet came in and announced the party was almost over. “They are doing the last dance now.”

It was time for me to put my plan into action. I stood and helped Lucille sit up as best she could. She cringed a bit to the pain in her ankle, but she smiled. “Lucille Bennet, may I have this dance?” I asked as I held my hand out to her.

Lucille took my hand and laughed. “Mark, what…” she started. I raised my eyebrows at her. “Of course.”

I bowed, then took her hands and began dancing around as she sat there. She swayed back and forth. I heard her laugh contentedly. “You look beautiful tonight,” I whispered breathlessly.

“Thank you, Mark. You are very handsome as always!” Lucille declared.

“You dance very well. If I didn’t know better, Miss Bennet, I’d say you have been practicing.” Lucille giggled as we continued dancing.

When the music stopped, I bowed. Then I sat down beside her. “Well?”

She laughed as she took my hand. I turned and looked at Mr. Bennet in the doorway. He smiled and nodded his head so I kept my hand in hers. I watched as Lucille again started crying. “Thank you, Mark! Thank you so much!”

“When that ankle heals, I hope we have a dance again. Because I want to see how your feet dance.” Lucille smiled. I stood. “But for now…I think your folks should take you home.”

Mr. Bennet motioned for me to come out in the hall. I excused myself and followed him out. “I want to thank you for tonight, Mark. You have made my daughter very happy. I’ve never seen anything go through such lengths to make sure everyone’s having a good time. Lorrie was beaming when she left here. I’m happy she allowed you to stay with my daughter. It’s done wonders to lift her spirits…and mine…”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I would like for you to come to our house for dinner next Friday night. I think I’d like to get to know you better. Can you do that?”

“Yes sir.” I nodded. “I’ll be fifteen in a couple months, sir.”

“I know. That’s why I think it’s important we get to know you. I look forward to our time together.”

“May I…say goodnight to your daughter sir?”

Mr. Bennet smiled. He motioned for me to go back into the room. He called his wife out, then he closed the door half-way so we could have some privacy. I walked back over to the couch. “I have to go now. You’re in good hands.”

“What did Father say to you?” Lucille asked suddenly.

I smiled. “He just wanted to know if I could come over for supper next Friday night.”

Lucille smiled. “He really likes you, you know.” I nodded. “I’ll never forget tonight, Mark…Not as long as I live!”

“You just better now!” I declared. “Because I sure won’t.” I stood up. “Well…goodnight.”

I turned and started to walk away. I looked toward the door, then back at Lucille. Then I turned back to her and took her hand. “Thanks for the memories. I kissed her hand gently, then I turned and hurried out.

***
The story doesn’t end here. There is so much more to tell. Pa has some many more stories of his own romance with Ma, which I suspect you’ll hear about shortly. And I…well, I’m afraid I still have many bumps in the road to go over before I finally get there, but I will…eventually. I will admit that when I got back to the ranch that night, both Lou and Micah demanded to know every detail. But as I leaned back against the door and smiled, I just declared, “It’s private!” And oh, how private it was! I shared some details of the dance with Pa when he got back, and yes I did tell him about the kiss. He smiled his approval and said under the circumstances he was very pleased with the way things turned out. But I suspect he was very, very disappointed that he wasn’t able to be there to witness the event…

Because this was the beginning…and only the beginning…of the romance of Mark McCain!

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

Requiem at Missions Springs

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

End of the Hunt

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