As I sat eating my breakfast that morning, I suddenly realized that Pa was staring at me with a strange look on his face. I suddenly sat down my fork and wiped my mouth as I took a sip frommy glass of milk. “What’s wrong, Pa?” I suddenly asked.
Pa just shook his head. “Wrong?” he asked, still staring at me as if he was seeing me for the first time.
“Pa, you’re looking at me like…well, like you’ve never seen me before. What’s wrong?” I suddenly stood to take my plate to the sink and rinse it off. I turned back to look at him as I leaned against the counter. Pa had turned his head to watch me walk to the sink. I cocked my head to one side. “Did I do something wrong again?”
“Huh?” Pa suddenly jumped from his trance and stood up. “No, it’s just that…” Pa suddenly stood in front of me and crossed his arms. “You’ve gotten so big! When did you start looking so much like your mother?”
“I’ve always looked so much like her, Pa.” I stared at him again.
Pa nodded. “Yes,” he stated as he looked down at his finger and toyed with his wedding ring. “You’ve just gotten so big!”
“You thinking back to that day?” I asked.
Pa smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am at that, Mark.”
“Are you…thinking on taking it off?” I asked. I knew he had been grieving for many years. Outside of Mrs. Dodd, whom I was very disappointed to see go, Pa hadn’t really allowed any woman to get close. Pa looked up at me wondering what I meant. “Your ring. Are you thinking of taking it off?”
Pa stared at me. “Why would I do that, Mark? It’s a symbol of the time your mother and I had together as husband a wife. A symbol of-“ Pa suddenly stopped and placed a hand on my cheek. “A symbol of the boy that came as a result of that love.”
I smiled loudly. I knew how Pa felt, but I suddenly remembered the talk at school. “Well,” I said as I turned from him and continued rinsing out my breakfast dishes. “It’s just that Kevin and Jeff were talking at school the other day. Kevin’s Pa got remarried, you know, and he said that his Pa took off his wedding ring because she didn’t want to see it.”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Listen son, if I were to get married, I reckon I’d have to take off this ring, but any woman I may court would have to see this ring as my devotion to my first wife. If she really cares about who I am, she’ll understand that.”
“Oh,” I sighed. “Micah told me you’re still married to Ma, even though she’s in Heaven.”
Pa nodded. “I am. Micah knows that better then me I think. That’s why he had a sit down talk with me when Ann was in town. That’s not to say I’m dead inside though, Mark. I still have feelings and desires. Maybe someday…” Pa suddenly looked over at his desk where my mother’s picture sat.
I gathered up my books and said, “Well, I best get going or I’ll be late.”
“Huh?” Pa suddenly said in a shocked voice. “You mean I don’t have to badger you into going this morning? You’re going to go all on your own?”
“Well,” I shrugged. “Like you said, I’m growing up!”
“Yeah,” Pa eyed me suspiciously and gave me a pat on the backside. I laughed as I hurried out the door. Pa came to the door and leaned against it as he watched me leave.
I waved at him and hurried to school. After I was settled in my seat, Miss Adam called the class to order. Kevin sat down beside me and I turned to whisper to him. “How long after your Ma passed on did your Pa get remarried?”
Kevin stared at me. “Just a couple years. Why?”
“Oh. My Ma’s been gone now for about six years now and my Pa-“ I started to explain.
“Mark McCain, I said where’s your homework?” Miss. Adams asked.
I had been busy talking. “Oh. Homework ma’am?” I asked.
“Your arithmetic homework.”
“Oh,” I said. I opened my tablet and stared at it. My homework was missing. “I did it, Miss Adams! I promise I did! It-it must have…Well, you can ask my Pa!’
“Mark,” I suddenly heard from the back. I turned to see Pa standing there. He stuck out his finger and drew it towards him. I stood up and excused myself from the classroom. “Maybe I spoke too soon about your growing up.” Pa held up the paper. “I found it on the kitchen floor this morning. I don’t really have time to run this into town, son.”
“Oh,” I said as I reached out for it.
Pa pulled it out of my reach and studied it. “When I picked it up I started looking at it. Seems you got every other problem wrong.”
“Oh,” I said again. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
Pa handed it to me. “You’ll redo it tonight.” I nodded. Pa turned to leave. “Oh, and no talking, boy!”
Boy, nothing gets past my Pa! I walked back inside and took the paper up to Miss Adams’ desk. “I forgot it at home. Boy, do I have the best Pa or what?”
The kids laughed. I sat down at the desk suddenly wondering what made Pa bring it all the way into town. He normally would have just left it at home and made me take my punishment. At lunch I hurried into town to see if I could get something to eat at the café. I saw Pa’s horse tied outside the Marshal’s office. Hurrying inside, I saw Micah sipping coffee. “My Pa’s been here all morning?” I asked.
Micah nodded. “He came to talk to you this morning about my Ma.”
Micah sat down his cup and smiled. “What makes you say that?” he asked.
“Well, first of all he was looking at me funny this morning and I saw him playing with his ring and staring at her picture. He only does that when he’s thinking on her. Then when I forgot my homework at home, he brought it all the way into town.” I folded my arms and shook my head. “So, I just figure Pa came into town to talk to you about stuff.”
“Well, I’d say he has me all figured out, Micah!” Pa suddenly stated as he walked in the front door. “You came to check up on me?”
“Well, I…” I walked up to Pa. “You forgot to fix my lunch this morning.”
Pa laughed. “And you would like to invite me and Micah to the café for lunch, is that it?”
“Well, I guess.”
Pa laughed. “Mark, you are grown up enough to fix your own lunch, but since I’ve always done it, I guess that was fair enough. Let’s go.”
I smiled as I ran back to school. It always made me happy to have lunch with my Pa and Micah in the middle of a school day. After school, I walked with Kevin into town. “I think my Pa’s lonely,” I stated.
“Lonely?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah. You know…for a wife,” I stated.
Kevin laughed. “How do you know that?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “It’s just the way he looks at me. I know he misses Ma, but I think it’s more then that. I think it’s hard on him having to be both a Ma and Pa. He does a lot of the ranching and a lot of the woman’s work because he wants me to concentrate on school now. He works so hard and I figure he deserves to have that.”
Kevin nodded. “Mark, my Pa remarried two years ago. Not because he was lonely for a female, but because he needed help. There were three of us kids and I was the oldest. It was hard for him to run a ranch and do all the mothering and fathering besides. He married this woman out of convenience, Pa explained.”
“Oh,” I sighed. “Well, I reckon Pa could do that. But, wouldn’t it be better if they loved each other?” I didn’t know much about this adult stuff, but I was trying to figure that out.
Kevin shrugged. “My folks love each other. Pa said it’s been growing since they got married.” Kevin stopped then and turned around to look at me. “You know Mark, I’ve been around and listened to lots of different adults talking about romance and such. I could tell you a few things.”
“Yeah?” I asked suddenly curious. “Like what?”
“Well,” Kevin folded his arms and thought. “If your Pa does run into a woman that he thinks is pretty, can you tell it?”
“Oh yes,” I nodded. “There was this one woman in town about a year ago. She was awful pretty and I could tell Pa thought so too cause of the way he was looking at her.” I smiled as I remembered back. Mrs. Claremont was her name.
“Well,” Kevin nodded in satisfaction. “If he looks that way at another woman, I’d say you need to make sure you let them be alone as much as possible.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “But where are we going to find a woman like that?”
Kevin shrugged. “I gotta go meet my Pa at the Blacksmith’s. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Kevin waved to me.
I walked toward the General Store, but suddenly stopped when I saw the stage coming. I went to see if there was anyone interesting coming into town.
Suddenly, the stagecoach driver was yelling for Micah to help with a woman. I stared as they helped her off the stage. She sure looked sick! But she finally stood up and said she’d be okay. To my horror, she suddenly collapsed right there in front of me! Suddenly, she said “Lucas.” She said is so quietly, though, that we weren’t sure we heard her right. “Lucas McCain!”
I stared in shock as Micah helped her into the hotel. I had to get my Pa right away – that much I knew! A strange woman had just come in on the stage looking very ill, and she was asking for my Pa!
I ran to the General Store. “Pa, Pa!” I yelled as I hurried in.
Pa turned from where he was talking to Hattie. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Mark, calm down!” he demanded.
“But Pa, there’s something-I mean, there’s someone-“ Suddenly, I just grabbed his hand and hurried him toward the door.
“Wow, there boy!” Pa suddenly demanded. He bent down to my level. “Now, calm down and tell me what the problem is.”
“A lady…she just got off of the stage and she’s sick!” I turned and looked toward the door. I pointed to it. “Pa, she’s at the hotel and she’s asking for you!”
“What?” Who?” Pa asked.
“I don’t know, Pa!” I cried excitedly. “I don’t know who she is, but she said your name as Micah took her inside.”
“Okay, okay,” Pa held up his hands in defeat. “Come on.”
We hurried inside the hotel and Pa asked Eddie about a sick woman. He gave Pa the room number then I started hurrying up the stairs. Pa put a restraining arm on me to pull me back behind him. “Just calm down, son!” Pa declared.
But as soon as the door opened, I could tell Pa recognized her. He hurried to her bed and grabbed her hands. Her name was Mrs. Sanford, and Pa had known her a long time ago – 14 years ago!
I smiled at her, and I watched Pa. He was giving her that look – like he thought she was pretty. I suddenly wondered about her – if she had a husband mainly.
Pa suddenly told me he’d meet me at Miss Hattie’s later. He gave me that look that told me that order was final.
I walked outside the hotel. Micah was standing outside his office. “Micah, who is she?” I asked.
Micah shrugged. “Someone your father knew a long time ago, I guess. She’s a widow, I know.”
I suddenly stared at Micah as a smile suddenly spread across my face. “She’s a widow? Are you sure, Micah?”
“She told me she was,” Micah nodded. “She’s traveling all alone.” Micah studied me for a second. “Mark, why is that good news?”
“Oh, uh…I better go!” I hurried away and ran to the General Store. As I was carrying some of the supplies out to the wagon, Pa came over. I ran up to him.
He walked so fast into the store that I had to run to keep up with him. “Pa, who is she?” I asked excitedly as he walked up to the counter.
Pa picked up the big bag of potatoes. “I told you her name’s Mrs. Sanford, son.” He grunted as he threw the sack of potatoes in the wagon.
I ran along side him all the way out and back in. “Well, how does she know you?” I asked.
“We were really good friends a long time ago,” Pa answered as he carried out another big bag of something and threw it out on the wagon.
“Well, what’s she doing here?” I asked as I ran beside him back into the store.
Pa suddenly stopped and I bumped into him. Pa sighed and put a hand on my shoulder. “When I’m ready to tell you something about her, I’ll let you know son. Now, get to work loading this wagon!”
“But Pa, I just-“I started.
“Mark,” Pa shot me a warning look.
I sighed. “Yes sir.” I guess I’d have to figure this one out on my own.
After supper, I started on my homework when I was done I closed my book and stood up. “Okay if I go outside until time for bed, Pa?” I asked.
Pa looked up from where he was reading. “Bring me your math. I want to check it.” I did and he erased several of the problems. “And don’t forget to redo the math from last night.”
I stared down at the pad. “Pa, I hate converting fractions into decimals, and you know it! I just don’t understand it!”
Pa shook his head and laid down the book. “Come on, son.” We sat down at the table and started working on the math problems. We got them all done for my homework that was due in the morning. “We’ll work on those others tonight,” Pa stated.
The next morning, I dawdled instead of hurrying out the door like yesterday. Pa again looked at me and shook his head. I put my jacket on and he sighed, his cup in midair. “I swear, Mark, I just can’t seem to keep you in clothes.” He stood and walked over to me studying the jacket. “We need to get you some bigger clothes soon.”
“Well Pa, I reckon missing one day of school won’t hurt much. We can just-“I started.
Pa put his cup in the sink and grabbed his hat and gun. “I need to go to the bank this morning so I’ll ride into town with you. I’m buying three head from Oat later today.”
We rode into town together and I went with Pa into the bank. As we walked out, Pa told me to get to school. “You want me to meet you here after school, Pa?” I asked hopefully.
“No son, I won’t be in town too long,” Pa answered as he put his money in his pocket. “I’ll meet you at the ranch later.”
“I figured we’d have supper at the hotel,” I suddenly argued.
Pa stared at me. “It’s only Tuesday, Mark,” he pointed out. “If we eat there tonight, what’ll we do Saturday night?”
I didn’t see any problem in that! “Eat there again,” I answered hopefully.
Pa laughed at me. He patted me on the back. “You’d do anything to get out of doing dishes, wouldn’t ya?” He gave me a little push, meaning that I better get going to school. Pa asked me to stop by Hattie’s after school and check on the banking powder.
I started to leave, but turned back around. There was no time like the present to get the ball rolling. I told Pa to tell Mrs. Sanford I said hi and I hoped she was feeling better. That would show that I liked her, which I did. Then I’d work on my plan after school.
I hurried off to school but didn’t get there until the bell was ringing. I sat down next to Kevin and gave him the thumbs up sign. “What’s that for?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you at recess!” Then I quickly placed a finger to my lips.
When recess came, me and Kevin hurried outside and I dragged him away from the other kids. “A lady arrived on the stage yesterday.” Kevin nodded at me with understanding. I looked around as if there were eavesdroppers. “I think my Pa likes her, you know?”
Kevin grinned at me. “What are you gonna do?”
“I’m going to invite her over for supper the first chance I get.”
“You mean, have her taste your Pa’s cooking? Oh yeah, and she’ll think he’s such a bad cook that she’ll feel sorry for you and-“Kevin started.
I rolled my eyes. “No, no, no!” I shook my head. “That would never work! My Pa’s a good cook!”
“Really?” Kevin asked doubtfully.
“Really.” I sighed. “But I’m going to invite her over tomorrow night, then I’ll offer to do the dishes while Pa takes her outside for a walk.”
“You what?” Kevin suddenly hollered out. “Does your Pa know anything about this?”
“Of course not!” I answered. “He’d never allow it.”
“So, how are you gonna explain her coming for supper?” Kevin asked.
“Well, I’ll tell him I invited her. It’ll be too late for him to say no anyhow.” Kevin gave me a look like he couldn’t believe I was so sneaky. “Oh, I’m doing it for a good cause! I think it’s about time for my Pa to find someone special, don’t you?”
Kevin shrugged. “Mark,” he shook his head. “Good luck! I wish I could be there when you tell your Pa!”
After school, I hurried over to Hattie’s. She was with a customer, so I looked at the candy while I waited. I saw some strange little candies and asked her about them. “You sprinkle them on top of stuff like cake,” she explained.
“Oh, well I best have some of that too. Pa’s baking a cake tonight!” I declared excitedly. I stared at the candy. “I sure wish I hadn’t spent all my allowance already! A piece of candy sounds good!”
Hattie smiled and held the candy jar out to me. It was tempting, but I needed all the help I could get, and doing anything that would go against my Pa was completely out of the question at the moment! I hurried out the door with my bags, ready for my mission. I must admit that I was a little nervous, but as I looked around and spotted her I couldn’t help but smile. This was for a good purpose, after all!
She came up to me and told me she was feeling better. She said it was all on account of seeing my Pa! That made me happy – maybe I wouldn’t have to work too hard after all! She wondered where my Pa was. I told her he was back home rounding up some stray steers. He had said something about that this morning I think. I told her we were baking a cake, and that was a good leading up to what I wanted to ask her.
"Say you oughta come out for supper, Mrs. Sanford. Pa and me, we're good cooks." There is was out.
You know what she said? She said she’d love too! I told her we were making a chocolate cake. She informed me that she had a special recipe for chocolate cake. I suddenly broke out in a big smile. She was sounding better by the minute! "Gee, how about coming out for supper tomorrow?"
She said she’d love to again. Everything was going just as I planned! "Thanks Mrs. Sanford, I'll tell Pa. He'll pick you up. I'll see you tomorrow night," I shouted to her as I ran off. I best get home and tell Pa! I wanted that house spotless tomorrow night!
As I hurried home, I thought about how to approach Pa about this. I decided that the best way was to come right out and tell him. I rushed inside. “Pa!” I cried excitedly as he sat at the table working on the books. “Pa, I invited Mrs. Sanford to supper tomorrow night. I said that you’d pick her up!”
“You did what?” Pa exclaimed. He actually took it better then I thought he would.
But I wasn’t going to give him time to argue with me. “I invited her over for supper. She’s gonna come over and taste our cooking and baking!” I announced this in a no-nonsense attitude. I wanted him to understand that the matter was already settled. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow night!
“Well that’s find son, but don’t you think you should’ve talked to me about it first?” He lightly scolded me, but I thought I was getting off pretty easy, seeing as how I was taking quite a lot for granted here!
“Why? She’s an old friend of yours, isn’t she?” I pointed out. “Well, I figured you’d invite her over right off! Make her feel right at home!” I scolded Pa, pointing out the truth on how he should be treating a lady. “She’s sure pretty,” I commented softly, pointing out the benefits of inviting her over. “She likes chocolate cake too! Says she’s got her own special recipe!”
. Pa laughed in defeat. “Alright Mark, I probably should’ve thought of it myself. Didn’t think you’d jump the gun on me like this though.”
Suddenly, I slapped my hat down on the table and sat down. It was time for Pa and me to have a little talk. I wanted him to understand how I felt about her. “Pa, I like her,” I suddenly announced. Pa suddenly turned and looked at me. “Well, I think she's a real lady,” I tried to explain to him. “I think I like her like Mrs. Dodd.” I was standing up excited now, leaning in closer to Pa. “Well, do you think she can make trout flies?” I asked as I honed in even closer to Pa.
“Mark, you’re the most fickle person I ever met! How do I know if she can make trout flies?” He suddenly asked. He said we needed to get the cake in the oven.
I stood over him as he worked on the cake. He began putting the eggs in the batter. “Pa, now don’t you get any shells in there!” I gently reminded him. I had just given him a few pointers while he worked on the cake.
Pa suddenly turned to me. “Mark, how many cakes have you baked?” he asked.
“None,” I answered.
“And how many have I baked?”
“Well, lots,” I answered. “But this one’s special.”
Pa slapped down the spoon and looked at me. He suddenly raised his eyebrows at me. “Go do your chores.” He pointed at the door.
“Well, alright,” I said hesitatingly. I started for the door but turned around. “But Pa, make sure you don’t burn it and make sure you don’t undercook-“ I suddenly stopped as Pa quickly turned and narrowed his eyes at me.
I nodded silently and cautiously walked backwards toward the door. “Alright, sir. I’m going.” Then I turned and walked out.
When I finished my chores, I got the mop bucket out and filled it with soapy water. Then I hurried inside. Pa looked up at me from the kitchen where he was working on supper. “Mark, what are you doing?”
“Well, I’m gonna mop the floor,” I answered calmly.
“Son, you always mop the floor on Saturday morning, and even then I have to practically threaten you to get you to do it,” Pa stated as he crossed his arms and walked toward me.
“I know,” I said defensively. “But we have a guest coming over for supper.”
“A guest, huh?” Pa sighed and put an arm around me as he pushed me gently down in a chair. “You’ve never volunteered to clean the floor before.”
“Well, I-“I smiled and looked at him, trying to explain.
“Well, it’s time for you to put the icing on the cake, son.”
Gee, the first time ever in my twelve years on this earth that I was willing to mop the floor and he says no! What’s a guy to do to get a break?
After supper I worked hard at straightening up the cupboards as I put the dishes away. I made sure every dish was clean. Pa came in from bedding down the stock and just looked at me. “Homework done, son?”
“No sir. I’ll start on it as soon as I’m done with this.” I went back to checking the cupboards.
Suddenly Pa grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the table. “You’ll do it now, son.” He shook his head and went to clean his rifle.
The next day I was really nervous. I left for school early while my Pa just shook his head at me. I think he knew what my plan was, but I don’t think he wanted to explain anything to me. I rode into town and hurried over to the hotel. I saw Mrs. Sanford was in the dining room. I smiled and rushed up to her. “Hello, Mrs. Sanford.”
“Mark, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“Oh.” I tried to think of a good reason quickly. “I was just making sure you were still planning on coming over for supper tonight.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “What time will your Pa be picking me up?”
“Oh,” I swallowed. “He’ll be here around five, I guess. I hope you don’t mind if the house isn’t spotless.” She just looked at me questionably. “Well, I mean we’ve been awful busy what with the ranch and all and we haven’t had time to get everything spotless. I-“
She suddenly laughed and shook her head. “It must keep you two busy trying to do it all by yourself.”
“Oh, well my Pa hires ranch hands from time to time, but we can usually do it all by ourselves.” I suddenly stopped, realizing that sounded like we didn’t need anyone else. “Well, I mean-“
“Mark!” I heard Micah call from across the room. I walked over to him. Apparently he’d been listening. He put an arm around me and said, “I think you’re trying too hard.”
“Huh?” I asked innocently.
“Shouldn’t you…um…be getting off to school?”
I turned back toward Mrs. Sanford. “Well, I-“ I saw Micah’s stern expression. “Yes sir.” I turned and tipped my hat to Mrs. Sanford. Then I left.
At recess, Kevin hurried up to me. “Well?” he asked. “How did your plan go?”
I grinned. “She’s coming over for supper tonight. I think she likes Pa. I think Pa may like her. She’d certainly make me a good Ma!”
Kevin shook his head. “Mark the matchmaker!” he declared. “Next time my Pa needs a wife, I’ll tell him to save his money on that Mail order stuff – just hire you to help him.”
“Oh, stop it Kevin!” I declared.
But as soon as school was out, I jumped on my horse and rode through town again. I saw Mrs. Sanford coming out of the General Store. She waved at me and smiled. “See you tonight, Mark!”
“Okay, Mrs. Sanford!” I hollered to her as I waved.
I hurried home and could already smell the chicken frying. Pa looked up from the stove. “Mark,” he dried his hands on the towel. “Son, as soon as I get the rest of this chicken on to fry, I want you to watch it closely. Just cook it until it’s done. I’ve shown you how to do it.”
I turned and stared at the stove. “Oh, but Pa! What if I burn it or-or if it’s still bloody in the middle?” I said.
Pa put his hands on his hips. “Son, you are the one who invited her! I can’t do everything!”
I looked at the chicken, remembering the last time I had cooked it. It had burned. “Well, I-“
Pa raised his hands to show me how he looked. “Do you want me to go pick her up this way, or would you like me to get cleaned up first?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll come back as soon as I’m cleaned up and check, Mark. Okay?”
Pa came out with a clean shirt on. “Well, aren’t you gonna put on your tie or something?”
“Mark,” Pa tapped me on the head. “You just invited her over for dinner.”
“Yes, but-“ I stopped when he once again flashed me one of his looks. “Yes sir.”
Pa put his hat on and picked up his rifle. “The potatoes are all done; you just need so mash them. The beans will be done in about twenty minutes. Just take it all off the stove. In about half an hour start putting everything on the table.”
I couldn’t’ believe he was leaving me like this! What was I thinking! “Well, when am I supposed to get cleaned up?” I suddenly asked.
Pa laughed. “Oh, you’re a boy; you’re expected to be dirty.” I gave him a cold stare. “I’m sure you’ll find time.” He opened the door. “See you later, son.” I think he was enjoying my misery!
As I sat the table, I tried my best to get all the plates and silverware on the table perfectly. I remember Mrs. Adams teaching us in school one day about dishes and how they go, but that was mainly for the girls. She wanted the boys to watch so they could see how it was done. She didn’t believe dishes and cleaning and such was just women’s work. Pa said she had a lot of funny ideas, but she was a good school teacher. I kept changing the spoon and fork around though, trying to remember which way was right.
I hurried to get everything on the table. I wasn’t sure if the chicken was done or not, but I just looked up toward the ceiling and sent up a prayer that it was all good. I had quickly ran into the room and scrubbed my face and even got behind my ears. I was just buttoning my shirt when Pa rode back into the yard.
What should I do? Should I stay looking busy? Should I- All of a sudden, I was so nervous that the gravy bowl splattered to the floor. I groaned and bent over to pick the bowl up. It was this scene that Pa and Mrs. Sanford walked in on. I gasped and raised my head to look at them as they walked in the door. I was kneeled on the floor over the mess. Mrs. Sanford shot a hand to her mouth as she tried to keep from laughing. Pa shook his head and raised an eyebrow at me but managed to keep a straight face.
“Well, now this is my boy!” Pa stated as he hurried to the kitchen to get some towels to mop up the mess. “I suppose you can mop the floor tonight, Mark.”
I was horrified! I had wanted everything to be perfect, and I had dropped the gravy. I cleaned up the mess as Pa hurried to make more gravy. “It’s alright, Lucas,” Mrs. Sanford suddenly declared with a shake of her head. “I can eat potatoes without gravy.”
“Oh, it won’t take me long to-“Pa started.
“Nonsense!” she smiled at me. “It’s okay, Mark. I don’t like gravy all that much anyhow.”
I stood up from the floor with the dirty towels in my hand. I ran to the backdoor and threw them in the wash tub. Hurrying back in, I quickly sat down. Pa reached out his hand for mine and bowed his head in prayer.
I tried my best to let the rest of supper go smoothly, but I was so nervous I made several mistakes – like sticking my elbow in my potatoes, dropping a piece of chicken on the table, and yes…as horrifying as it was…dropping Mrs. Sanford’s cake on the floor, barely missing her dress!
As I sat at the table, Mrs. Sanford suddenly declared that the meal was lovely. She even declared that Pa’s cake was better then her own special recipe! Pa knew I needed some compliments because I was feeling pretty embarrassed about the night. He told her that without my special frosting, it would have been just another cake. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to brag on my Pa more. “Tain’t so! Pa’s bakin’s the best there is! I wouldn’t want anyone else to do the cookin’ around here!”
Now, I think that they both knew I was trying to set them up to courting, and they both gave me a surprised look. I suddenly realized that what I said didn’t come out right. “I mean…” I started, but just like the rest of my evening, I was going to just have to chalk this up to disaster too! I decided to get started on the dishes. Surely I could do that without too much trouble!
But then Mrs. Sanford offered to help me. I couldn’t’ have that – it was part of my plan. “Pa, Why don’t you take Miss Sanford for a walk?” I wouldn’t dare order him to do anything, but I was doing that in my sweet kind of way.
“I believe he wants to get rid of us,” she stated. Boy, did she get that right! I wanted them both together outside. I’ve always heard tell that there’s something romantic about a man and woman walking in the moonlight! As Pa started out the door, he turned and gave me a look. I could tell he knew exactly what I was doing, but I just shrugged and grinned, playing innocent.
They were gone for a long time. I was able to get all the dishes done and the floor mopped while they were gone. I looked out the window at one point and saw them standing in the yard. Pa was helping her up into the wagon. I hurried over to the table as he started toward the house and picked up my book to make it look like I’d been studying. Pa poked his head inside. “I’m taking Mrs. Sanford back to town, Mark.”
“Alright,” I nodded, pretending to be deep in concentration on my book.
Pa came inside and walked over to the table. “Make sure you’re in bed by nine o’clock.” I nodded. “And um…” Pa rubbed his nose. I saw him do it from the corner of my eye. “It may be a little easier to read that there history book if it was turned right side up.”
I suddenly stared at Pa who had a big grin on his face. “Oh,” I stated as I turned it around. Then I closed it and slapped it on the table. “Good night, son.”
I was in bed when Pa finally got home, but I wasn’t asleep. Pa quietly came inside and came into the bedroom. “Pa?” I called in the dark.
Pa took his boots off then came over to my bed as he unbuttoned his shirt. “Why are you awake, son?”
I sighed. “Pa, I really messed up tonight!”
Pa grinned. “Mrs. Sanford knew you were trying to make everything perfect for her, son. She appreciates it. I just think you’re trying too hard.”
“Well, I just want her to like us,” I tried to explain lightly.
He sat down on the side of my bed and brushed my hair back. “She does like us, son.”
“Do you like her, Pa?” I asked suddenly.
“Of course I do.”
“I mean do you LIKE her?” I asked a bit annoyed with him.
Pa sighed. “Mark, I’ve known her for many years, even before your mother.” That’s all he’d say. “Now go to sleep!” he demanded.
The next morning was Thursday. I rode to school through town and saw Mrs. Sanford standing in front of the hotel. She waved at me as I passed. I jumped off my horse and tipped my hat to her. Holding the hat in my hand, I suddenly felt very nervous. “I-I want to thank you for coming out for supper last night,” I stated with a smile.
She smiled back. “Well thank you Mark!”
“And-“ I lowered my head. “I-I’m sorry that…well, that I made so many mistakes.”
She put a hand on my shoulder. “You were fine, Mark. You’re just behaving like a twelve-year old boy.”
“Well, I-“ I swallowed as I looked around. “Will you have supper with us again s-soon?” I asked.
“We’ll talk about it, Mark.” She smiled at me and softly as she put a hand on my cheek. “You are a sweet boy, so much like your father!”
“You…I mean, you think my father’s…sweet?” I squeaked out.
She nodded. “I think he’s very special, Mark.”
Suddenly, Micah was there again. “Mark, aren’t you late for school?”
“Well, I-“ I turned and looked back at Mrs. Sanford.
“Seems to me that your Pa doesn’t care for you riding through town because you tend to be late.” I nodded, knowing that was the truth. “Well, you best get along now, boy, before you’re kept after and you’re Pa gets sore at ya'.”
“Yes sir.” I put my hat on and touched it as I said goodbye to Mrs. Sanford. Then I raced off toward the school.
When I got there, school had already started. I had to miss my first recess because I was late. But at lunch Kevin again came up to ask me how it went last night. I looked around. “Well, I think it’s working.”
“You mean they took a walk out alone?” Kevin asked.
I nodded. “And they were gone for a long time!”
“Well,” Kevin declared as he took a bite of his sandwich. “Looks like your plan’s working out quite well!”
I nodded. “Only, I made a lot of mistakes last night. I spilled the gravy all over the floor, dropped my chicken on the table, stuck my elbow in the mashed potatoes and almost dropped a piece of chocolate cake in her lap!” I declared.
“Well, that’s great!” Kevin declared.
“It’s great?” I suddenly stared at him.
“It shows her that you really need a mother to teach you not to do those things – a mother to clean up after ya,” Kevin declared again.
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it made sense!
“So, did they kiss?” Kevin suddenly asked.
I screwed up my face at that. “Kiss?”
“It’s all part of courting – kissing!” Kevin stated.
“Oh, well my Pa wouldn’t do that where I could see I don’t think. I doubt they did…” I didn’t really want to think about that.
“Well, you better get used to it if they did, cause your gonna see lots of it if they start courting!” Kevin declared.
Lucky for him, Mrs. Adams rang the bell just then. I was about ready to clobber my friend.
After school, I rode back through town again. But this time, I didn’t even have to look for Mrs. Sanford. She ran up to me this time! “Mark, I have an important letter for your Pa.” She gave it to me and kissed my cheek. “Will you make sure he gets this as soon as you get home?”
I touched my cheek where she had just kissed me. “Yes ma’am!” I declared as I jumped back on my horse and raced for home!
I hurried home, waving the letter over my head. “Pa, Pa! I got an important letter for you from Mrs. Sanford.” I jumped off my horse and raced to the door of the house. Pa met me at the door. I gasped for breath. “Pa, it’s an important letter. She said to give it to you right away!” I declared.
Pa took the letter from me and opened it to read. I stood beside the door as he read it, deep in thought. She was so pretty and so nice…and-
Pa suddenly announced he had to go meet Mrs. Sanford outside town because she had something to say to him. I could only imagine what that something was! “She kissed me,” I stated dreamily.
“How’s that?” Pa asked.
“She kissed me when she gave me the note. Right in front of everybody. Right on Main Street." I stated.
“So?” Pa asked.
Okay, it was time to stop playing these games! I was going to come clean with Pa and tell him just what I wanted to happen! I turned to face him. "Well, I don't want you to get the idea that her kissin' me had anything to do with it. But,” I turned from him and walked away. I couldn’t look at him while I said this after all! “Well I've been thinkin' it over, and it wouldn't be so bad if she stayed in town and you started paying her court."
There. I said it and it was out in the open! “Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself, boy?” Pa asked from behind me.
I wasn’t done yet, I had a couple more things to explain to him. "All the other kids have mothers. I don't see why I should be any different. Besides you must be awful sick just seeing me every time you turn around. So...well, it's okay with me."
Suddenly Pa let out a nervous laugh as he threw his hat on the table and sat down to talk to me. “Listen Mark,” he started seriously. “First of all, I'll never get sick of seeing you around. As for a woman in the house, well, Lord knows I've givin' it plenty of thought. But son, you just can't make things like that happen. They take a little time and a little thinking. And you shouldn't rush into it."
Now, I must admit that that’s not exactly the answer that I was hoping for. But that’s the answer I got. I wasn’t going to give up hope though. There was something important Mrs. Sanford wanted to talk to him about.
Pa told me to do my homework while he was gone. I did. He was gone for quite awhile too. I finished my homework and started on the chores. It was late when Pa finally came riding in on his horse. As he climbed down, I could tell he was suddenly very sad. “Pa?” I asked as I took Razor’s reins. “Pa, what’s wrong?”
Pa acted like he didn’t even hear me. “I got some soup from Hattie’s since I was so late getting home. You can just heat it up and we’ll eat.” He took Razor. “It’s okay, I’ll unsaddle him, son.”
“Pa? Is Mrs. Sanford okay?” I suddenly asked.
Pa suddenly darted his head around and stared at me. A realization fell across his face as if he had just realized something horrible. “She’s fine son,” he answered. “She’s…” He swallowed hard. “She’s in jail.”
“She’s what?” I asked. “Why?”
Pa turned and stared at me. He put a hand on my shoulder and shook his head. “Mark, go warm up the stew. I’ll be in and we’ll talk over supper.”
I did as told. When he came in he took his hat off with a loud sigh and sat down at the table. I set a bowl of stew in front of him. As I sat down, I asked him what was going on. He held up his hand and took my hand and bowed his head. He prayed that God would deliver His mercy on Mrs. Sanford. I looked up and stared at him. “Pa, what’s wrong?”
“Okay,” Pa took a bit of his stew. “I’m going to tell you, son, but I don’t want interruptions until I’m done.” I nodded.
“She’s been using us, son. Both of us. I could handle it better if it was just me she was using, but…for her to use you in her sick little game is just too much! I never knew she was capable of it!” Pa took a sip from his coffee as I let him talk. “She killed a man tonight – murdered in cold blood – with my rifle.” He banged his fist on the table in anger. “She lured me out there to make it look like I was the bad guy, then she shot with my own gun!” He banged his fist on the table again.
I reached over and put my hand on top of his fist. “Pa?” I didn’t see him this angry often, and it really hurt me to see him this way now. “Pa, I’m sorry.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “What will happen to her now?” I asked.
“She’ll be tired and sentenced. She’ll probably never be free for cold-blooded murder, but most judges don’t like to hang women, so she’ll probably get out of that, maybe even get paroled in a few years.” Pa let another sigh escape him.
I ate the last of my stew and threw my spoon down. “I’m sorry, Pa.” I knew I’d said it again, but I was upset myself. I felt like I had lost something great. All my dreams had crumbled.
Pa finished up his stew. “How about some of that chocolate cake?”
At the mention of it, my stomach turned. “I don’t want it,” I stated angrily. I stood up and turned to go to my room. But Pa grabbed my arm and turned me around.
“Mark?” He looked into my eyes, but I looked away. “What is it son?”
“Well, like you said. She used me too. She…” I shook my head and tried to walk away again, but Pa held tightly to my wrist and raised his eyebrows questionably to me.
He pulled out his chair and pulled my chair up beside his. Then he sat me down and put his hands on my shoulders. “What is it son?”
“Well, I…” I swallowed. “I was just trying to do something good to…to help you. I know you get lonely…for a woman, I mean and-“I lowered my head, not quite sure how to explain this.
Pa put his hand under my chin and lifted my head up, forcing me to look at him. He smiled painfully at me. “You are right, son. I do get lonely. I miss your mother.” Pa suddenly put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him in a hug. “Son, I’m so grateful for what you tried to do, but you can’t force this to happen any more then I can. God will send me another woman when the time is right – He’ll know when I’m ready.”
“I feel like this is my fault,” I said quietly as I looked down at the floor.
“It’s not your fault, son. She came here intending this very thing to happen. She was in love with someone else and in her demented little mind, she thought she could help him by killing another man.” Pa sighed. “She just picked the wrong man to help her.”
“I understand, Pa. I know you really like her though.”
“I knew her a long time ago before your mother. We were courting then. I guess I was just remembering. I wasn’t in love with her…just…lonely.” Pa looked at me and smiled. “I know this is hard for you to understand, and I’m sorry I’m not explaining it very well.”
I stood up. “I’ll do the dishes, Pa. But,” I looked toward the cake. “You can give that cake to the pigs! I don’t want it!”
Pa laughed. “Alright Mark.”
It took us a while to get over her. She had hurt me in a way no other person had ever hurt me, and that’s what hurt Pa the most. Someone he had once loved had used me to get what she wanted. But after her trial, Pa watched her board the stage for a woman’s institution back East. He allowed me to watch her leave since she had used me in her game. I saw her in chains as she boarded the stage. She was no longer pretty. She was angry and sad…so sad…Pa said she’d probably never see the light of day again – at least for many years. The judge had been very unforgiving with her and ordered her to spend the rest of her life behind bars. He called her evil because she had used her past relationship with Pa’s trust and his young son’s sudden need to help his Pa to her selfish gain.
I was there when the judge banged that gavel on the desk. It was final. The room was quiet as Mrs. Sanford cried silently.
Pa and I stood and watched her get on the stage. She stuck her head out and waved to me. “Thanks for the chocolate cake, Mark,” she smiled at me. I turned away and buried my head in Pa’s middle. He protectively bent down and picked me up as we walked sadly and quietly down the street – as far away from her memory as we could get.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Meeting at Midnight
around The McCain Ranch