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

Sheer Terror Episode 113
Mark’s story

I reckon this story could have been called “Forgetfulness” because it seems that I was being quite forgetful! You see, I was in the middle of my month-long punishment for having put my life in danger by deliberately disobeying orders, and I wasn’t enjoying it at all! I told Pa as much, and he told me that I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying it – if I was, he’d have to come up with some other way of punishing.

Pa said when I got done with my chores and after supper, I could get right on my homework. Then I’d go to bed. That’s the way things had been, every day, for the past three weeks. No time for fun things like fishing or riding the ranch, unless I was working side by side with my Pa.

By the time I got my assigned chores done, Pa had supper on the table. After grace, I asked him casually if we were going to have supper in town Friday evening like we used to, before I was sentenced to hard labor for my crime, but I wouldn’t let Pa hear the last part of my thought. “You know Pa,” I said between bites of roast beef. “You haven’t taken Miss Milly to the hotel for supper in two weeks – what with all the ranching work you’ve had lately. I’d say it’s about time you do just that.”

Pa sat down his fork and crossed his arms on the table. He leaned forward and looked straight in my eyes. “Hm…Since when did my thirteen year old boy know more about courting women then his old man?” I just grinned at Pa and shrugged. Pa laughed. “Alright son, after school tomorrow, ask Milly if she’d be interested in supper at the hotel – we may even let you come along for good behavior.

After supper, I had to do dishes. Then I sat down at the table to work on my homework. The fact that I had a history test in the morning NEVER crossed my mind…

…Until about 3:00 the next morning. I woke up and it just hit me. Pa would skin me alive if he knew I had forgotten that one! As quietly as I could, I snuck out of the bedroom and made my way to the table. I lit the lantern and sat down to study for my history test. But it wasn’t five minutes before the bedroom door opened and Pa stuck his head out. “Mark, what are you doing up this early?”

Oh boy, here comes a good start to my day! “I’m…studying for my history test.”

“Why didn’t you do that last night?”

“I…forgot,” I answered.

“I see.” Pa came and grabbed me by the arm. “Back to bed, boy!” He blew out the lamp.

Pa held tight to my arm all the way back to the bedroom and didn’t let go until I was seated on the side of my bed. “What about my test?” I asked. I knew there would be punishment if I flunked it.

Pa firmly pushed me back down onto the bed and covered me up. “I reckon you’ll take it.”

“If I don’t study, I’ll flunk!” I protested.

“Then you’ll be punished.” Pa’s voice held a firmness in it that told me I better just lay back down and forget about anymore arguing. I knew what he was thinking. I let out a sigh and turned over to go back to sleep. Pa expected me to learn about forgetfulness and the consequences that occurred because of it. Sometimes, the lessons were painful!

I rolled over and went back to sleep, but it wasn’t long before I heard Pa’s gruff voice. “Mark, get up and get ready for school.” I groaned, but did his bidding.

Rushing through breakfast, I hurried and rinsed out my dishes. Then I ran to the barn and started my morning chores. I had the animals fed, Blue Boy saddled, and the cow milked in record time. Then I went back inside and grabbed my history book, sat down, and studied.

Pa turned from the sink where he was washing up the dishes. “Animals fed?”

“Yes sir,” I answered.

“Cow milked?”

“Yes sir.” I turned from him and went back to studying.

“Horse saddled?” I nodded my head.

Pa walked over to the table. “What the test on?”

I groaned. “It’s on the states. I’m supposed to know the dates when each state entered the union and how the United States acquired each territory.” I shook my head. “If you ask me, it’s useless information.”

Pa bent down. “Son, now look…” he started.

I quickly held up a hand. “Pa, honestly…I’d LOVE to hear your reasons, but those reasons won’t help me on my history test!”

“How much do you know?” Pa asked.

I looked up at Pa with a deep sigh. “Don’t ask, sir. Just don’t ask!” Pa told me I only had five minutes to go.

All the way to school, I tried to think on those dates and reasons, but I knew the case was hopeless. Before I left, Pa told me that waiting until the night before to memorize all my facts wasn’t a good idea anyhow. I knew he was right and maybe I’d learn my lesson soon.

The test was a disaster! I cannot tell you how glad I was that Mr. Griswald didn’t have time to grade the tests that day. He announced we’d get them back on Monday. Boy oh boy, but was I ever glad to hear that!

After school, I hurried over to the General Store. I studied the jars of candy and knew it would only be one week before I was allowed candy. Let me tell you, when my father restricts me, he really restricts me! He reckons I won’t ever do the same crime twice if I’m punished severally enough. “How much longer?” Milly asked as she leaned over the counter and smiled at me.

“One week!” I declared. “Them I’m NEVER getting into trouble EVER again!”

Milly laughed. I loved her laugh! Then I groaned. “Except that I’m sure I flunked my history test today.” She raised an eyebrow. “I mean…we’re talking FLAT F! I couldn’t answer half the questions.”

“Oh Mark!” Milly groaned. She really sounded like she was sorry for me. “What happens then?”

I shrugged. “It depends on how bad and the reason. This time, I expect it’ll be pretty big since I…forgot…to study last night…and since I put it off until the last minute. I’m expecting another two weeks added on.” I shook my head. “Seems I’m restricted more then I’m not…”

Milly laughed. “Well, don’t hold it against Lucas, Mark. You know he does it because he loves you.”

I nodded then waved at her. Pa told me that every time he punished me. I was just glad he wouldn’t punish me this weekend! When I got to the door, I suddenly remembered my reason for coming in. I slapped the palm of my hand against my forehead. “Oh I’m such a dummy!” I declared as I turned back toward Milly. “Pa and I want to invite you to have supper with us at the hotel tonight.”

Milly smiled. “I’d love that.”

“Six o’clock? Alright?” Milly nodded and shook her head at me. I knew what she was thinking.

“That’s my boy!”

I hurried home and announced we’d be there at six o’clock. Pa nodded, then handed me my list of chores for the afternoon. “What about that test?” He looked at me with raised eyebrows.

I looked down at the list and groaned. “Oh, he didn’t grade it yet.”

“Lucky you,” Pa stated. “How do you think you did?”

I sighed. “Well, I reckon you were right in saying lucky me that he didn’t hand them back today…sir.” I looked at the list of chores. “Scrub the floors? Clean the outhouse? Seems like I just did those.”

“You did,” Pa nodded. “Last Friday.” Pa pointed straight at me. “And since I’m letting you come into town and eat with us tonight, I figured I’d give you a break and go light on the chores.

“THIS is light?” I asked. Then I looked up at Pa. He had his hands on his hips and was giving me this awful look. “Oh,” I nodded. “Yes, th-thank you, Pa. This is great!”

I did the outhouse first. I sure was glad when that chore was done! Then I went straight to my mopping. As I squeezed the water out of the mop I made a sour face. “Can’t think of anything worse then scrubbing the floors and cleaning out the outhouse!”

Pa stood in the doorway and grinned as he shook his head at me. His arms were crossed and he nodded his head. “Exactly why you are doing them, my boy.”

That was just two of the chores I had to do. And since this was Friday afternoon, it just happened that I was stuck with those two chores. “One week to go,” I mumbled as Pa turned to walk out the door. “I haven’t complained that much. I was really hoping for a parole!”

Pa heard that. He turned and walked back in. “Well, this warden doesn’t let prisoners out early for good behavior. Tell you what, I’ll give you a little bit of a reprieve tonight by allowing you to come to dinner with Milly and me in town. But tomorrow, it’s back to your sentence.”

I shook my head and went back to work. When the floor was mopped, I opened the door and flung the water outside. The problem was: Pa was walking by just then. I was in such a hurry that I wasn’t paying attention. “Mark!”

My mouth popped open and my eyes grew wide. I shot a hand to my mouth. “Ohhhhhhh…Pa…” I groaned. Pa was covered in dirty, soapy water, and he shook his hands in disgust. “Ohhhhh…Pa…If only you knew how sorry I was!”

I had forgotten to look at where I was throwing the water. I couldn’t count how many times I’d been forgetful in just this one day! “Mark,” Pa said as he unbuttoned his wet shirt and flung it down on the porch. “I’m trying…really…really hard…to raise you right.” He sat down and took his boots off. “You are thirteen years old, son.” He took his other boot off. He turned and glared at me. “Thirteen, son.” I nodded, but said nothing. “It is time that you stopped being so dang’ed forgetful and started being more responsible.”

“Yes sir!” I ran into the bedroom and grabbed him a clean pair of pants and a shirt. Then I grabbed a towel. “He-here Pa, Let me help you!” I said. I rung his wet clothes out and hung them over the railing. “I-I’ll tend to the laundry first thing in the morning, Pa. I’ll-“

“Yes…you will, Mark.” Pa stood and slid his dry shirt on. “Now, if you aren’t ready to go in ten minutes, you’ll stay behind and start on that laundry. TONIGHT!”

I turned and hurried into the house. I glanced over my shoulder to see a grin on Pa’s face and his shaking his head at me. I quickly hurried in to hide my own smirk.

Because truly, it was indeed funny!

We got half-way into town when Nils stopped us. He asked us what we were doing traveling into North Fork this time of night. Pa turned and looked at me. “Oh, we’re having dinner at the hotel,” Pa answered.

I grinned. “With Milly. Pa’s invited me along.”

Pa turned and gave me another look but I ignored it. I was proud my Pa was courting her – she was pretty and nice and…well…I just liked her! And if she was good enough for me, then she was good enough for my Pa! Why, Pa couldn’t find a finer lady!

“Mark?” I looked at Pa. “I said stop day dreaming and come along.” We started on our way into town again. “What were you day dreaming about?”

“Well, I-“ I turned and looked at Pa. “Oh, just…stuff…” I answered with a smile.

When we got into town, we headed for the Marshal’s office. I asked Pa why we were going there and he reminded me what Nils had said. “Boy, you really WERE daydreaming!” he declared. We went inside, but I was quickly ushered out so they could talk.

On my way over to Milly’s I shook my head, wondering why I missed out on the good stuff. Milly opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. “Where’s your father?”

“Micah wants to talk to him about something important and exciting,” I answered.

“Exciting?” Milly asked.

“Well, it must be. Pa sent me out so they could talk.” Milly laughed. We started walking toward the restaurant slowly. I told Milly about throwing the water all over Pa earlier.

She turned and stared at me. I tried to keep the grin off my face, but it kept tugging at the corners of my mouth. Suddenly, I snorted and broke out in laughter. Milly started laughing to as she put her arms around me. “Now, that’s something I wish I could have seen!” She declared as we started toward the restaurant, but we were both still laughing awfully hard!

“What’s so funny?” Pa asked with a smile as he walked up to us and took Milly’s arm.

Milly and I looked at each other and tried to stop our laughing, but we couldn’t. “Oh…nothing…Lucas…” Milly managed to say through her laughter.

“Oh,” Pa folded his arms and looked at me. “You told her about the water.”

“You mean the accident,” I answered, suddenly sobering up.

Pa scooted his hat back on his head. “Yes…I’m…uh…beginning to wonder if it was…indeed an uh…accident.” Milly snorted and started laughing again.

Pa turned and crossed his arms. He gave her a stern look. Milly put a hand to her mouth and cleared her throat. “Oh.” She said suddenly. “Perhaps we should…go inside and…um…eat.” Pa nodded, then turned and pointed at me. I only grinned and shrugged my shoulders, acting completely innocent.

During supper, we had small talk. At one point, the word ‘water’ was mentioned in passing. Milly chuckled, but Pa raised his eyebrow at her and shook his head. Milly quickly put a fist to her mouth and coughed. “Excuse me,” she said with a small grin.

“Milly,” Pa finally said with a sigh. “I need you to keep Mark for a few hours tomorrow evening.”

I suddenly straightened up in my chair. Milly looked at me. We both lost any grins we had been holding at the time. “Why?” I asked.

“Well,” Pa cleared his throat. “It’s really nothing big or anything. I just have to help Micah and John take some money off the stage.”

“Money?” I asked. “How much are we talking about?” It had to be a lot if Pa needed to help. “And why do I have to stay with Miss Milly?”

Pa looked around at the full restaurant. “I’d rather not say how much, Mark.” I looked at Milly and saw the worry on her face. We both knew it had to be a lot. “And as for you staying with Miss Milly…I want to know you are somewhere safe and…you know you’re on restrictions.”

I looked at Milly, then quickly turned back to Pa. “Yes, but I’m thirteen years old, Pa! I can stay by my-“ I stopped suddenly.

“You know how I feel about you being home alone at night, son. Least wise if you’re at the store I know you’re safe.”

“Oh, but Pa! I can be safe at home. I-“ Pa held up a hand and shook his head. “Yes sir,” I mumbled.

After supper, we stood and walked out of the hotel. I still wasn’t too happy with Pa for making me stay with Milly like I was a six year old kid! I hadn’t needed a babysitter for many years now – yet here I was – having to be watched over as if I couldn’t take care of myself!

As we walked out onto the street, Pa and Milly did small talk, then Pa suddenly asked me to go tend the horses. I could NOT keep the knowing grin off my face. Pa and Milly were going to do some sweet talking – and he didn’t want me around to hear it! I hurried away, happy to watch their talking from afar.

I waited for a couple minutes. Then when they had enough time to say goodbye – and by the way, they didn’t even show any signs of getting ready to kiss – I hurried up to them with the horses. But after Pa said goodnight to her and came up to his horse, we started on our way home. Then Pa shook his head. “You’re timing’s as good as ever, Mark.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

Pa turned and looked at me. “Nothing, Mark. Absolutely nothing!”

“Well, if you want more time alone with Miss Milly, Pa, why don’t you just say so? I’ll go on home alone and you can go back and-“ I stopped when I heard the groan coming from Pa. “Well…I guess I can give you two some alone time tomorrow or something.”

“Tell you what, son,” Pa said as he leaned forward in his saddle. “Why don’t you just put your boots into the flank of that horse a little tighter and get yourself on home!”

I laughed as I galloped forward. I’m sure Pa was shaking his head behind me.

I bet you can guess what I did the next day. Pa had a whole list of chores for me to work on. I sure did hope a miracle occurred and Mr. Griswald spilled ink all over the tests or something and couldn’t grade them! I mentioned as much to Pa as I went to fill the buckets up with water, and Pa shook his head. “No such luck, son. He only does that when you have a good paper in the stack!” I nodded, knowing that was probably the truth.

I didn’t say it out loud, but I sure didn’t look forward to an extension on my restrictions! But I knew it would come on Monday afternoon. My restrictions were set to be lifted next Friday. Just thinking on it made me stick to my stomach.

Working all day, I got most of the things done on my list. After all, it wasn’t my fault that I had to go out on the range and help Pa round up tow feisty bulls that for some reason chose today to get a touch of loco weed. Nor was it my fault that the axe blade flew off the handle and had to be fixed. But at least all the laundry got done and the barn got a good cleaning! Also on my list was cleaning the well. Hey, I had to clean the outhouse the day before, why not clean the well too, huh?

Then that afternoon, a rattlesnake was in the backyard close to our outhouse. I saw him when I was back there and hollered for Pa, but when he went to shoot it, his rifle wouldn’t fire and the snake scurried on off. Pa sat down to fix his rifle while I went to finish all my chores.

Finishing in the barn, I ran out as Pa fired his rifle several times. I was glad he got it fixed – especially since he had to work in town tonight. I must admit that it crossed my mind to question Pa on my having to stay with Milly tonight, but since I was so close to ending my sentence, I decided to keep quiet and let Pa have his way…But I told myself that he and I would have a long talk on this issue very, very soon – when the time was right! And since I hadn’t proven to be too responsible the last couple of days – I’d say the timing was definitely NOT right!

I had been looking for my saddle bags all afternoon. I had it in my mind to take my books along with me since I’d be stuck at Miss Milly’s for several hours. I must admit though that my decision in doing this wasn’t simply because I WANTED to do my homework. Though it was true that after the bear of a test on Friday, I didn’t want to get caught unprepared again, it’s also true that if I get an early start on my homework and studying now, it may go good for me when I bring up the subject of “I’m responsible enough to stay home after dark by myself” speech.

I finally just came out and asked Pa where he put my saddle bags. The last time I saw them, I had sat them right beside the wood box in the kitchen. Okay, so it’s true that wasn’t the proper place for them, and if Pa saw them there it was unlikely he would have moved them himself – unless it was to teach me a lesson on putting my stuff up. More then likely, he would have yelled at me about leaving my stuff lying around on the floor.

Pa didn’t rightly care for my questioning him on where my saddle bags were, but he did give me a few ideas on where to look for them at – they weren’t in the closet or under my bed. They were behind the wood box. I wondered how they got there. “Yeah, I wonder!” Pa stated.

But then it occurred to me. I had moved them when I was cleaning the floor the day before! Again, this wasn’t the right time to talk to my Pa about my being really responsible! I’d have to tell myself later to do better next week!

So then we ride into town. Pa walked me over to Miss Milly’s. It took her quite sometime to get to the door, and when she finally answered, Pa questioned her on closing up early. Miss Milly said she was doing inventory, and Pa was so kind as to tell her to put me to work! Didn’t he know I’d already been working all day?

Milly said she was making an apple pie, and I was sure excited about that. Then Pa told me to behave myself! Like when am I NOT a good boy? I hurried inside and sniffed the air, but there was no sign of apple pie yet.

That’s when everything changed. Everything.

I was no longer worried about talking about responsibility to my Pa. I was no longer concerned about going off my restrictions next weekend. I wasn’t even concerned about school. I had a bigger thing to worry about: My life – and more importantly, Miss Milly’s life!

Because as soon as Milly closed the door to the store, she leaned her head against the door and started crying. I asked her if something was wrong and she took me into her arms and cried. I could feel her body shaking against me. She was so scared – but it wasn’t only for herself she was scared of. By the way she was acting, she acted like a mother trying to protect her child from a bear.

“Sounds like you were going to slip a little, but you did just fine!” A mean-looking little man said. I suddenly looked up. There was a man all dressed in black standing there. He wasn’t alone. There was another man walking out of the back. He was dressed nice, but looked just as mean.

I looked at Milly. Somehow, I knew this was bad. Milly was scared – really scared. She was scared for me – for herself and…I walked over to them. “Who’s he? What’s he doing here?”

Somehow, I knew the truth. It was a sixth sense I had. Milly ran up to me and put her hands on my shoulders protectively. I could feel the stress in her hands, and the shaking of her arms.

The men stated they would leave here as soon as their business was finished. I stared at them. Somehow, I knew what that was, but I didn’t want to think it was true.

“They’re gonna rob the stage. when it comes in,” Milly stated.

I turned and stared at her. My thoughts had just been spoken out loud. Fear gripped my heart. The stage…my father…that’s why she was so afraid! “No!” I screamed, making my way to the door. But the man dressed in black ran over and grabbed me by my collar.

He warned me that he would kill me, Miss Milly…or even…my father. I was suddenly scared. I was scared for myself, of course, but I was more scared for the man that would be killed for sure – my father.

I wanted to do something to help – I was no longer a boy, but a man! I wanted to protect Milly and my father from these men. My father was in grave danger – he would NEVER stand by and allow the men to rob the stage! He’d die to protect that money, and I knew it. I was terrified for him.

Milly told me to listen to them – there was nothing we could do. And at the moment, she was right. There was nothing we could do.

The other man told the man dressed in black – Andy – to take me and Milly in back. Milly put her protective arms around me as we walked to the back.

Andy shoved me down onto the floor. Milly sat down next to me and kept her arm around me. “Please,” I begged as my eyes filled up with tears. “Please tell me what you’re planning to do.”

“Rob the stage,” Andy answered in his evil voice.

“But my Pa-“ I swallowed as tears squeezed from my eyes. I was angry that I was crying! “He’s all I have! Please don’t hurt him.”

“Then do what I say!” Andy declared. He grabbed some rope and began tying my hands. “Do what I say and nobody’ll be hurt.”

I looked at Milly. Her eyes told me what I already knew. Pa would die in the line of duty before he allowed them to take that money. We both knew it would happen. I opened my mouth to say something, but Milly gave a short shake of her head. Her eyes ordered me to stay quiet.

Andy tied my feet together. Another tear slipped down my cheek. I rubbed it away with my shoulder. I looked at Milly again. Her eyes were making me a promise. She would also die trying to save my father. I would to. We weren’t going down without a fight!

I had some things to say to Milly – thoughts and feelings about her that I needed to express. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her. She was the closest thing to a mother I had had in a long time, and I was so glad to have her in my life. I opened my mouth to thank her, but a gag was placed over my mouth and I could no longer talk.

My eyes searched hers and she nodded. I think she knew what I was saying. But when this was over – I’d say it again! I wanted her to know the truth! I…I loved her like I’d love any woman that did a good job mothering me.

The minutes ticked by. It seemed like we were in that dark room for ever. I wondered what would happen. There was little light in the room – but enough to see Milly’s eyes. I looked at her. My eyes questioned if we were going to do something. She nodded slightly, but I could tell now wasn’t the time.

Then that other man – he walked in and threatened us some more. He even grabbed Milly and made her agree not to try anything. But I knew Milly, and I knew how much Pa meant to her. She wouldn’t go down without a fight! The man told me I could tell all my friends about this tomorrow. I hoped I’d want to – tell them how Milly and I helped my Pa!

Then he left and closed the door. I looked at Milly. She motioned to a sharp tool sitting on a barrel. I stood and went over. Picking it up, I hobbled back over. I didn’t want to cut her ropes – I didn’t want to take the chance of hurting her! So I gave the ax to her so she could saw away at mine. If she cut me, I wouldn’t mind – as long as we got loose.

There were a couple times I felt the blade cut across my wrists. It hurt, but I didn’t let on anything. She was finally able to cut through. I quickly undid the ropes on my hands, then untied hers. We had to stay quiet as we got loose from all the ropes. Milly walked to the door and peaked out. She was waiting for the men to walk outside. Then, Milly put a finger to her lips and grabbed the canteen. I thought I should be protecting her, but somehow I knew…that this is the way it had to be – and I was okay with it.

I heard the stage pull up. It was only a matter of moments before the fighting would start. Milly took the canteen and threw it through the window. “Lucas!” She screamed. Then she turned and wrapped her arms around me as we ducked for cover. The bullets sounded and I started shaking with each one.

Then it was over. Everything was quiet. Milly and I looked at each other. Then we quickly ran to the doors and opened them – for better or worse, we were together. I had never seen a more welcome sight in my life when I opened those doors, though! I cannot even begin to tell you the joy that filled my heart – my very being – when I saw my father standing there unharmed!

I ran straight into my Pa’s arms and cried. “Thank God you’re alright!” I cried.

Then Pa looked up. He held out his other arm. “There’s plenty of room here for you too…Mil,” Pa said softly.

This is the way it should be! The three of us together – Pa protecting us both!

Milly and I looked at each other and smiled. I remembered the conversation Pa and I had earlier in the day. I didn’t mention it while ago because at the time – it was in teasing and I never realized how true the words were. I had wanted to stay in town for the night. Pa teased me about wanting to be a city slicker instead of a rancher. My reasons were deeper – and I suspected – even then – that our reasons for spending more time in town these days were one in the same.

And I was looking at her right now. I had told Pa that he never missed an opportunity to go into town now that Miss Milly was here. Pa gave me one of his looks – but he knew I was right.

I looked up into my father’s relieved eyes now. “I told you, Pa,” I stated. Milly was curious about that, of course. She wondered what I was talking about.

Milly kept giving Pa a look – the look told me that she would find out what I meant…and knowing her, she probably would! We started walking away from that awful scene. I think Pa wanted to get us away from that. He kept a protective arm around each of us. “Son,” he said with a shake of his head. “You talk too much.”

But Milly kept looking at him – trying to figure out what I meant. Suddenly, Pa muttered something about helping Micah. Milly made her way back into the store and I followed her.

I watched her busy herself with looking around the store. “C-can I talk to you?” I asked.

Milly turned around and smiled. She lit a lantern and looked into my eyes. I swallowed. “Um…well…This isn’t easy for me but…” I sighed. “Milly, I can’t tell you what you mean to me…exactly. I mean, you ain’t exactly my Ma, but you…well, you love me like my Ma would I think.” Milly smiled at me. “Am I right?”

She put a hand under my chin and lifted my head. Then she smiled into my eyes. “I think I do, Mark. Having never been a mother, I can’t say that I know for sure. But I know that tonight…I felt a fear of…of loosing you and needing to protect you.” She suddenly sat down on a crate and pulled me down beside her. “Mark, I could never…” She took my hand and pressed it between her two soft hands. “I could never…nor would I want to…take the place of your mother. No other woman on this earth could do it. But…Mark, I-“ She suddenly lifted her hand to my face and brushed her fingertips across my cheek. “I do love you like a son.” Then she smiled at me.

Tears filled my eyes. “That’s what I wanted to tell you back there, Milly. I never got the chance to…well…to thank you for…for filling part of that empty space that’s deep…well, it’s deep inside me. You’re the only one that’s been able to…to do that.” I smiled at her. “And you’re good for my Pa. He’s so…so happy with you. I know you don’t want to talk about this with a kid, but-“

Milly suddenly stopped me with a finger to my lips. “Oh Mark, you aren’t a child! You are a young man and I’ll be happy to tell you that…Well…” She looked up at the ceiling as if the right words were written there for her. “Well…your father is special to me – and he fills an empty place in my heart as well. I’ve been hurt in the past and your father’s the only one who understands that hurt.” I raised my eyebrows. “That’s something I can’t talk about with you…or nobody else – only your father.” She smiled.

Suddenly, I threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Milly. Thanks for being a friend…a…I don’t even know what to call you! You are so much more then a friend” I pulled away from her. “You’re like my second mother.”

We smiled at each other as tears filled her eyes now. “Thank you for that, Mark. That means a lot to me.”

Suddenly, my stomach growled really loud. We both laughed, allowing the intimate moment to die. I stood and walked toward the door. “Now, let’s see if we can get that heroic father of yours to buy us supper at the hotel!”

“Oh now, you leave it to me!” I said. “You have your own way of…uh…persuading my father…” I grinned at her and she shook her head at me. “But I can get to his belly!”

We locked the door, but Milly wasn’t sure what good it would do. As we started across the street, I turned and asked her if she had been scared. She nodded and told me she had been. I told her I had been too. I was a bit embarrassed about it – especially since she had just called me a man! She laid a hand on my shoulder and assured me that was nothing to be ashamed of.

Then Pa walked up. It was time to show Milly that I had the magic touch. “Say Pa, how about getting Micah and Mr. Hamilton and going to get something to eat? I’m hungry!” I declared.

See, you have to get the approach just right. After all I hadn’t had supper! Pa asked me about all that pie that Miss Milly gave me – but I reckon he knew that we didn’t have time for that! “ could I eat with my mouth gagged and my hands tied behind my back and..."

Pa stopped me by putting a hand on my shoulder. “Alright. ...we'll go get Micah and Mr. Hamilton and we'll get some apple pie."

We raced to the restaurant. I was so hungry that I wasted no time in going to the table and sitting down. I picked up the menu and started looking through it. I suddenly realized that I had gotten a second night eating in the restaurant – while on restrictions. And if I knew my father, we’d be spending the night in the hotel also!

The waiter came to take our order. Micah ordered. Then Mr. Hamilton ordered. Finally, my Pa was polite enough to allow Milly to order. I ordered last. “Well let’s see now, I’ll start out with a great big steak about like so.” I showed him with my hands. “Then I’ll take a great big baked potato with lots of butter…some chicken soup…some green beans and corn and…”

“Uh-“ Pa grabbed the menu out of my hand and handed it to the waiter. “Just bring him the twenty-five cent steak and a helping of mashed potatoes. Then later we’ll all have the uh…” Pa looked around at us. “The apple pie.”

“Gee Pa, I was on a roll!” I declared after the waiter left. Everyone laughed.

We did indeed stay in the hotel that night. I was just about to get undressed after seeing the look on Pa’s face after the last bedtime warning. “Pa,” I said as I got to unbuttoning my shirt. “You reckon you and I can go fishing all day next Saturday?”

Pa looked up from the book he was reading. “You reckon you’ll be allowed to go next Saturday?”

“Well, you said that my sentence ends at 3:00 next Friday, didn’t you?” I asked as I slipped under the covers.

Pa stood and walked over to the bed. “Yes.” He sat down and looked at me. “But uh…what about that test?”

“Oh, the test…” I shook my head. “Well…we don’t know the results of that test yet.”

Pa nodded in agreement. “Mark, I want us to play a little game. Let’s imagine it’s Monday afternoon and you just come home from school.” Pa folded his arms. “How do you reckon that conversation’s gonna go?”

“Oh…well…” I groaned. “I suppose you’ll ask me how my day was and I’ll tell you fine. Then you’ll casually ask me what I made on my test.”

Pa nodded. “Go on.”

“It will end with you saying that I just received another week on my sentence.”

Pa smiled and shook his head. “Well, that’s not quite right son.”

“It’s not?”

Pa held up two fingers. “Oh. Night, Pa.” Then I rolled over and went to sleep.

Do you want to guess how that conversation went Monday? Just as predicted. Except for one thing – I got a weekend off for good behavior and me and my Pa – we went fishing!

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

The Stand-In

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

First Wages

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