The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Loss
Written by Michelle Palmer

            She sang to herself as she removed the bread from the oven.  It was hot, but that’s the way he liked it – fresh from the oven.  She reached up on the top shelf and smiled as she stuffed the peach preserves into the basket along with the stew and canned vegetables she was going to insist he take.  Then, before exiting the back store room she grabbed a fresh baked apple pie and placed it gently into the basket at the very top.  The apple pie would be a special treat for him today.

            She heard the door open and close so hurried out to see who it was.  Twelve year old Mark McCain was bent over the candy jar, much like he did that first day he walked into that store.  Hattie smiled as she remembered back to the day Lucas McCain had ridden into town with his ten year old son.  He had been so timid as she offered him that first piece of candy, and Mark had been so polite.  She had fallen in love with that little boy right off.

            She leaned her head against the door jam and smiled lovingly.  Mark wasn’t the only one she had fallen in love with.  Recently, her affections had turned toward someone else – someone who seemed to need love as much as she did.  Someone who suffered like she had.  “Can I Hattie?”

            Hattie suddenly opened her eyes as Mark held the nickel out for her to take.  She smiled as she reached out and took the nickel from him, a smile was still on her face.  “How are you today, Mark?” Hattie asked and smiled when she heard him answer the same answer as always – fine.  She closed her eyes as she remembered back to when she was a little girl up north in Denver.  She had lived with her aunt for as long as she could remember – she and her two sisters.  There had no one else.  Being the youngest, she couldn’t remember ever having parents.  Her aunt took care of them alright, but there was never any love.

            “Miss Hattie?  Miss Hattie?” Hattie suddenly shook out of her thoughts again as she realized that Mark was talking to her.  “I said is everything alright?”

            Hattie nodded.  Then she walked around the counter and put an arm around Mark’s shoulder.  “How’s the Marshal?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

            “Pa said he’s resting now.  He has his cats to keep him company I guess.  Pa said the bullet didn’t do too much damage, but he’d be laid up for awhile.”

            Hattie nodded.  “Well, that’s fine,” she stated.  “I’m on my way to bring him some food.”

            “Oh, he said he’d get something from the hotel.”

            “No indeed he won’t!”  Hattie declared.  “Why, that man needs a woman’s cooking!”  Mark suddenly grinned at her.  “Now, run along and play!  Shoo!”  She ordered.  Then she locked the door and started down the street.

            Someone came walking up to the General Store.  “Hattie, I need some sug-“ they started.

            “Later,” Hattie answered curtly.

            John Hamilton hurried up then.  “Hattie, I need-“

            “Tomorrow,” she answered curtly again.  All up and down the street people watched her walk firmly and with her head held high as she hurried into the hotel and up the stairs.  She walked to room 6 and knocked loudly on the door.  She heard a grunt.

            Opening the door, she found the poor man in bed moaning.  Lucas was with him, but as soon as he saw Hattie he grinned and jumped up.  “I best go find that boy of mine, Micah.”  Lucas smiled at Hattie.  “Miss Hattie,” he greeted as he touched the tip of his hat.  Hattie nodded at him, then firmly closed the door after he walked out.

            “How did you know I was here?” Micah growled as he sat up in bed.  “And what are you bringing that blasted stuff for?”

            Hattie smiled as she dipped the stew into a bowl.  “Well, I knew Lucas would not allow you to go back to your place since it required you climbing a bunch of stairs.  And I also knew that Lucas put you up in room number six because he made a point of telling me so this morning.”  Hattie pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down.  “As for the stew, well, you need a woman’s touch, and besides I feel partly responsible for your unfortunate accident.”

            “Why?  Because I was trying to stop a thief from running off with all your store money?”  Micah grunted.  “Humph, I was just doing my job.”

            Hattie nodded.  “And I’m doing mine.”  She handed Micah his soup and he began eating.  “You told me the other day that your father was killed in a shooting.”

            Micah suddenly looked up at her and nodded.  “Yes…uh…he was trying to stop their store from being robbed.  He was old and had no business carrying a gun.”

            “Hold old was he?” Hattie asked gently.

            “Oh, around 60 I’d say.”

            “And how old are you?” Hattie asked with a smile.  Micah frowned at her.  “Well, I never knew my folks.”

            Micah stopped eating and looked at Hattie.  “Why?  What happened to them?”  She saw the concern shining in his eyes.

            “Oh, they were traveling back from town.  My sister was taking care of us younger two when the town Marshal came to get us.  He told us that their wagon overturned on the way home.  They both died instantly.”  She sighed as she smoothed out her skirt and stood up.  She went over to the basket and got out the bread.  She opened the jar of peach preserves and slowly spread some over the piece of bread.  “They took us to my aunt.  She was a hard woman.”  Hattie paused as she thought back  “She took us home and…I’ll never forget that first day.  The moment we walked into the door she said, ‘Now girls, you do exactly as I tell you and we’ll get along just fine.”

            “Sounds like a hard woman,” Micah stated.

            Hattie began spreading the preserves on the bread again.  “Yes she was.  She didn’t love us, but she raised us to be ladies.”  She brought him the bread and held it out in front of him.  Micah suddenly smiled at her as he took it from her.  “As soon as I finished my schooling I went away.  I couldn’t stand living under that roof anymore.  She was hard.  So, I came out west and started a General Store.”

            “You…uh…never married?” Micah asked.  Hattie suddenly stared into his eyes.  Micah shifted uncomfortably.  “I mean, no man ever…” His words died in his throat.

            “No, I never married.”  Hattie sighed and walked to the window.  Looking out she remembered back.  “My aunt was a hard woman like you said, Micah.  She hated men and always taught us that men were bad…It took me years to learn differently.  By then it was too late.”

            “You think so?” Micah suddenly asked.  “You really think so?”

            Hattie suddenly turned from the window.  She stared at Micah and Micah stared at her.  Their eyes suddenly locked and they stared at each other silently.  Hattie finally broke away.  “Well, I better get going.  It’s late.”  She sat the apple pie down on the table.  “I’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.”  She said as she hurried toward the door.

            “Hattie-“ Micah suddenly said.  She slowly turned around.  Her heart was pumping so hard she could hear it.  She suddenly felt short of breath, afraid Micah would reject her offer.  She studied the expression on his face.  He studied her, then his lips turned upward at the corners.  “I like my eggs over easy.”

            Hattie smiled.  Her hand still rested on the door knob.  She nodded.  “I’ll be here at 7:30 sharp, Micah.  You be proper when I get here.”

            She closed the door firmly as she left the room.  Pausing outside his door, she suddenly threw a hand to her chest as her other hand clinched the basket.  Her legs were shaky as she started making her way down the stairs.  There was something about that man…She wasn’t sure what.

            As soon as she entered the lobby, Lucas stood up from the chair he had been sitting in and laid down the paper.  He walked forward and took the basket from her.  Then he motioned for her to go out first.  “Mark and I are just about to have supper at the hotel.  Want to join us?” Lucas asked.

            Hattie smiled nervously at him.  “No, Lucas.  I think I’ll go home and eat some of this soup I have left.”

            Lucas put his hand under her elbow as she started to walk in the street.  “Let’s go to Micah’s office and talk.”  Hattie suddenly realized Lucas was wearing the star.  “Just for a few minutes.”

            Hattie entered the office and looked around.  She saw Micah all around.  The things he hung on his wall – the way he organized his desk – even the smell…it was all Micah.  Lucas led her to a chair in front of the desk and helped her sit.  Then he hung his hat up and sat down in the chair behind the desk.  He folded his arms on the desk and leaned forward.  “So, what’s new?” he asked.

            Hattie narrowed her eyes at him as she tried to figure out what he was up to.  ‘Lucas-“ she started.  But she stopped to study him some more. 

A slow grin slowly crossed over his face.  “How long?” he asked.

Hattie shifted uncomfortably in her seat.  “How long…what?” she asked.

“You and Micah.  How long?” he asked.

Hattie’s mouth fell open as she stared at him.  “Why, Lucas McCain!  Since when did you meddle in other people’s affairs?”

“Since it was an affair between my two best friends.  That’s when.”

“Oh, posh!” she waved him off.  “There’s nothing going on.”

Lucas leaned back in Micah’s chair.  He pushed his hat back on his head, folded his hands across his middle, and narrowed his eyes at her. Suddenly, he cocked his head to one side, his eyes still narrowed.  “I don’t buy that.”  Hattie opened her mouth to say something, but Lucas held up his hand.  “Now hear me out first, ma’am.”

She hadn’t realized how serious Lucas was being until he had called her ma’am.  She closed her mouth and motioned for him to go on.  Lucas scratched under his nose before he started.  “Alright.  Now, for the past two weeks, Micah has spent every extra moment in the General Store looking at stuff that he doesn’t need.  For instance, the other day he insisted I go in there with him to look at hats when there’s no way he’d get rid of the hat he has now.  When I ask him for a beer in the saloon, I have to practically drag him.  You on the other hand have locked up early for the first time since I’ve been to North Fork.  You have eaten dinner at the hotel with Micah several times during the last two weeks, and Mark has seen you two talking out behind the General Store one night when he was supposed to be at home doing his homework.  He reported to me that you two looked “interested” in each other as you talked.

“Also, when that robbery in your store occurred, Micah went running in there half-cocked like he was your knight in shining armor.  When I came in only moments later, you were sitting over him with a look on your face that needed no words.”  Lucas stood up and walked to the door.  He looked out and scanned the street up and down.  Then he slowly turned and raised his eyebrows at Hattie.  “Well?”  He crossed his arms protectively and cocked his head to one side.  His eyebrows were raised and he had a very stern expression on his face.

Hattie had seen that look before.  She had seen it when he confronted Mark about something and expected him to tell if it was true or not.  He was being her protector – sort of like a son would be, had she ever had the pleasure of having one.  “What do you want me to say, Luke?” she suddenly asked.

“I want to know if you are in love with my best friend.”

Hattie suddenly turned from him.  She stared down at the floor, not sure what to answer him.  “Why do you ask?”
            Lucas walked over to her and bent down in front of her.  He smiled into her eyes.  “Why?” He asked.  “Because I’ve seen how Micah looks at you.  I talked to him tonight and he was just about to admit it when you came in.”  Lucas brushed her hair back – a loving gesture that made her shiver.  His eyes were only inches from hers, and his face held a gentle smile.  “I love you like my own mother, Hattie.  I want to protect you.  I want to know you are happy.”

Hattie suddenly grabbed his hand that rested on her head.  She wanted to admit it to herself, but something held her back.   They looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments.  Then she pulled his hand away and stood up.  “Oh posh!” she declared.  Then  she turned and put her hand on the basket, but Lucas reached our and grabbed her hand, forcing her to once again look at him.  She swallowed.  “I’m too old for such nonsense.”

Lucas smiled at her.  “You are in love with him.  And you aren’t too old.”  Then he let go of her hand.

She hurried to the door.  Then she turned around and smiled at him.  “He’s in love with you too.”  Lucas stated matter-of-factly.  “Only, he’s too afraid to admit it.”

Hattie quickly left and hurried down the street.

For the next several days, Hattie made each meal with much love and devotion and smiled as her heart thumped on the way over to the hotel.  As he ate, she sat with him and they talked.  One day, the conversation turned to Micah’s drinking.  He was eating supper one evening when the conversation came up.  Hattie had always wondered about it, but never asked.  “You know,” he said as he cut into the juicy steak Hattie had brought that night.  “Ordinarily, I would be picking up the bottle and enjoying myself instead of staying sober.”  He heard Hattie suck in her breath.  “I’m…sorry, ma’am.”

Hattie knew he was.  She saw regret written all over his face.  “Well,” Hattie smoothed out her skirt.  “I supposed I’ve just never understood why men – and women – take to the bottle.”

“Hm.”  Micah stuck another bite in his mouth and chewed.  Hattie suddenly wanted to know – needed to know if things were going to go any further.  For the first time in her life she felt truly happy.  She no longer felt alone. 

Hattie suddenly leaned forward and stared into his eyes.  “Why, Micah?” she asked in a loud whisper.  Her heart began beating as he stared at her.  She could tell she had touched a nerve, but she had to know today.  Her very being suddenly demanded it.  “Why?” She swallowed hard.

Micah finally sat his plate down and swung his legs over the bed.  Hattie reached out to push him back, but he only grunted that he was okay.  Slowly, he stood up and walked to a small table in the room.  Then he sat down.  “I suddenly want to tell you.  I want to tell you everything.”  Hattie stayed in her chair beside the bed, almost afraid to look at him.  But he suddenly called her.  “Hattie, come on over here to me.”  She looked up and saw him holding out his hand and waving it toward himself.  She slowly stood up and pulled her chair over to sit beside him.  “I hope you don’t hate me after I tell you.”

Hattie blinked back her fears and pushed her fright back down her throat.  She nodded slowly.  Micah sighed as he suddenly place a hand on top of hers where she had it lying on the table.  “Why, you’re shaking!” he gasped.  Hattie only stared at him.  “There’s only one other person in North Fork who knows why, and even he doesn’t know everything.”  Micah patted her hand.  “I was married once before.”  Hattie was shocked.  Her head quickly lifted as she stared at him.  “I’m widowed now.  It was a hard time.  I was a farmer and the crops failed that year because of a drought.  Our best friend took our savings and ran out on us, leaving us with absolutely nothing.  And then…” Micah stood up and suddenly walked over to the window.  “She died.”  Hattie heard the tears in his voice.

She closed her eyes in sadness for him, knowing it still pained him very much.  “What-“ she started, but the question was hard to ask.  “What happened?”

“Fever.  I had no horses, so it took too long to go into town and get help.  She died alone with nothing.  She had nothing to live for.”

“She had you,” Hattie answered.  “I’m sure she tried to stay alive for you!”

Micah ignored her statement as he continued staring out the window.  “I’ve never noticed before…but even in your darkest hour, people still move on gaily on the street as if nothing’s the matter.  Those children down there are chasing and laughing with each other as though there’s not a care in the world.”  Hattie only stared at him knowing his sorrow was still very deep.  “I wasn’t a drinking man before that day.  Oh, I had an occasional drink now and then, but after that…” 

Micah turned around and walked back to the table.  “I wasn’t a heavy drinker even then though – just enough to dull the pain when it got too bad.”  He started playing with a napkin still lying on the table from earlier.  Hattie could tell he was still struggling with something.  “There’s…something I haven’t even told my best friend – the real reason for my drinking.”

Hattie suddenly leaned forward in the chair and placed a hand over his.  Micah suddenly looked into her eyes.  Their eyes locked and Hattie again asked him to tell her the reason.  Her eyes were soft…gentle.  He saw only love and devotion in them.  There was nothing hard in them.  “How could such a beautiful woman like you care so much for an old codger like me?” Micah suddenly asked.

“Because you aren’t an old codger, Micah.”  A slow smile spread across her face.  She noticed his hard, sad eyes suddenly turn into a smile.  She laid a hand on his cheek.  “Now, tell me.  What other loss did you feel?”

“Oh, it was a loss of innocence, you might say.”  Micah took Hattie’s hand from his cheek.  But he didn’t let go – he held it in his own gruff hand.  Her soft touch gave him a renewing strength and he knew he no longer had to be afraid to tell her.  “After I became Marshal, there was a gunfighter.  He was hard…gruff…He had killed so many men before, including Marshals.  I was still quite young and hadn’t been on the job for too long.  One day, he got drunk and angry.  He held a sixteen year old girl at gunpoint.”

Micah continued staring into her eyes, but Hattie saw his eyes suddenly turn to fear as he remembered that day so vividly.  “He told us all to lay down our guns and she wouldn’t be hurt.  She was screaming, begging for me to help her.  I started towards him, but he screamed again for us to lay down our guns.  We did as he asked.  Then he started toward his horse, pulling her along with him.  When he got there, he shoved her away as he started to get on his horse.” 

Micah suddenly put a hand over his eyes to hide the tears.  He stood up and ran to the window.  “I went for my gun and-“ Hattie saw his shoulders shaking.  She came up behind him and gently laid her hands on his shoulders.  Micah leaned against the window.  “He killed the girl.”  Micah still didn’t turn, but his shoulders began shaking as he let the tears flow.  “We killed him.  I filled him up with bullets from that six gun of mine, then I got on my horse and rode out of town. “ He bent his head down as he sobbed.

Hattie suddenly turned him around and wrapped her arms around him.  “Oh Micah, Micah,” she whispered softly as they hugged and she allowed him to cry.  “You never told anybody.”

Micah finally allowed the tears to subside.  He pushed away from her a bit then looked lovingly into he eyes.  “You didn’t run away?”  There was surprise in his eyes.

“Why would I run away?” Hattie suddenly asked.  “Because you made a mistake?  We all make mistakes.”

“Yes,” Micah agreed.  Their faces were only mere inches apart.  “But there aren’t many of us who make a mistake that costs a sixteen year old girl her life.”  Micah suddenly rubbed the back of his fingers against her soft cheek.  “I never told another living soul about it, but that’s when I started drinking hard.  That’s when I became a hard man and was drunk most of the time, but I did my marshalling job, and I did it good.  That is, until the day I went up against Dan Maury.”

Hattie knew about that.  That’s when he had hurt his hand.  She suddenly laid her hand on top of that one as it rested on her shoulder.  No other words were said – no other words were needed.  She slowly searched his eyes and watched the grief and fears leave them once again.  Then she watched as his face broke out into a smile.  “I haven’t felt this in years,” he whispered as his face suddenly grew closer to hers.

“I’ve never felt this way,” Hattie answered as she watched his lips slightly part.  Then he lowered his head towards hers and closed his eyes.  She closed her own as she allowed his lips to gently touch hers.  They kissed – softly and gently.  He suddenly wrapped his arms around her as the kiss intensified.

Then their lips parted and he smiled into her eyes.  “I thought I was dead inside,” Hattie whispered.  “I didn’t’ know I could feel that anymore.”

“Anymore?” Micah raised his eyebrows and stared into her eyes.

“There was a time – but never like this.  Never…like…how you make me feel.” Hattie suddenly whispered.

Micah suddenly smiled as he pushed her away at arms length.  “Will you…” He swallowed hard.  “Will you marry me?”  Hattie gasped in shock.  Never in all her days did she ever…every anticipate a love like this.  “I’ll still be marshalling.”

“And I’ll still have the store,” Hattie smiled as she laid a hand on his cheek once again.  “But I can be a good wife.”

Micah suddenly smiled and swung her around.  Then he groaned as he felt a pain shoot through his leg.  Hattie helped him back into bed.  “Lucas still in town?” he asked.  Hattie nodded.  “Go fetch him.  I need to talk to him.”

Hattie started to leave, but Micah grabbed her hand and turned her back around.  He had a boyish grin on his face and she bent down to kiss him.  “For the rest of my days, I’ll be feeling that sweet kiss,” Micah stated.  Then he released her so she could go.”

Hattie hummed as she opened the store the next morning and began straightening everything up.  She hadn’t been this happy in years, and no grumpy customers were going to change her happy mood.  She heard the door open and looked up, smiling when she realized it was Lucas.  “Well, Lucas McCain, the deputy Marshal!” she declared.

Lucas took off his hat and laid it on the counter.  He had a grin on his face as he folded his arms on top of the counter and bent over it.  “Where’s Mark?” she asked.

“School,” Lucas answered.  “We’ll be going away for two weeks tomorrow, Hattie.  I’m afraid we can’t put it off any longer.  Mark and I have simply got to get our hunting done before winter sets in.”

Maybe there was one thing that could dampen her spirits.  She turned to straighten up the goods on the shelf.  “Oh, you think it’s going to be a hard winter?”

“Appears to be looking like that,” Lucas answered.  “And my back’s telling me the same thing.”

Hattie had noticed her achy bones were worse this year than usual also.  She turned around and smiled.  “Well, the two weeks will fly by.”  Then casually, she asked the question.  “You talk to Micah last night?”

Lucas lowered his head to hide a big grin on his face, but Hattie caught it.  “Yes I did.  He uh…had something rather important to talk to me about.”

“Oh?” Hattie asked.

“Yes,” Lucas smiled at her.  He grabbed her arm and turned her around.  Then he led her out from behind the counter and led her to a chair in the backroom.  “I think we should sit down for a minute.” He nodded at the chair.

Hattie sat down and folded her hands in her lap nervously.  She couldn’t understand what was so important.  Lucas sat down across from her and took her hands in his.  He leaned forward so she could look into his eyes.  “Micah asked me for your hand in marriage last night.”

Her heart began beating fast.  She tried to speak, but words wouldn’t come out.  “Oh?” she suddenly asked.

“Mm Hm,” Lucas nodded and smiled.  “He said he wanted to do this right and proper.  He felt that I was the closest thing you had to family round these parts, so he thought it proper to come to me.  I’m glad he did.”

Hattie smiled.  She saw Lucas’s eyes shining with love and pride.  “And what did you tell him?”

Lucas leaned his head over to one side and narrowed his eyes at her as he studied her face intensely.  “Well, I told him that I think you two should think about it for awhile.”

“What?” Hattie gasped.

Lucas held up his hand.  “I’d do the same for my own daughter or mother if the romance was so new.”  Lucas leaned forward again and squeezed her hands.  “Now, since I’m the one to give you away, you won’t be able to get married for two weeks anyhow, so I don’t see any rush in your getting married.”  Lucas turned his head to once side just slightly.  “Do you?” he asked with upturned eyebrows.

“What did Micah say?” Hattie asked.

“That he didn’t want to wait for two weeks.  But I told him that was my final answer, so he’ll do it out of respect for us.  When we get back from this hunting trip, we’ll talk again.  And if you feel the same way, I’ll gladly give you away to my best friend.  Okay?” Lucas asked with a stern expression and raised eyebrows.

“Alright,” Hattie answered.

Lucas stood up and held out his hand to help her stand up.  “Now, this afternoon I’ll be back in with a list of supplies.  Mark should be coming over after school too.”  Lucas walked to the door and Hattie followed behind him.  He turned at the counter when he picked up his hat.  Lovingly, he placed his hands on her shoulders.  “You do…understand why I’m making you two wait a while.”

Hattie nodded.  But she was still a bit disappointed.  “Look Hattie, you two are my best friends, and I just don’t want to see anything happen to you.  Your romance is new.  Why don’t you spend more time talking and getting to know each other personally.  Then when I get back-“

Hattie nodded.  “I know you’re right, Lucas.”  She bent up and kissed him on the cheek. “And I appreciate you two respecting me like this.  It makes me feel good to have so much concern.”

She watched as Lucas walked out the door.

She stood on the boardwalk outside her store that afternoon and cried, unsure of why this parting was so hard for her.  As she watched the McCain family ride away, she suddenly got this dreadful feeling deep inside her.  Micah slowly walked across the street.  He took his finger and wiped her tears away.  “Why are you so sad?  They’ll be back.”

Hattie shook her head slowly and slowly turned and walked back into the store.  She went over to the counter and picked up the saddle gloves Mark had foolishly left behind.  Tenderly, she hugged them to her chest and remembered how just mere moments ago, Mark was standing in front of her asking for candy.  And now he was gone.

Hattie suddenly felt Micah’s hands on her shoulders.  “What’s wrong?” he asked again, this time quieter.

“I don’t know,” Hattie answered softly.  “I just feel like…like they’re never coming back.”  She suddenly wiped her eyes again then turned around and smiled at Micah.  “It’s just a woman thing, Micah.  You hungry?”

Micah nodded as they started for the back room.  They talked pleasantly for the next few hours.  Then Micah suddenly stood, remembering he had a job to do.  He kissed her on the cheek then quickly walked out.

It was that way everyday for the next week.  Every waking moment she and Micah were together, loving each other, smiling, holding hands.  When they walked down the street they saw whispers as Micah held her hand or put his arm around her shoulders.  People stopped by the store just to see them.  Most were pleasantly pleased while others looked at the couple with a raised eyebrow.

One night as Micah stood to leave, he asked Hattie what she would tell Lucas when he came back.  Hattie smiled into Micah’s eyes.  “I’m telling him that I’m going to marry me a Marshal.”  Hattie laid a hand on his cheek.  Micah grinned, then bent down and kissed her softly on the lips.  They parted, but their faces were so close together they could almost kiss right there without moving a muscle.  “What are you going to tell him?”

Micah smiled and kissed her again.  “I’m going to beg him for your hand in marriage.”

Hattie suddenly put her forehead next to his cheek and Micah slid his arms around her.  “Did I ever tell you how wonderfuly sweet I think it is that you asked Lucas for my hand in marriage?”

“Well, I know how much he and that boy care about you,” Micah stated.  “And I know that there isn’t another man in this world I could trust with good judgment the I can with Lucas McCain.”  Micah lifted his head and put his hand under her cheek.  “Though I must admit I was a little upset when he didn’t say yes right off.”

Hattie smiled again.  Then Micah gave her one last kiss.  “I’ll be around sometime tomorrow.  I have some business to take care of in the morning.”  With that, he left. 

Hattie had never felt so wonderful – or so young – in her whole, entire life!  She couldn’t wait until Lucas returned.

The next day Hattie hummed as she worked on straightening the store.  Eddie Halstead suddenly ran in and told her he had an urgent telegram for her.  “The telegrapher hurried it over to me right away.  He said that it was important and you needed to read it right away.”

Hattie thanked him then turned and opened the telegram.  She suddenly sank down in the chair as she allowed the words to sink in.  Just when everything was going perfect, everything in her world was turned upside down and now she had to tell Micah the sad, sad news.

“Hattie!  Is lunch ready?” She heard Micah calling from the store.  She quickly wiped her eyes and hurried out to him.  But she couldn’t hide anything from him.  He suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.  “What is it?”

Hattie lowered her eyes.  She couldn’t look at him as she gave him the news.  “A telegraph came for me from Denver this morning.”  She turned away and grasped a shelf to steady herself.  “My sister’s taken ill I’m afraid.”

“Ill?” Micah asked.

“She’s-She’s all I have, Micah.  Our older sister left home a long time ago and was never heard from again.  She’s all I have.”  Hattie began crying.

There was an eerie silence in the air for several minutes as Micah held her and allowed her to cry into his chest.  He smoothed her hair as she sobbed.  Finally, Micah broke the silence.  “When will you leave?” he asked in a broken voice.

Hattie suddenly lifted her head and stared into his eyes.  “I don’t think you understand, Micah.  My sister…she’ll need care for the rest of her life.  She could live a month…a year…five years…nobody knows.  I…the move…it will be…”  She couldn’t finish.  Nothing on earth could make her say the words out loud.

“I know.”  Micah pulled her against him again and they held each other.  “I know.”

“I feel…loss…such a great loss.”  Hattie whispered.

But Micah put a hand under her chin and lifted her eyes up to look into his.  “Hattie, no amount of distance between us is going to take me away from you.  I have you here,” he patted his chest.  “You are in my heart.  I will wait for your return.”

Tears suddenly slid down Hattie’s cheeks.  “I can’t ask you to wait for me.”

“I’ll write to you.  You’ll write to me.  Until we can be together again.  And we will.  You have to have faith.”  She knew Micah was staying strong for her.  She knew he was going to break down when she was gone.  She loved him all the more for it.

“Oh Micah,” she whispered.  “I so want to marry you.”

“You will,” Micah answered with a nod.  “I promise you will.”

The next couple of days was a whirlwind as she and Micah worked on selling the store to her niece, Milly Scott.  On the third day, she and Milly were discussing business when Micah walked in.  He looked tired, and Hattie was sure that Micah hadn’t been sleeping.  “This is Micah,” Hattie introduced them in a broken voice.  Micah touched his hat and nodded to her.

“Hattie, um…can I talk to you?”  Hattie nodded and they walked to the back room.  He pulled the stage tickets out of his pocket.  “These will get you to the train station.  I want you to take the train into Denver.” 

Hattie looked at the tickets.  “These are for this afternoon, Micah.”

“I know,” Micah answered in a broken voice.  “Your sister needs you.  I think it’s best if you leave as soon as possible to get to your sister.”

Hattie stared at him and saw the loss in Micah’s eyes.  She turned away from him.  “All my life, I’ve felt such loss!  I thought I was finally finding something.  Now, it seems I’m loosing it again.”

Micah suddenly gripped Hattie’s shoulders and spun her around.  “Now, you listen to me and you listen to me good!” Hattie saw anger and fear both in his eyes.  “You are not loosing me!  I’ll be right here and I’ll write you!  You hear me?”

“Then…why are you…sending me away today?” Hattie suddenly needed to know.

She watched Micah’s eyes suddenly fill up with tears.  His lips began to quiver.  “Be-be-“ Micah closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down.  In a broken voice, he spoke the answer.  “Be-cause…If I…If I don’t do it to-today…I…won’t have th-the courage to…to…” Micah suddenly hurried from her.  At the door, he said, “You have two hours to pack.”

That was the longest two hours of her life.  Hattie wiped her eyes as she said goodbye to her niece and wished her the best of luck.  Milly hugged her tenderly and promised to take good care of Lucas and Mark and…Micah.  Then Hattie hurried to the stage depot.  She watched the stage pull up and her heart sank.  This was it – she was leaving North Fork forever.  She stood and handed the driver her bag. 

“Hattie?”  She turned suddenly and saw Micah standing there.  “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head and ran into his arms.  They held each other and cried.  Then he pulled her away just slightly.  “I love you,” he whispered tenderly in her ear.

Hattie smiled as she lifted her head from his shoulder.  She stared into his eyes.  “I love you too, Micah.”  Then she gently laid her hand on his cheek.  Micah’s lips parted one final time as he lowered his lips to hers.  The kiss was tender and intensified as they held each other.  They were kissing and crying at the same time.

Micah finally broke the kiss and led her to the stage coach.  He helped her up then closed the door.  “I’ll write as soon as I get to Denver,” Hattie promised.  Micah nodded and stepped back.

The coach started driving away, but she didn’t move her head from Micah.  As they drove down the road she watched him until he disappeared around a corner.  Then she let the tears flow until she was dry.  “Micah…My sweet Micah…”


Conclusion
.....

Hattie read Micah’s last letter again.  It was the same stuff they had written to each other for the last three years.  They spoke of love and devotion, but never of loss.  Micah constantly begged her never to feel loss.  But she did today.  Her heart felt nothing but loss.

Her sister was now buried for going on three weeks now.  Saying good-bye was tearful and hard, but she had to do it.  After caring for her sister every day for the last three years she suddenly felt a release, but a loss at the same time.

And she hadn’t heard from Micah in over a month.  He had written to her faithfully every week until then.  That was another reason she had felt loss. 

Hattie stood and walked to the window of her sister’s house.  Hattie hadn’t allowed her roots to grow here, because her stay was only temporary – only until she could return to North Fork.  And now that too was loss.

A week ago, she had finally written to Lucas to ask him about Micah.  She was no longer able to stand the wonderment.  She had to know.

And then she did.  “A telegram for you Hattie,” her nephew announced as he walked in the room.  Hattie took it and read it slowly.

Micah has been badly hurt

In coma

You must come now.

Luke

Hattie gasped and hugged the telegram to her chest.  She closed her eyes and sent a prayer up to the almighty.  “Paul!  Oh, Paul!” she called out.  Her nephew hurried into the room.  “Paul, I must get to North Fork right away.”

“But Aunt Hattie, you mustn’t!” he declared.  “It’s so far away.  You’ll be leaving so much behind.”

“No!” Hattie stated as she began throwing her clothes into her suitcase.  “I already left too much behind.  My heart’s in North Fork and I must go back.”  She heard a sigh escape from her nephew.  She suddenly turned around and laid a hand on his cheek.  “Oh, I do love you and your children and your wife.  Please understand, Paul.  I’ve had so much loss in my life, and loosing him…Micah…would be more then I could bare.  Do you understand that?”

Paul suddenly took her hand and kissed it. “Yes, Aunt Hattie, I do.  I’ll run to the train station and purchase your ticket.  It should get you all the way to North Fork now since they have a station there.”  Paul started out.  “I’ll have Sally come help you pack your things.”

There were more good-byes, but this time there was no loss.  She knew she would hold them each in her heart and would come back and see them.  She blew a kiss as the train started down the tracks.  She was happy to be going home.

It took a long time – she lost track of the hours she spent on that train.  She thought it was three days…maybe four…But when she pulled into the station, she nervously got off the train and looked around.  She couldn’t believe all the changes that had come!  “Miss Hattie!” she heard a voice behind her and quickly turned.  A young man stood in front of her.  He had changed so much in the three years since she left.

“Mark!  Why Mark!” She flew into his arms and he swung her around.  “Mark, you are so big!  Why, you ARE a young man!”  They hugged again.  “How’s your father?”

“Well, he’s fine,” he answered with a big grin.  “You know my Pa.”  Mark carried her bags to the waiting carriage.  “Pa’s been marshalling since the accident, so I’ve been in charge at the ranch.  I have to come to pa for the big decisions, but since I’m almost done with school, he’s been giving me lost of responsibility.”  Mark helped Hattie over the wheel and into the seat.  “Micah’s in a room at the hotel.”

“Mark, what happened?” Hattie asked.

“He was shot.  Doc doesn’t understand why he doesn’t wake up.  He said Micah’s healed from the gunshot.  But he just opens his eyes and that’s it.”  Mark shook his head.  “We’ve had lots of prayers in church on Sundays for him.  Pa’s tired between marshaling, the ranch, and worrying about Micah.”

“Why didn’t he write me right away?” Hattie needed to know. 

“Well, to tell you the truth, Miss Hattie, no one knew you and Micah were still…together.  Well, fact is I never knew it until the letter came.  You never told us and Micah never said anything.”  Mark shook his head.  “If he’s written to you that faithfully, I know he still loves you.”

They were in front of the hotel now.  Lucas hurried out and hugged her.  “Hattie!”  He swung her around.  “It’s so good to see you!”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say goodbye.  It all happened so…suddenly,” Hattie stated.  Mark nodded in understanding as they started inside.

They stepped into the room.  Hattie saw Micah’s still form lying in the bed and she hurried over to him.  “Micah,” she whispered hoarsely.  “Micah.”  She threw herself on top of him and hugged him.  “Micah, it’s Hattie.”

Mark and Lucas stood at the door watching.  Hattie suddenly put her hands on his cheeks as Micah’s eyes opened.  “It’s me, Micah.  Oh, my sweet love, please wake up and talk to us!”

Micah’s eyes moved toward her.  His lips slowly moved as he tried to form her name.  Hattie heard a gasp from behind her.  “I thought you said he was in a coma.”

“Well, he was!” Mark declared.  “I swear he was!”

She turned back to Micah.  “You two leave us alone.”  She heard the door close behind her and knew they were alone.  “Micah, I have felt loss my whole life until you came into it.  You have filled me up with more blessing then I can ever repay.  You are my life.  For three years, I’ve clung to your letters.  Your words are what got me through many lonely nights.  So if you think I’m going to stand here and watch you shrivel up and die, well, you’re badly mistaken.”

She saw Micah’s lips moving.  He was trying to talk.  She rushed to the basin and got some water then lifted his head and helped him take a drink.  “I…I…I…love…” Micah whispered.

“I love you too.”  Hattie hugged him.

The whole town was in shock when they heard that Micah was awake.  Within days, Micah was sitting up in bed demanding the doc to let him walk.  Lucas had to man-handle him several times just to keep him still.  Hattie never left his side.  She was there to take care of him – to bathe him and love him.

Lucas came in one afternoon and folded his arms across his chest.  “It’s time we had a talk you two!” he announced.

“Talk?” Micah and Hattie asked at the same time.

“Hattie, you’ve been here taking care of Micah around the clock, sleeping in that armchair over there and people are beginning to talk.  Now, as your best man, I must insist that a wedding ceremony take place here in this very room tomorrow!”  Lucas looked at both of them.  “In fact, the minister will be here at ten in the morning.”

Hattie turned to look at Micah.  Micah raised his eyebrows.  “Lucas Boy,” Micah said with a grin on his face.  “That’s the best idea you’ve had yet!”

Hattie and Micah stared into each other’s eyes.  Hattie slowly lowered her head toward Micah’s and Lucas quickly removed himself from the room.

After Micah was given a clean bill of health, they moved to a small house just outside town.  Micah went back to his marshalling job, but Lucas only allowed him to return on one condition – that he get a full-time deputy.  Hattie returned as part-owner of the General store.  She and her niece, Milly worked side-by-side.  And soon, Hattie would be legally related to Lucas McCain since Milly had announced that she and Lucas were officially engaged.

One night, Micah and Hattie sat on their front porch.  Hattie laid her head on Micah’s shoulder as the swing softly squeaked back and forth.  Micah kissed the top of Hattie’s head.  “Well dear, are you content?” Micah asked softly.

“Oh yes, Micah.  I’m so very happy.  I’ve felt loss my whole life, and I’ve come to a conclusion.”  She looked up and smiled into her husband’s eyes.  “All the loss I’ve had in my life…well, it was all worth it - because it led me to you.” 

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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