Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Written by Morgan
Lucas rode up to the house and sighed as he looked at the pile
of neatly stacked wood next to the barn. Even though he was
planning the lecture he was going to give Mark when he got
inside, Lucas couldn't help but smile with pride at the hard
working, stubborn man that was his son.
As he tied Razor's reigns to the porch post, Lucas softly
chuckled as he remembered Mark as a small child. His son had
always needed something to keep him busy or he'd find something
to do himself, which typically had ended in a big mess. Now Mark
was definitely neater, but he still couldn't sit around doing
nothing for very long. Lucas honestly couldn't fathom how he had
kept Mark in the house for two weeks.
As Lucas stepped inside the house, he saw Mark sitting at the
table with a chess board in front of him.
"Hi Pa," Mark greeted without looking up from the table.
Lucas looked at his son with confusion for a moment before
making his way towards the table.
"Mark, what are you doing?" Lucas asked with a slight chuckle.
"Playing chess," Mark replied as he continued to intensely stare
at the board.
Mark simply nodded before check mating himself.
"When did you start?"
"I'm not sure, I think that was my third game," Mark answered as
he pushed the board aside.
"How do you sit through three games of chess by yourself?"
"I've read through all our books, cleaned the house... I don't
know how many times, organized the last three years worth of
cattle receipts and driven myself insane with just about every
song I know on the guitar."
"Not to mention chopping enough wood to last us three weeks,"
Lucas added with a hint of disapproval in his voice.
"I'm bored," Mark defended as he shrugged. "Doc sent me home
over two weeks ago and neither one of you will let me ride or do
any real work."
"I'd say chopping wood is enough real work. That's probably one
of the last things you should be doing, Mark I don't need to
"Pa, I know, my head injury was serious. I know I'm lucky it
wasn't fatal, but it has been almost three weeks since the
initial injury, and even Doc says everything seems to be doing
"He also said not to do anything that could rattle your brain."
"I know, but..." Mark's statement began to trail off as he
looked into his Pa's eyes. He knew Lucas was trying so hard not
to be over protective, and at the same time make sure Mark
didn't overdo it. "Don't worry, I've been pacing myself and
making sure it's not doing any damage. If it makes you feel
better though, I'll stay away from the chopping block until Doc
gives me a clean bill of health."
"Thank you," Lucas simply told Mark as he walked towards the
stove. "What sounds good for..." Lucas stopped short as he saw
the pot on the stove. "I told you I didn't mind making supper."
Mark stood and walked towards Lucas as he shrugged.
"Pa, we've gotta figure something out. I'm bored out of my
Lucas leaned against the counter as he crossed his arms.
"Tell you what, I've got work to do on the fence line tomorrow.
I'll let you drive the buck board, but that's it, understand?"
"Pa, I'm not going to hurt anything by nailing a few boards
together, why don't you let me-"
"Or you could stick around the house again all day..." Lucas
threatened. He really missed having Mark working side by side
with him, but he wasn't going to let his son overdo himself.
"Alright. Boy, I can't wait for Friday."
"Doc Burrage could still say you need more rest."
"He could also say I can finally do stuff."
"Well come on, why don't we go do the evening chores while we
wait for supper to finish?"
Later that evening, Mark was washing the dishes while Lucas was
out on the porch.
It had almost been three weeks since Mark had talked to Cassie,
and he felt like he was going to explode. Mark had thought that
after admitting how he felt, things would get easier, but he
found it only got harder. The longer he was stuck at home, the
more he wished he could be with her. In all of his time alone,
however, Mark had been able to do a lot of thinking. Mark felt
like he had everything figured out... he just didn't know how to
go about explaining it all to his Pa.
Mark sighed as he dried the last dish. He supposed his greatest
apprehension was that he didn't know how his Pa would react.
There had been a lot of change the last year, Mark had done a
lot of growing up and he didn't know if his Pa could handle
another big step like this. At the same time though, Mark didn't
think he could wait for his Pa to be ready.
Lucas watched as Mark stepped out of the house and leaned
against the porch post. Mark let out a long sigh as he shoved
his hands into his pockets and looked out across the land. Lucas
knew his son was contemplating something, he looked into his
son's eyes and saw almost a longing there. A longing for what,
Lucas wasn't sure.
"Pa, can I talk to you?" Mark hesitantly asked as he shifted his
gaze towards Lucas.
"Of course Mark," Lucas replied with a hint of confusion. "You
know you can talk to me any time."
"Well about three weeks ago..." Mark paused, he needed to start
from the beginning. The only problem was, he wasn't sure where
the beginning was. Everything had just kinda happened slowly,
subtlety. "Well I guess it started with..."
Lucas and Mark looked up as they heard someone approaching. They
saw Johnny and Lou riding up in a buggy and waved as the couple
drove up to the house.
"Well look who finally decided to pay us a visit," Lucas teased
as Johnny helped Lou down from the buggy.
"Sorry we haven't been by sooner, we've been a little busy,"
Johnny replied as he shook Lucas's hand. "How are you doing
Mark? Haven't heard anything since I visited you at Doc's."
"Doing great. The only thing is convincing Pa and Doc of that,"
Mark answered as he gave a smile.
"I'm sure ye've been a model patient for yer father, Mark," Lou
"Oh you know Mark, there's not a stubborn streak in him. I
haven't had to get on him about overdoing it at all," Lucas
replied sarcastically. "Why don't you two come on in?"
The foursome made their way into the house and Mark put on the
coffee before joining the other
three at the table.
"When's the big day?" Mark asked as he looked between Lou and
"We're planning on November first," Johnny answered.
"But I'm trying to convince yer uncle that I don't need that
long to plan everything," Lou added.
"You spent two months planning Mark's graduation ceremony and
reception for Stephan, I'm surprised you're only taking three
months to plan the wedding," Johnny playfully retorted as he put
his arm around Lou. "Speaking of the wedding, I wanted to ask
you both to stand up with me when the day finally gets here.
You're both responsible for me turning my life around and I want
both of you up there with me."
"We'd be honored," Lucas replied as Mark nodded.
"Are ye both coming to town for the summer social Saturday?" Lou
"You bet!" Mark exclaimed.
"As long as Doc says everything is fine," Lucas reminded.
"It's the last social before school starts and everything gets
really busy, we'll be there," Mark assured.
"Which one of them is more stubborn?" Lou asked her fiancé.
"I've known them for almost four years and can't quite figure
"Your guess is as good as mine," Johnny replied with a shrug.
Lucas and Mark simply looked at each other and laughed. They
couldn't have answered the question themselves.
The next morning when Lucas woke up he saw Mark sitting on the
edge of his bunk, with his head resting against the heel of his
"Mark, is everything alright?" Lucas asked with concern as he
"...I don't know, my head hurts."
"How bad?" Lucas asked as he crossed the room and sat next to
"I... don't mean to complain or anything, it's probably just
from chopping wood yesterday, but honestly it's pretty bad."
"Maybe you should stick around the house and rest another day."
"... I don't think that's such a bad idea."
Mark's reply made Lucas much more concerned than he had been
before. Lucas knew that if Mark was willing to stay in the house
another day, he must've been feeling pretty miserable. Lucas
wondered if he should suggest going to see Doc Burrage, but
decided to wait and see how Mark was doing later.
"I'll do the chores before I leave, why don't you get back to
sleep?" Lucas suggested as he stood up.
"...Are you sure Pa?"
"Son, go to bed," Lucas ordered with a smile as he patted Mark's
shoulder. "I'll be back around noon to check up on you."
Mark felt like arguing and telling his Pa he didn't need to stop
working just to check up on him, but at the same time, Mark
actually thought it might not be such a bad thing. His head
seemed to be getting worse by the minute and the idea of having
his Pa check in on him was actually a somewhat comforting
thought. Something felt wrong.
Mark got back underneath the covers as Lucas started dressing.
The fact that Mark was giving practically no resistance worried
Lucas, this wasn't like his son at all. At the same time though,
he knew he had to take it as it was and enjoy not having to make
Mark stay in the house.
Lucas made some oatmeal for breakfast and kept a bowl out for
Mark before grabbing his rifle and hat and heading outside to do
the chores, then leaving to ride the fence line. As he worked
that morning, the rancher thought a lot about his son. The good
and bad times they had endured, the obstacles they had overcome
together, how fast his little boy had turned into a man.
Mark and Stephan Griswold had both told Lucas what had happened
in Chicago, and Lucas couldn't have been any prouder to see his
son firm and unwavering in what he believed. So much had changed
over the years; so much more was undoubtedly going to change in
the future. Lucas wondered where Mark was going to be in three,
four years. Would he be married? Would he be working off the
ranch? On the ranch? Would Mark hold to the same ideals and
morals? Lucas certainly hoped so. He had done his best to raise
Mark right and to lay a solid foundation for his son, but Lucas
really didn't know if he had done it right. It appeared so, and
Lucas prayed that it was that way.
For a moment, Lucas wondered if Mark would have turned out any
differently if he had grown up with a mother, Margaret or...
even Milly. She had held a special place in their hearts and
still did. Lucas still loved Milly in the same way he had the
day she left North Fork. Lucas wondered why he didn't go after
her, why he let her leave... but then again, he knew nothing
would have worked out between them in a relationship with Milly
still having burdens she needed to deal with. Lucas couldn't
help but wish, however, that things would have ended differently
than they did.
Around noon, Lucas headed back up to the house. He pulled the
team up in front of their home and jumped down from the
buckboard, rifle in hand.
Surprised and concerned to find that Mark still wasn't up and
hadn't touched his breakfast, Lucas made his way to the bedroom.
"Mark!" Lucas exclaimed as he rushed towards his son who was
lying on the floor, shaking uncontrollably. "Mark!" Lucas called
again as he reached his boy and knelt next to him.
Mark gave no indication that he was aware of Lucas's presence,
and the best Lucas could guess was that Mark was in shock of
some kind. Lucas called Mark's name over and over as he shook
his son, praying he would get through to Mark.
After an agonizing few minutes and no response from Mark, Lucas
finally lifted his son off the floor and ran him to the buck
board. This was a much more difficult feat than it used to be,
Mark had grown quite a bit the past year, defying everyone's
expectation of him taking after his Ma's stature. Mark still
looked thinner, but made up for it height.
After getting Mark situated in the back of the buckboard, Lucas
raced the team into town, praying that everything would be fine
the whole way there.
"Doc!" Lucas called as he barged into the office.
"Lucas, what happened?" The doctor inquired as he opened the
door to the back room, motioning for Lucas to put Mark on the
"I don't know, I think he's in shock. He was complaining of a
headache this morning and went back to sleep before I left to
ride the fence line. When I came back, he was lying on the
bedroom floor, shaking. He stopped about half way into town, but
hasn't woken up!"
Doc Burrage set to examining Mark and within two minutes stepped
back from his patient and let out a long sigh.
"Lucas you didn't try to “wake him up”, did you?"
"...I thought he was in shock, he was, wasn't he?" Lucas asked,
afraid he had done something to hurt Mark.
"Not shock, though sometimes it can look the same. Lucas, have
you heard of a seizure before?"
The rancher shook his head no as confusion spread across his
"It's not something that most people have heard of, even though
we've known about them for a while. They're fairly rare."
"What is it?"
"To put it very simply, it's when the brain suddenly has
extremely increased activity. It's not something we understand a
whole lot, but they're constantly learning more. From what we do
know, it can be caused by something genetically or by trauma to
the head, like Mark's injury a few weeks back."
"Is Mark going to be alright?"
"Lucas, I wish I could tell you. He should be fine, but there
are cases where the patient has had physical injury as a
consequence of the seizure. We'll have to wait until he wakes
up." The doctor paused slightly before continuing, "Luke, I need
to warn you that this could very well just be a one time thing,
or it could be a recurring incident. He could react like he did
today, or simply just look like he's staring off in the
distance, but not aware of things going on around him. If it
does happen again, the important thing is to stay calm, don't
try to control him, and wait for it to stop. I'm surprised he
was seizing that long, normally they only last a few minutes.
The longer the seizure, the more damage that can be done."
"What kind of damage?" Lucas asked with concern.
"Temporary paralysis and brain damage would be the greatest
concern. Again, I won't know if he's affected or not until he
"How long will that be?"
"I'm not sure. Shouldn't be more than an hour though. If he
wakes up let me know, I'm going to get back to the paperwork on
Lucas walked the doctor to the door and both men were surprised
to find Cassie sitting in the front office.
Lucas followed Doc into the front room and closed the door
behind him as Cassie stood up.
"Is everything alright? I was running an errand for Ma when I
saw you come into town," Cassie told Lucas as she took a few
steps towards the men.
Doc Burrage looked to Lucas for permission to explain, and the
father quickly nodded.
"Cassie do you know what a seizure is?"
"My cousin had several when she was little... did Mark have
one?" Cassie asked, concern written all over her face.
"Yes, he did," the doctor gravely told her.
"Is he going to be fine?"
Lucas could see Cassie's growing concern, he hoped he could calm
her some, but was having a hard time calming himself.
"We're waiting for him to wake up, Doc thinks so though. Cassie,
is your Pa standing shift at the Marshal's office?" Lucas
"Until this evening," Cassie replied with a nod.
"Why don't you go ahead and finish your errand for your mother;
we'll let your Pa know if there's any change."
Cassie nodded and headed towards the door. As she stepped
outside the office, she turned around.
"Mr. McCain, I'll be praying for Mark."
Lucas looked into the girl's eyes and saw something more than
concern, but he wasn't quite sure what that something was.
"Thank you Cassie," Lucas replied with a smile before she left.
A little over an hour later, Doc was in the back room talking to
Lucas when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.
"Lucas, I think he's coming to," the doctor commented as he
watched Mark begin to stir.
When Mark opened his eyes, he saw Doc Burrage and his Pa leaning
over him. He could see the concern in both their faces.
"What happened?" Mark asked.
"I think you've set a record," Doc Burrage joked. "How many
times have you been in my office the last six months?"
"I don't want to know," Mark replied with a long sigh. "What'd I
do to end up here?"
"Repercussions from your injury a few weeks ago. You had an
epileptic seizure, I'm sure you've read about them," Doc Burrage
"A little, I sat in on a lecture about them in Chicago and
that's where I learned the most about them. Is that what
"Yes. How do you feel now?"
"Tired, my head hurts a little bit, but it's really nothing
compared to this morning. I can't exactly move my right arm."
Mark had stated it in such a relaxed manner that Lucas and Doc
almost didn't catch what Mark had said.
"What!?" Lucas exclaimed as he realized what Mark had told them.
Doc Burrage rolled Mark's sleeve up and started pinching it.
"You can't feel anything?" The doctor inquired, watching for
some sort of reaction.
"Not in the slightest," Mark simply replied.
Lucas almost couldn't believe how composed Mark was.
"Doc?" Lucas asked.
"I hope it's temporary, it should be, however there is always
the slight chance it's not," Burrage
"A very, very small chance." Mark added, trying to keep his Pa
calm. Over the years, Mark had learned to simply except the hand
he was dealt in life and have the best attitude he could about
it. There was no point in working himself or his Pa up about it,
there was no point in ever getting angry about it either. "Doc,
Pa told me I had to ask you about the social Saturday. I can go,
"Mark, you just woke up from a seizure and you're thinking about
the summer social?" Lucas asked in disbelief.
"I don't see why he can't go Lucas, even after this morning.
Mark you just take it easy, stay out of the competitions and
keep away from the shooting contest. But there is one condition.
If I hear that you've been chopping wood again, riding, or
shooting your rifle, so help me I'll see to it that you miss the
next three socials," the doctor warned.
"How long will it be until I can ride again or get back to
work?" Mark asked.
"We'll have to see how this next week goes. I'm going to keep
you overnight just in case something happens, but if everything
is fine, your Pa can take you home tomorrow morning," the doctor
told Mark before making his way to the door. "Any other
"No, but thanks Doc," Mark replied as Lucas shook his head.
"I'll be back in to check on you in a while," Doc stated before
leaving the room.
"How was riding the fence line this morning?" Mark asked his Pa.
"Mark, are you alright? Doc and I would both understand if you
were a bit shook up by what happened. Just like anything else,
there's no shame in talking about it."
"I know," Mark started. "It's a little unnerving, especially
that I can't control my arm, but getting worked up about it
isn't going to do any good, for either of us. The worst thing
that could happen to me in life has happened."
"You mean almost dying?"
"Of course not," Mark replied.
Lucas looked at his son curiously, unsure of what Mark meant.
"Losing you. Since then I've really learned that I could care
less what happens to me, as long as those I care about are safe.
I'll go on with or without the use of my arm, but without people
and care about? That's a completely different story."
"Your maturity amazes me sometimes," Lucas commented.
There was a brief lull in the conversation until Mark spoke up.
"Pa... this may not be the best time to talk about this, but
I've been putting it off for almost three months."
"What is it?"
Mark was ready, more than ready to finally tell his Pa. He just
wanted to get it over with. Everything came out in one big rush.
"A year ago Marshal Osborne's family moved to North Fork. You
and I both have enjoyed getting to know them and becoming
friends with the family. I really enjoyed creating a friendship
with Anna and Cassie, as well as Ned now, too. The longer time
went on though, I realized something else was happening. When my
mind wandered, it didn't think about going fishing or trying to
figure out how the book I was reading was going to end. It
wandered to something... someone very special. As time went by,
somehow, some way that we can't explain, Cassie and I created
something more than a friendship. We both feel that we've
connected and created a bond that runs deeper than simply
friends. We can't really pinpoint when it exactly happened, and
at least for me I feel like it was just a slowly increasing care
for her. Pa, I want to do this the proper way. I know we're
young, I wouldn't ask her to marry me or anything until you and
her parents both think we're ready, but Pa I want your
permission to ask Marshal Osborne if I can court Cassie."
Lucas was taken aback by Mark's statement. It wasn't what he had
been expecting Mark to say... at all. Lucas slowly thought
through the past year and how he had watched the two interact.
Lucas thought about the look in Cassie's eyes before she left
the office. Now it made sense, that was the “something” he
couldn't figure out.
"Is this like Sally?" Lucas asked. Partially just to tease Mark,
but also to truly see what his son's answer would be.
"...Sally? Oh, Miss Milly's niece. That... that was absolutely
nothing compared to this, that was just a silly little crush."
"You were planning to build a house."
"What I thought I felt for Sally doesn't even compare to what I
know I feel for Cassie. Pa, I've been thinking about this for
almost three months, Cassie and I talked about it to each other
three weeks ago, and Pa, I just can't explain it. When I'm with
her... when I'm just thinking about Cassie, I feel alive inside.
Part of why I didn't decide to go to college was because it
didn't drive me. Pa, Cassie drives me. Motivates me. I feel
complete when we're together. Pa... I think I love her."
"Honestly, I am a bit surprised. Mark, I think you two make a
great team, but I don't want to see you make any mistakes,
either. I don't care if you ask Marshal and Mrs. Osborne
beforehand, but I would like to ask you to wait to ask Cassie
about courtship until you're both eighteen."
"I know it seems like an eternity, but if you really do love
her, your love will last the test of time. I don't want to see
either of you get hurt and I want you two to take it slowly, not
just jump in and end up drowning. At least for my sake, will you
It wasn't the answer Mark had been hoping for, but he did know
they were both young and that his Pa was probably right in
telling him to wait. Ten months just seemed like a very long
"Mark, I know it's hard to wait, but your relationship will be
better for it. Once you're both eighteen, I give you my full
"Thanks Pa." Mark smiled. It was going to be a long ten months,
but she was worth it.
Now Mark's only problem was asking Marshal Osborne for
permission... and that was even more intimidating than talking
to his Pa.
"Cassie, I thought you went home hours ago," Lucas commented as
he walked into the hotel and removed his hat.
"I finished running the errand for Ma and came back here to wait
to see you or Doc heading to the Marshal's. Miss Lou needed help
with wedding preparations anyway. Has Mark woken up yet?"
"This afternoon. He seems to be doing pretty good, in fact I'm
here to get us all supper." Lucas paused slightly before
proceeding, "...He has, however, lost control of his arm."
Worry spread across Cassie's face once again.
"Is it permanent?" She asked.
"Doc doesn't think so, but there is a very slight chance it
"How is Mark taking it?"
"Extremely well, which surprises me. Cassie, have you seen Lou?"
"Right behind ye cowboy," Lou stated. "I'll fix somethin' up for
the three of ye and bring it over."
"Thank you Lou, I appreciate it."
"If that son of yers keeps this up, we might just have to add on
to the office and build him a room," Lou jested.
"I hope this is the last time in a long time that he's there,
but the town council is talking about adding on to the office.
North Fork is really growing," Lucas replied. "I best get back
"Alright, tell Mark I said to get better quick. I'll send yer
supper over as soon as it's done." Lou stated before heading off
towards the kitchen.
Lucas started to make his way to the door, but stopped himself
and turned around.
"...Cassie, do you want to visit Mark?" Lucas offered.
Lucas smiled as excitement began to shine in the girl's eyes.
"Could I?" Cassie asked.
"I'm sure he'd enjoy the company."
"Thank you, Mr. McCain."
"No problem," Lucas replied as he held the door for Cassie.
Cassie and Lucas made their way down the street. When they
entered the office, Doc wasn't in the front room, but they soon
heard him from the other side of the door.
"Mark McCain, if you get out of this bed one more time, so help
me...!" The doctor exclaimed.
Cassie accidentally let a quiet laugh escape her mouth, but
quickly held her hand up to try to muffle the chuckle.
"There's no doubt he's my son..." Lucas sighed as he held the
door to the back room open for Cassie.
Mark looked up as the door to the room opened and didn't expect
who he saw walk through it.
"Cassie, what are you doing here?" Mark asked, pleasantly
"I saw your Pa bring you into town this afternoon, and was
waiting to hear how you were doing. Your Pa said you could use
"Maybe you can talk some sense into him, I certainly can't," the
doctor mused as he shook his head and left the room.
"Mark, I'm surprised that Doc hasn't given up on you," Lucas
joked as he offered Cassie a seat.
Cassie sat down as confusion starting creeping into her face.
"What do you mean, Mr. McCain?"
"I'm a little... stubborn when I'm told to take it easy," Mark
answered with a mischievous smile.
"More like you refuse to listen to Doc and me," Lucas commented.
"He's just as bad as I am," Mark told Cassie with raised
As the evening pressed on, Lucas watched the interaction between
Cassie and his son quite closely. He was starting to realize
just how oblivious he had been to the obvious connection the two
had. The longer he observed them, the more he realized Mark was
right... they did have a bond, a deep, very special bond. One
that showed a lot more than it used to. Lucas had wondered a
time or two if Mark had become interested in Cassie, but now
after Mark had told Lucas exactly how interested he was, it was
much easier to see the connection between them.
Eventually Cassie said that she needed to get back home and get
"Do you want me to escort you home?" Mark asked without
"Mark, you're lying in the doctor's office for heaven's sake!"
"...So?" Mark teased.
"I'll take her to the Marshal's office, Mark. You listen to Doc
and stay put," Lucas ordered.
"Alright..." Mark replied.
"I hope you get better soon Mark, things have been boring at the
ranch without you," Cassie stated.
"You're telling me, I've resorted to playing chess with myself
"Really?" Cassie chuckled.
"See if you can't convince Doc to let me go for a ride this week
and we can go up to-"
"Mark, I said get BETTER not ignore what Doc says. If you over
do it and I have to go any longer than necessary with Anna as a
stable hand, so help me I'll-"
"Alright, but I sure hope you haven't destroyed the work I've
done with those foals..." Mark teased.
"Just as much as you set Lightning and Thunder back earlier this
summer," Cassie shot back.
"Have a goodnight, Cassie." Mark laughed.
"You're sure you are feeling up to this?" Lucas asked Mark as
they walked out of the house together.
Mark stopped walking once he reached the bottom of the porch
steps and turned to Lucas.
"Pa, what's wrong?" Mark asked in a serious tone.
"What do you mean?"
"You've been on edge ever since I got back from Chicago. You
haven't calmed down since you came running into Doc's a month
ago. I know you're concerned about me, but this whole month has
been different than anything we've ever gone through. For once
I'm actually being completely open about everything going on, I
haven't hidden anything from you, yet I feel like we're more
strained than ever. Something is eating at you, but I can't
figure out what."
Lucas sighed as he put his hands on his hips. Mark was right...
something has been eating at him, something he'd been avoiding
coming to terms with for four weeks.
"You know... you're right, Mark."
Lucas started as he sat down on the porch and motioned for Mark
to join him. "I'm scared."
Mark looked at his Pa in confusion and surprise, but didn't say
"When Micah rode out here to get me and told me that you were
lying in Doc's office, fear gripped me and hasn't let go since.
I've come to terms with the fact that I can't possibly protect
you from everything, whether you're here or hundreds of miles
away. But that was just it. Riding into town I felt completely
and utterly helpless, knowing there was absolutely nothing I
could have done or ever will be able to do to protect you. I
was, and still am terrified of losing you, or even watching you
suffer in the smallest ways. That's why I'm always getting on
you about over doing it. Mark, I know you could care less about
things that happen to you, but as a father it puts me in agony
to see you hurt. You were right when you said something's been
eating at me, fear has been eating at me. I love you son."
"I know you do, Pa. It's evident in everything you do. I love
you too and that's why I have the same worries and fears about
you. But a wise man once told me that the fear I feel for those
I love shouldn't control me, but that I should use the love I
feel for them to redirect that fear into something good."
"Sounds like a very wise man," Lucas teased.
"Pa, our relationship is going to be destroyed if we run wild
with fear. We can't control what happens, we can only accept
what happens. Pa, we've gotta live in the moments we have, not
the ones that might happen." Mark paused and looked into Lucas'
eyes. "No matter what happens, we'll always have each other,
like we still have Ma. I hope I outlive you, no parent should
have to bury their child. But if something does ever happen,
promise me you'll live “forward”. We've come too far together
for one of us to slip backwards alone."
"Forward," Lucas simply stated as he embraced his son.
"Now can we get going or is there another thing you have in mind
to stall with?" Mark quipped.
"Let's go," Lucas replied as the two walked towards the buck
"You know," Mark started as he sat down in the buck board and
put his rifle down. "I can't wait 'til my arm gets back to
normal. It's strange doing everything with my left hand."
"I'm sure you're dying to do the dishes, too," Lucas joked.
"Oh, real eager."
As soon as Lucas and Mark arrived in town, Mark made his way
straight to the food table, giving Lucas a good laugh. The
evening was already well under way with several games and
competitions in progress. Lucas caught sight of Micah and made
his way towards his friend.
"How are you, Micah?" Lucas asked as he stood next to the
"As good as can be expected. How are things at the ranch?"
"Busy with Mark down, but I'm managing."
"And how are things going with Mark?"
"A lot better now than they were a few hours ago."
"Was Mark having trouble coming to terms with everything?"
"No, he's fine. I was the one with problems."
"Anything you need to talk about?" Micah asked with concern.
"No, Mark actually made everything pretty clear for me.
Sometimes Micah, I can't believe that he's my son. He's got the
maturity and wisdom of someone three times his age and the
humility of a child."
"You did a fine job raising him Lucas, he's become quite the
man. Won't be long until he's getting married and starting a
"And that may be sooner than I expected," Lucas sighed.
"What do you mean?"
"Mark asked me for permission to court Cassie."
"Well it took him long enough," Micah jested.
"What do you mean, it took him long enough?" Lucas inquired with
Micah looked at his friend in slight amazement.
"You really didn't see this coming, did you?"
"No... did you?"
"Did I? Lucas-boy, where have you been the last nine months,
under a rock? The whole town has seen this coming!" Micah
"How could they?"
"Lucas, they may tease each other relentlessly, but Mark and
Cassie work good together, they balance each other, they
complete each other. Half the people in this town believe they
were made for each other."
"How did I miss it then?" Lucas inquired.
"The same way you missed Lou and Johnny," Micah stated as he
motioned to the couple dancing together. "What'd you tell Mark
when he asked you if he could court her?"
"I asked him to wait until they were both eighteen. Cassie will
be done with school by then and it will give me a chance to pay
attention to how they interact."
"... And also give you a chance to get used to the idea of Mark
eventually getting married?"
"Yes..." Lucas began. "So much has changed over the last year,
everything is moving so fast. It's like I blinked and suddenly I
had a man for a son."
"They do grow up fast," Micah commented before changing the
subject. "Doc is going out of town for a week at the beginning
of October, what do you think about renovating his office while
he's gone? I've talked to quite a few towns folk and it seems to
be a good week for it."
"I'll be here, you can count on my help."
"How's Mark's arm doing?"
"The same. He's staying positive though, he's gotta be the most
optimistic person I know."
"Has cabin fever set in yet?"
"He's had it for weeks... I think I might just have you lock him
up if he doesn't take it easier."
Micah let out a bout of laughter and Lucas looked at his friend
"What is it?" Lucas asked.
"Oh nothing, Mark just told me the same thing back in December
when you broke your leg. You two are so stubborn."
Later that evening, Lucas saw Mark talking with Cassie, the two
sitting with their backs to Lucas. He started to walk up behind
them, but stopped as he began to hear their conversation.
"Mark, I'm sure your Pa doesn't blame you," Lucas heard Cassie
"Of course he doesn't, he never does. But do you realize how
much I..." Mark's voice slowly trailed off, giving Cassie an
opportunity to interject.
"Mark, he doesn't blame you because you don't need to feel
Lucas slowly walked away, wanting to talk to Mark, but knowing
he wasn't supposed to have heard that conversation and also
knowing that it would be better to talk to Mark in private
Cassie continued, wanting to help Mark, somehow.
"Mark you can't control what they did, and it's definitely not
"But I blindly walked into that situation like a fool..." Mark
started, gesturing behind him.
Cassie's eyes widened and pure shock was written all over her
"What is it?" Mark asked with concern.
"Mark, your arm..."
"What about it?" Mark asked as he looked at it, then it suddenly
hit him. "It's about time." Mark laughed as he stretched his
right arm out.
"Should we have Doc look at it?"
"Come on Cassie, it's fine. Actually, it's great."
"Now you can't use it as an excuse," Cassie commented with a
"An excuse for what?"
"You said the only reason I ate more pie than use was because it
was “hard” eating pie with your left hand holding the fork."
"I won't need an excuse, cause I'm going to out eat you," Mark
said as he stood.
"You can try," Cassie replied with a smile as she made her way
towards the pies with Mark.
That night, Lucas and Mark both lied awake in their bunks, sleep
unwilling to take them. Mark
heard his Pa get up and go into the front room, and after a few
Mark found Lucas sitting in his chair, deep in thought. Mark sat
down across from him without saying anything.
"Couldn't sleep?" Lucas asked as he looked at Mark.
"No..." Mark slowly replied. "Pa..."
"What is it?"
Mark sighed before sitting up a little more and looking straight
"Pa, I know you heard part of my conversation with Cassie, I'm
sure you're wondering what it's all about."
"How did you know?"
"I saw your reflection in the window."
"Mark, I am wondering what it was all about, but if you're not
"I need to be," Mark started. "When I got home from Chicago, I
told you everything. I didn't want secrecy, I didn't want
tension. I was completely honest, and I told you that it would
take me a while to get over everything. We've talked everything
through plenty of times, and I am slowly getting over almost
being killed. I can't get over one thing though."
"What is that?"
"How stupid I was."
Lucas looked at Mark with confusion.
"What are you talking about?"
"I walked into that Sheriff's office blindly, off guard, almost
got myself and Ned killed, and then put you through all the
repercussions of that incident. All the worry, fear, and concern
you've gone through because I made a stupid mistake. Pa I'm
"Mark, Cassie was right when she said you shouldn't feel guilty,
and that I don't blame you."
"Mark, you were standing up for what you believed. You thought
someone was doing something wrong and tried to stop them.
Granted, next time you'll know to get a little back up, but
Mark, I'm proud of you for wanting to find the truth and that
you didn't walk away even though you knew there could be danger.
And as for putting me through worry, Mark, you can't stop being
who you are to spare my feelings. You and I both want to see
justice done and do what we can to see it happen. As for Ned, he
got himself into that situation for the same reasons as you. You
weren't the one who pulled him into that mess, he dived in long
before you did."
"But what?" Lucas asked, knowing his son didn't have anything to
"...But nothing, I guess."
"Just learn from this and move on Mark, don't give yourself a
burden that doesn't need to be carried."
"...Thanks Pa." Mark smiled as he stood up. "I'm going to try to
get some sleep."
"I'll be in after a while. Goodnight Mark."
Lucas watched Mark walk into the bedroom and close the door. A
few moments later, Lucas quickly stood up and walked into the
"Mark, when did you get control of your arm?" Lucas asked in
"Shortly after you walked away from my conversation with Cassie.
I forgot to tell you?"
"That or you remembered that Doc wanted to see you if anything
"He did?" Mark asked innocently.
"Get some sleep," Lucas chuckled before returning to the front
Summer tuned into fall and school was well under way. Mark found
it very strange not being in school every day, but stayed plenty
busy between the two ranches.
Every morning Lucas and Mark worked on the morning chores
together before Mark left for the Osborne's. If he timed it
right, Mark could stop by the school and talk with Cassie for a
few minutes before school started for the day. One morning, Mark
had arrived at the school house before Cassie and was waiting by
the hitching post for her when Mr. Griswold emerged from the
"Good morning, Mark," the school teacher greeted as he made his
way over to Mark.
"Morning Mr. Griswold," Mark pleasantly replied.
After Stephan had returned from his trip, Mark had not spoken
with his former teacher about what had happened in Chicago. He
knew Stephan had spoken to his Pa about it, but had no idea what
he had told him.
"Mark, I never got the opportunity to thank you."
"Thank me for what?" Mark asked, a little confused.
"When we went to Chicago, I had allowed myself to become closed
minded and arrogant as I had been once before. I did not realize
how bad it had become until your... well delivered speech. You
opened my eyes again, and the eyes of many in that room for the
first time. It takes a brave man to take a stand in such
company, and I thank you for doing so."
Mark didn't know exactly how to respond, the last thing he was
expected was for Stephan to thank him for lecturing a bunch of
highly esteemed adults.
Stephan could see the surprise on Mark's face and changed the
"We've had some very favorable weather lately, haven't we?"
"...Yes sir. Pa and I were talking this morning, I hope a long
fall doesn't mean an even longer winter."
"We'll have to see," Stephan stated. "I believe you're going to
be busy until school begins, I need to get back to grading
papers. I will see you this afternoon Mark."
"Busy until..." Mark started, but then he saw Cassie riding up.
"See you later, Mr. Griswold."
When Cassie rode up to the hitching post, Mark took Storm's
reigns and tied them around the post before helping Cassie down
from her horse. Three months prior, Cassie would have never let
someone help her down from her horse, and she still didn't.
Unless that someone was Mark.
"You seem excited this morning," Mark commented as he patted
Storm's neck. "What's the occasion?"
"You remember me telling you about my Aunt Camilla, don't you?"
Cassie asked as they sat down by a tree.
"The one you stayed with this summer?" Mark inquired.
"Yes, and we just received word that she can come for
Christmas," Cassie replied with delight.
"That's great, but what about your grandfather?"
"See, originally we invited both of them for Thanksgiving, but
my aunt is helping my grandpa move in with my Uncle Samuel and
Aunt Molly around that time. So we invited her for Christmas and
she accepted. I'm really excited, I've missed her a lot. I can't
wait for you to meet her, I think you'll really like her."
"From what you've told me, I'm sure I will. You said a while
back that she used to live here?"
"That's what she told me this summer, but she said it was a long
"Probably before we moved here then, I don't remember anybody by
the name of Camilla."
Cassie and Mark turned around when they heard the school bell
ringing and began walking towards the doors of the school.
"I'll see you at lunch then?" Cassie hopefully inquired.
"I'll be here," Mark replied as Cassie walked inside the
Cassie found her mind wandering during school. She was beginning
to find it boring and dull, and all she could really think about
was the upcoming lunch hour.
On more than one occasion that semester, Cassie had looked up to
find Mr. Griswold standing over her desk and the entire class
staring at her, and today was no exception.
"Miss Osborne," Mr. Griswold sternly called.
Cassie jumped in her seat and looked up.
"I'm sorry Mr. Griswold, I'm having a little trouble focusing
"So I've noticed. Pay attention please, or I will ask you to
stay after class."
"Yes sir," Cassie replied with embarrassment.
Cassie had less difficulty paying attention the rest of the
morning, but was greatly relieved when Mr. Griswold called for
lunch. Cassie quickly made her way outside and walked to the
and Mark had lunch at every day, only to find him not there.
Very seldom was Mark not there when she got out of school, but
Cassie figured Mark must have been delayed at the ranch for some
reason. She sat down and waited, but Mark never came. Confused
and a little upset, Cassie eventually made her way back into the
school house when Mr. Griswold rang the bell again.
All afternoon Cassie wondered what could have kept Mark. She was
tempted to get angry at Mark for standing her up, and honestly
did a little bit, but quickly reminded herself of the dozens of
things that could have kept him occupied at the ranch.
When Stephan finally dismissed his class, Cassie started to make
her way to the doors when the teacher called for her. Cassie
quickly stopped and turned around.
"Yes, Mr. Griswold?" Cassie politely answered.
"I certainly hope you will take into consideration the example
you are setting for the younger students. When they see older
students begin to slack off or not pay attention in class, they
tend to do the same thing. You've always been a bright,
attentive young lady and I do not wish to see that change about
"Yes sir," Cassie replied as she inwardly cringed.
"Thank you, I will see you in class tomorrow."
"Have a good day." Cassie politely smiled before turning around
and walked out of the building.
As Cassie looked towards where Storm was hitched, she saw Mark
standing there, waiting for her. Cassie quickly made her way up
to him as she tried to figure out what to say first.
"Cassie, I'm so sorry about lunch, something came up that was
out of my control," Mark apologized as he looked into her eyes.
"I suppose I'll forgive you this once," Cassie teased. "It's
alright. One of the horses giving you trouble?"
"No, your Pa."
"My Pa?" Cassie asked in surprise.
"Him and Doc Burrage."
"Why was Doc Burrage involved?" Cassie inquired, alarmed. "Mark
"It's fine, calm down. I just had a tiny little seizure is all."
"Are you alright? What are you doing here then? Why aren't you-"
"Cassie, it was like three minutes and all I did was stare off
into space. I'm fine, Doc Burrage told me I can stay with my
regular activities, all he did was keep me in town for a few
"Doc did tell you that you were allowed to leave the office,
right?" Cassie asked with worry evident in her voice.
"Yes, I was good and waited until he told me I could go home. I
tried telling them I was supposed to meet you, but-"
"Mark, I don't care that you weren't there, I'm just glad you're
"Good," Mark smiled. "Do you want me to escort you and Anna
"You should probably go home, since your Pa probably is starting
to get concerned."
"I had been planning on staying late at your place today to
finish that section of fence out in the east pasture, so Pa
won't expect me home for a while. Your Pa told me to take the
rest of the day off so I don't mind taking a few minutes to take
Soon Cassie was waving goodbye to Mark as she stood on the front
porch of her home. After he was out of view, she went inside and
saw her parents sitting together on the sofa. Anna was nowhere
in sight and by the look her parents were giving her, Cassie
knew she was in for some sort of talk.
"Take a seat Cassie," Mrs. Osborne offered as she gestured to a
chair across from them.
Cassie did as instructed and waited for her parents to say
"Cassie," John began. "Your mother and I have always wanted all
of you children to have the best education possible. We've tried
to provide you the best schooling we could, and have asked all
of you to commit to high school level curriculum, which we are
very glad to see that you all have chosen to do just that.
Cassie, school has never been your favorite thing to do, we know
you would much rather be riding Storm than stuck in the
classroom, but you've always put all the effort you could into
your school work. You've worked so hard and have become a very
intelligent young woman. Unfortunately, something has changed
this year and your grades are getting worse and Mr. Griswold
says you daydream a lot in class. Stephan has offered to spend
an hour with you after school for the next few weeks, tutoring
you until you get a better grasp of your lessons."
"A whole hour?" Cassie asked in defeat.
"Until you get your grades back up, yes."
"Well why can't Mark help me? He's done it all before and passed
all of his classes with an extremely high grade."
"Because Mark is not a teacher," the Marshal simply stated.
"And another thing about Mark," Mrs. Osborne added. "Cassie,
your father and I have both seen the friendship between you two
blossom, and we don't think it's a bad thing, but we do think
that perhaps it's time to cut back how much time you spend
together. We believe he's becoming a distraction from your
school work, even your responsibilities around here."
"You're saying I can't spend time with him anymore!?" Cassie
asked in a much louder tone than she had meant to.
"You will keep your composure, young lady," Marshal Osborne
"Yes sir," Cassie quickly responded.
"We're not saying that you can't spend any time with him, we
simply want you to cut back the time you do. Such as your
morning chats before school and lunches," the marshal explained.
"Cassie, I know this seems hard darling, but your Pa and I think
it's what is best for you right now. You need to concentrate on
your responsibilities first, then you can focus on your
relationship with him."
"That's completely not fair!" Cassie exploded before storming
out of the house.
"Cassie Osborne-" Mrs. Osborne started, but the door slammed
Catherine started to go after Cassie, but her husband put a hand
on her arm.
"Let her do some thinking, we can sort her attitude out later."
Lucas looked up from the board he was sawing to see Mark
entering the barn.
"I thought you weren't going to be home until supper," Lucas
"I wasn't, but Marshal Osborne sent me home for the day."
"Did something happen?" Lucas asked curiously.
"Pa, promise me you'll stay calm..."
"Doc gave everything a thorough check and said everything was
fine, he said I can do all my normal stuff."
"Why wouldn't you have been able to do your normal things?"
Lucas asked with growing concern.
"...I may have had a small seizure today," Mark apprehensively
Lucas inhaled sharply and let out a long sigh before replying,
trying to stay level headed.
"Why didn't someone come get me?"
"It only lasted two or three minutes, and nothing seemed to be
wrong afterwards. Doc even said I could go back to the Osborne's
for the rest of the afternoon, but Marshal Osborne wouldn't hear
of it and sent me home."
"...I'm glad everything is alright," Lucas stated as he reached
out and put a hand on Mark's shoulder.
Mark knew exactly what his Pa was doing, but didn't mind it. In
fact, he sorta had wanted it. Sometimes there were those moments
when they both needed the physical contact between the two of
them to keep them in the present instead of a world of “what
ifs”. It also reminded them of the bond and love they shared as
father and son. No, Mark didn't mind one bit.
"If you want proof that Doc said everything was fine..." Mark
started as he held an envelope out for Lucas.
"No, I trust you," Lucas stated as he pushed the envelope down.
"You wanna give me a hand with this sawing though?"
"Sure," Mark replied with a smile.
That evening, Mark was doing the chores in the barn while his Pa
was doing the dishes inside
the house. Mark heard someone riding up and headed out of the
barn, rifle at the ready as always.
Mark relaxed his grip after he saw who it was.
"Evening Marshal Osborne," Mark greeted as the Marshal
"Evening, Mark. Cassie isn't here, is she?"
"...No sir, I haven't seen her since I rode her and Anna home."
"Alright..." the marshal sighed.
Mark could see concern on his face.
"Is something wrong?"
"She just went for a ride and has been gone a little longer than
usual, she's probably back at the house. I'm glad I'm over here
though, I've been meaning to talk to you about something."
"What is it?"
"Mark, Catherine and I have both been watching your friendship
with Cassie closely for the last year, and if I'm not mistaken,
things have become... a bit more complicated between you two,
"...Yes sir, they have," Mark sheepishly admitted.
"I can't say that it really surprises me, and the Mrs. and I do
want you to know, Mark, that we think very highly of you.
Catherine and I, by no means, disapprove of the two of you
getting to know each other the way you have, I'd say we even
slightly encourage it... until that getting to know each other
starts affecting areas it shouldn't."
"Mark, this evening Catherine and I told Cassie that we wanted
her to cut back the time she spent with you. This is no
reflection on you or either one of your characters, Cassie
simply has become distracted from her responsibilities and
schoolwork since you two have started spending more time with
each other. Mark, I hope you don't think that Catherine and I
don't want you to have a relationship with Cassie, we do..."
"But right now a close relationship is doing more harm than
good, and Cassie needs to be able to focus on her school work,"
"Yes, exactly. Mark you a very responsible, mature man and my
wife and I think the world of
you, but I think you understand how important education is, and
how distracting it can be to have someone that close to you when
you've never experienced something like that before."
"Yes sir, I do..." Mark faintly smiled as he thought about how
often he found himself daydreaming about Cassie.
"Thank you for understanding, Mark."
"Marshal Osborne, since we're on the subject, I do have a
question to ask you..." Mark slowly stated as he shifted his
weight and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"What is it?"
"Obviously you know how Cassie and I both feel about each other.
I will admit that I know it will be hard for me, but if Cassie
needs me to spend less time around her, I will. Marshal... when
the time comes that she doesn't need that... when she's done
with school and we're both eighteen... I mean I know we'll still
be young and all, but may I... have your permission to court
John wasn't surprised at all and let out a laugh as he watched
Mark nervously stand there.
Mark didn't know whether the laughter was a good thing or a bad
thing, but he didn't really care, he just wanted an answer.
The marshal composed himself a bit more and put a hand on Mark's
"Sorry, I shouldn't keep you waiting like that, I know how
nervous I was when I asked my father-in-law the same thing. Yes,
you have my permission and blessing, as long as you do wait
until she's done with school."
Mark let out a sigh of relief without realizing it, giving the
Marshal another chuckle.
"Thank you, sir," Mark stated as he shook John's hand.
"You're welcome, Mark. I best keep looking for Cassie, it'll be
gettin' dark soon."
"If you don't mind me asking, was she upset when she left?"
"I might have an idea of where she is then, it might be easier
for me to show you than tell you how to get there."
"Actually, would you do me a favor?"
"Sure, what is it?"
Cassie's head shot up before she quickly turned around to see
who was walking up behind her. She didn't know who she had been
expecting, but the last person she thought she would see was
"What are you doing here?" Cassie asked in surprise as she wiped
a tear from her cheek.
"Your Pa came by the ranch, looking for you. He's concerned
about you, Cassie."
"Now he is..." Cassie mumbled.
"That's not what I'm talking about. Yes, he's worried you've
been gone so long, but he told you what he did earlier this
evening because he was concerned about you getting your
priorities mixed up."
"He doesn't understand..."
"He understands a lot more than you think, Cassie. He
understands us, our relationship. That's why he suggested we
back off for a little while. You need to focus on your studies,
not me right now. We both need to evaluate our lives and make
sure we're ready to give away so much time and energy to another
"I am ready," Cassie firmly assured.
"Me too, but there are other things in life that you have to
deal with first. You know how important your education is, and
you even admitted to me a few weeks ago that you're worried
about passing all of your classes. Emotionally, we're both more
than ready. But there are other things we have to set in place
first before we can commit. I've become a distraction in your
life from things that are important to you and who you are, and
I don't want to continue to be a distraction."
"Cassie, I still feel the same way about you, but right now we
need to honor your parents' request and focus on more than our
relationship right now. They only want what's best for the both
of us, and wouldn't ask us to spend a little less time together
if it wasn't the right thing."
Cassie thought for a long moment before replying.
"They do say that absence makes the heart grow fonder..."
"It's not like one of us is moving away. We'll still see each
other at church and thanksgiving, days I'm working late at your
place and I'm sure we'll see each other in town."
"You're right... but it's still going to be hard."
"Well then hurry up and get your grades up!" Mark teased.
"If I remember what Mr. Griswold said, you came pretty close to
failing a few classes yourself," Cassie shot back.
"In the eighth grade, but I didn't, and graduated top of my
"Mark, you were the only one in your class."
"Exactly." Mark smiled as Cassie laughed; he loved watching her
smile, she had such a special look in her eye when she did.
"Let's get you home, your Ma is probably worried about you."
"... I suppose I'll have some apologizing to do when I get
"I wouldn't know, but if you do I'm sure they're ready to
"Mark, thank you for coming all the way out here to talk to me."
"Don't mention it. BlueBoy needed the exercise anyway."
"Wait, how did you find me?"
"I showed you around up here, remember?"
"Well yeah, but still..."
"I know it's your favorite spot off the ranches, and you come
out here when you want time to think."
"How do you know?"
"I occasionally do the same thing on my way home from work."
"But I never see you."
"That's because I'm usually up there," Mark replied as he
pointed to a ledge far above them.
"Sometime I'll show you the view from up there, but we should
really get going if we want to be back before dark."
"Ya nervous Uncle Johnny?" Mark asked as he walked into the
"Is he nervous? He couldn't tie his own tie!" Lucas laughed as
he finished adjusting Johnny's tie.
"If I remember right, you needed a little help yourself on your
big day," Johnny shot back.
"They about ready to get started over there, Mark?" Micah asked
from behind the desk, coffee in hand as usual.
"Reverend Graft told me to tell Uncle Johnny that he's ready
when the bride and groom are, and Mrs. Graft said that Lou is
just making a few last minute adjustments," Mark replied.
"Why don't we head over there then," Lucas suggested as he
grabbed his rifle.
Mark watched the nervous excitement of his uncle the whole
ceremony. When Lou came down the aisle, Mark didn't know if he'd
ever seen his uncle so speechless.
As soon as reverend Graft pronounced them man and wife, everyone
made their way to the hotel for a beautiful reception. There was
a good amount of light hearted banter between Johnny, Lou, Mark,
and Micah throughout the course of the evening; Mark primarily
Lou and Johnny walked away from Mark and Micah to talk to a few
other guests, and Micah let out a soft chuckle.
"What is it Micah?" Mark inquired as he gave him a questioning
"You just better be careful boy, I hear some cupids are using
you and a certain special someone for target practice."
Mark just gave a chuckle in response, but the smile stayed on
his face as he scanned the large crowd of people and saw Cassie
talking with a few other young ladies.
"Mark, how many pieces of pie have you had?" Micah asked as Mark
took another bite of pie.
"This is number four."
"Don't you get a stomach ache from eating so much?"
"Then why do you?"
"Well right now Cassie has out eaten me twice, and if she out
eats me this time, the score will be tied."
"What score?" Micah asked in confusion.
"I don't know exactly when it started, but we always see who
eats the most pie. I guess it's kind of silly, but..."
"We both enjoy the competition, I guess. No matter who wins, it
always puts a smile on her face... she has a beautiful smile,
"Guess I've never payed attention to it, but I suppose she
does," Micah replied.
Micah laughed as he looked at Mark, who was still gazing across
the room at Cassie.
"Your uncle is going to have a field day when he snaps out of
his world enough to see you all love struck."
"See, my teasing worked with him because he kept denying that he
liked Lou. If he starts teasing me I wouldn't care, I gladly
admit I have feelings for Cassie."
"Are you going to ask her to dance?"
"That's the other thing though... right now she needs to focus
on her schoolwork and other responsibilities, not me. I have
feelings for her, but I know they need to wait to be expressed."
"Well Mark, that's a very mature attitude. Not many people take
the initiative to do what the other person in a relationship
needs, not necessarily what they want."
"It's been difficult, but I know eventually it will be worth
Reverend Graft stood up and announced that the couple would be
leaving in a few minutes, and asked everyone to make their way
Everyone whooped and hollered as the couple drove off, happier
than ever. The crowd slowly made their way back inside to start
cleaning up, and before long the hotel was back in order.
Later that evening, Lucas was reading in the front room when
Mark came out of the bedroom, apparently ready to go somewhere.
"Just where do you think you're going?" Lucas asked, knowing the
"Or not," Lucas stated laughingly.
"Oh but Pa, this is Uncle Johnny! We're not gonna get-"
"It's your uncle and you aren't going to be taking any part of
any shivaree," Lucas firmly stated.
"Alright..." Mark conceded. "I guess I'll just have to make up
for it when we see them off at the train station tomorrow
"You better be careful."
"Uncle Johnny knows I mean well."
"Your uncle may take it fine, just don't rile your new aunt, I'd
like to stay on her good side."
The following weeks quickly passed, and Mark felt like instead
of things slowing down like they normally did during the winter
months, things just got busier. After Lou and Johnny got back
from their honeymoon, they invited the McCain's, the Graft’s,
the Osborne's, and Micah for thanksgiving dinner, all of whom
gladly accepted. Cassie beat Mark again in their little
“contest” leaving the score four-three, Cassie's favor. Much to
Anna's delight, there wasn't a repeat of what had happened in
the kitchen the previous year.
The renovation of the clinic turned into a much bigger project
than anyone had planned on, but by the end of November
everything was finished and Doc was very pleased with how
everything had turned out.
Early December, Mark was working at the Osborne's, fixing a
fence that had been damaged during the previous night's snow
As Mark heard someone riding up, he stopped hammering and made
sure he knew where his rifle was before turning around.
"Cassie what are you doing out here? It's freezing!" Mark
exclaimed as he stood up and took the reigns from Cassie.
"Making good on what I said last spring," Cassie replied as she
"What are you talking about?" Mark inquired, confusion written
all over his face.
"You said you looked forward to seeing “us” fix a fence in
freezing cold weather, because you didn't think I could do it.
Well, Mark McCain, I'm here to prove you wrong."
"I know you can, I won't hold you to it. You should be inside."
"I told you that “we” would fix a fence in freezing cold
weather, and that's what “we” are going to do," Cassie stated
"Alright..." Mark sighed. "...Your parents are okay with you
being out here, right?"
"Yes, I talked to them before I came out. Now, what do you want
me to do?"
"Will you hold this board for me?" Mark asked as he gestured to
the board lying on the ground.
"It would be my pleasure," Cassie dramatically replied.
Cassie and Mark began talking as they worked. They hadn't
completely cut off their interaction over the past few months,
but had made sure it stayed fairly limited. Mark enjoyed talking
with Cassie, it had been the first time in several months he'd
been able to have a private conversation with her. Both of them
enjoyed every moment they spent together that afternoon, and
both were reminded even more than normal of the feelings they
had for the other.
"Cassie, would you get me the second hammer out of my saddle
bag?" Mark asked.
"Sure Mark," Cassie answered as she stood and turned around.
Cassie found the hammer without any difficulty, but when she
turned around and saw what had been behind her, she froze in
Cassie opened her mouth to speak, but at first no words would
come out. Cassie kept trying until she found her voice, but all
that came out was a whisper.
"M-Mark... M..." Cassie swallowed. "Mark...!" Cassie finally
Mark heard the urgency... the terror in Cassie's voice and
quickly turned around to see two wolves pacing in front of her.
"...Cassie, stay very still," Mark ordered. "Don’t move,
Cassie slowly nodded as Mark carefully reached for his rifle.
Cassie heard the first several shots go off, but one wolf was
still alive and charging Mark. Cassie watched as Mark continued
to fire at the wolf, until the animal lay lifeless on the
No sooner had Cassie breathed a sigh of relief than she saw a
third wolf approaching Mark from behind.
"Mark, behind you!" Cassie screamed as the wolf jumped on Mark,
knocking him to the ground.
Cassie helplessly watched as Mark struggled to turn onto his
back and try to use his rifle to push the wolf away.
"Cassie, get your Pa!" Mark yelled, snapping Cassie out of her
Cassie did as Mark told her, jumped on BlueBoy, and raced to the
Cassie rushed into the house, causing both her parents to stand
from their seats as they saw the fear on her face.
"Cassie, what-" Catherine began.
"Pa, Mark is being attacked by a wolf!" Cassie cried.
"He what? Show me where!" The marshal instructed as he ran
outside with his daughter.
Both mounted BlueBoy and Cassie quickly directed the horse to
the south pasture. As Mark came into sight, Cassie's heart
dropped. The wolf stood triumphantly over a motionless Mark.
"No, please..." Cassie whispered as she urged BlueBoy to go
"Cassie, stop the horse!" John ordered.
Marshal Osborne already had his gun trained on the wolf, and
after two quick shots, the wolf collapsed on top of Mark.
Cassie and John jumped down from BlueBoy and ran to the body
lying on the ground.
"Mark! Mark, please!" Cassie cried as she helped her father roll
the wolf off Mark.
Cassie tried to control her tears as she looked at Mark's bloody
face and chest; the fact that Mark was ever so slightly
breathing brought little comfort.
"Mark!" Cassie cried again.
Marshal Osborne put his hands on his daughter's shoulders and
turned her away from Mark.
"Cassie, listen to me," John ordered. "Cassie!"
"Pa what if..."
"We can't focus on that right now. Cassie, ride to the house and
load as many blankets as you can in the back of the buck board,
then I want you to drive it out here. Do you understand?
Cassie?" Marshal Osborne called as he gently yet firmly shook
his daughter, who was crying hysterically. "Cassie, we have to
get him to town, go get the buck board!"
Cassie nodded and ran back to BlueBoy and mounted him before
taking off towards the house.
As Cassie entered the house, she started yelling for her Ma, but
then she realized her mother and sister were both standing by
the table which was covered with blankets and towels.
"Pa wants us to put blankets down in the buck board and-"
Cassie didn't need to finish, her mother and sister were already
grabbing material and running out of the house. Cassie grabbed
what was left and followed them.
The three quickly had the team hitched and were headed out to
the south pasture.
Anna knew her mother didn't know the property very well and
couldn't handle the buck board very well in the snow either, but
she also knew Cassie was having a hard time controlling the team
in her emotional state.
"Cassie, where are they?" Anna firmly asked.
"...Very edge of the south pasture, we were working on the fence
and-" Cassie stopped as she felt the reigns being taken from her
Cassie didn't argue, she couldn't think straight enough to do
"Cassie, go help Ma finish making the pallet in the back," Anna
Cassie didn't even think, she just did.
Anna felt somewhat strange taking charge... being the youngest,
she never told anyone what to do, she just did what she was
told. But now seemed like a good time to take control for once.
Anna didn't know if she'd ever seen her sister so distraught.
She could see the pain and fear written all over Cassie's face.
Anna was praying hard that Mark would be fine, but she did all
she could to emotionally detach from the situation, she knew if
she let her emotions go, her parents would have two emotional
wrecks and Mark to deal with.
As Anna pulled the team up next to her Pa, she was appalled at
Mark's condition and now understood why Cassie was so scared.
All three women jumped out of the buck board and helped Marshal
Osborne lift Mark into the back of it. Cassie and her mother sat
in the back, tending to Mark, while Anna sat next to her Pa who
was now driving the buck board into town.
The time it took to ride into town were absolutely agonizing for
the Osborne's. Cassie had never felt so overwhelmed with fear in
her life, and despite her efforts to not let herself feel, Anna
knew she was extremely afraid for Mark's life. Mark had become
like another older brother to her, she couldn't imagine watching
After finally reaching the clinic, the Osborne's carefully
carried Mark into the office.
"What happened?" Doc asked as he took Mark's legs from Cassie
and Anna and helped the Marshal put Mark in the examination
Marshal Osborne waited for his daughter to explain, but when he
looked at her face, knew she wasn't going to be able to talk.
"Cassie and Mark were fixing the fence and a few wolves came
across them. I think Mark shot two of them before the third one
attacked him. Cassie ran and got me, but by the time we got
there and I shot the last wolf, Mark was unconscious."
Doc caught a glimpse of Cassie standing in the corner of the
room, trying hard to stop her constant flow of tears.
"I need you all to step into the waiting room please," the
Cassie, John, and Catherine started walking towards the door,
but Anna stayed put.
"Doc Burrage, I can help."
"Anna-" Mrs. Osborne started, but Doc interrupted her.
"I could use a second pair of hands. Fill that bowl on the
counter with some of the alcohol in the
Anna nodded and set to her task as the rest of her family went
into the waiting room. Marshal Osborne realized that he needed
to get Lucas into town and soon left the office, leaving Cassie
and Catherine to wait for Doc to come out of the examination
After Anna handed the doctor the bowl, Burrage proceeded to
sterilize a few of his instruments and his hands in the liquid
before telling Anna to do the same thing.
As Doc removed Mark's badly shredded shirt, Anna got a second
bowl of water and a few rags.
"Anna, did Mark have his coat off before or after the attack?"
"I don't know, but I didn't see it anywhere near where he was
lying. He had been working, he probably took it off. I don't
know how long he was in the snow, but he was shivering the whole
way into town. Are you worried about frostbite or hypothermia or
"At this point, all of them. Would you add some more wood to the
As Anna fixed the fire, Doc Burrage started cleaning Mark's
wounds. When Anna came back over, Doc Burrage watched from the
corner of his eye to see what the girl would do.
"What are doing?" the doctor asked as he continued to work and
Anna stuck her hand into Mark's boot. He knew what she should be
doing, and figured that she was doing exactly that, but waited
for an answer.
"His socks are wet," Anna replied as she started pulling his
boots and socks off. "It will make him colder and he'll have
poorer circulation if we leave them on, because..." Anna stopped
herself and grinned. "You know, you went to medical school."
"Very good observation, Anna. Sometimes when we rush around we
miss details such as that. I probably wouldn't have thought
about it for another fifteen minutes. Will you boil some water
"Yes sir," Anna replied.
As Anna and Doc continued to work on Mark, he mumbled and
stirred around quite a bit. Anna was surprised at how long it
was taking to warm Mark's body up, even after they started
soaking his hands and feet in water, but Doc knew full well that
it was going to take a lot of doing.
After getting Mark's wounds cleaned and putting in a few
stitches, Doc told Anna to get a pot of water started for
"Coffee?" Anna inquired in surprise. She couldn't think of why
the doctor would drink coffee this time of the afternoon.
"Not for me, for him. We need to warm him up from the inside,
and I don't think he or Lucas would be very happy if I gave him
Anna started to put another pot on to boil.
"If you don't mind me asking, why do they even use brandy?" Anna
"Honestly it works quicker than other substances, and pioneers
have used it for decades. In most cases, I also think the
patient is glad for the pain relief the alcohol brings. As of
now though, Mark is unconscious and I personally believe the
alcohol will do more damage than good."
Anna turned towards the doctor and he could read the question in
"I'm sorry Anna, I don't know if he'll make it. Time will tell,
we just have to keep doing everything we can."
After the coffee was done Anna brought it to Doc and held Mark's
head up so the doctor could try to force some liquid down Mark's
throat. It was slow going, but they made a little progress.
"Doc, do you think this could trigger another one of his
seizures?" Anna inquired.
"I'm afraid that could happen, but I hope it doesn't. His body
doesn't need that on top of everything else. A seizure is hard
enough on the body when it's fully functioning." The doctor
paused before changing the subject, "Anna, would you go out that
back door and start the pot bellied stove in room two? I want to
move Mark in there as soon as it's warm."
Anna nodded and left the room. As she did, her thoughts fell on
her sister. Anna wished there was some way to comfort her older
sister who was struggling a great deal, but she didn't really
have anything to comfort her with. Things looked bad for Mark...
this was one situation where Anna wished she didn't know so much
about what could go wrong.
Lucas stopped and composed himself as he stood in front of the
clinic door. He knew he needed stay calm, but that seemed almost
When Lucas walked through the clinic door followed by Marshal
Osborne, he saw a worried Mrs. Osborne and a grief stricken
Cassie, tears still occasionally escaping her eyes.
"Any news?" John asked his wife as they embraced.
Catherine simply shook her head no.
Lucas walked over to where Cassie stood, but before he could say
anything, Cassie spoke up.
"Mr. McCain... I'm so sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Lucas inquired.
"Mark was attacked because he was protecting me. ...If I hadn't
insisted on working on the fence with Mark, then he would've-"
"Been out there by himself and probably still be out there."
"Cassie, this is no one's fault, especially not yours. If you
hadn't been out there, Mark would have died. Don't blame
yourself, you don't need or have cause to carry that guilt."
Cassie nodded as the tears started steadily flowing down her
face once again. Lucas understood they were a release, but he
could still see the panic and fear that controlled the girl.
The four waited for what seemed an eternity for Doc Burrage to
come into the waiting room.
"Lucas I'm glad you're here," the doctor solemnly stated.
"Doc?" Lucas asked, knowing the look on Burrage's face wasn't a
"Mark barely escaped being killed by that wolf... so far."
"What do you mean?" Lucas asked, fearing the answer.
"Lucas... I hate to tell you this... but... Mark may not make it
through the night."
Lucas cringed as the words slowly sunk in. Mrs. Osborne gasped
as she clung to her husband, and everyone could here Cassie
trying to muffle her sobs.
"Anna and I almost have his body temperature back to normal, but
what that wolf did to him..." The words simply hung in the air
as the doctor shook his head.
The group all turned around as they heard the door leading to
the back hallway swing open.
"Doc come quick!" Anna yelled as she turned back around and ran
to room two.
Lucas and Doc followed Anna into the room Mark was in to see
Mark shaking uncontrollably as he lied unconscious on the bed.
"Anna, go into the examination room and open the first drawer on
the left. Grab the bottle next to the laudanum and a syringe,"
the doctor calmly ordered.
Anna quickly did as she was told and Lucas helplessly watched as
Doc tried to take control of Mark's arm. When Anna brought the
items to the doctor, he injected Mark's arm with the contents of
the bottle. About a minute later, Mark's body began to calm down
and soon he was as still as he had been before.
"Anna, why don't you go join your family? I can watch Mark for a
while," The doctor suggested before Anna left the room. "Lucas,
why don't you take a seat?"
Lucas sat down in a chair next to where his son laid and Doc
pulled up a chair across from Lucas.
"The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours are going to be the
most critical..." Doc began. "Mark's body was in bad enough
shape, I don't know what that seizure did to add to everything."
"Do you have an idea of when he's going to wake up?" Lucas
asked, battling his emotions.
"Lucas, I'm sorry to say that I won't have any answers for a
while. I don't know when to expect him to wake up, if he will.
All we can do now Lucas is... pray. Pray hard Luke, the boy
needs it." Doc Burrage stood up and left the helpless father
alone in the room with his son.
Lucas let out a long sigh as he watched the slight fall and rise
of his son's chest. He couldn't take it anymore and allowed a
tear to escape the corner of his eye. His son, his precious,
only child was lying there, knocking on death's door.
And there was nothing he could do.
A knock on the door woke Lucas the next morning. He stood and
opened it to find Johnny and Lou on the other side.
"Come on in," A grief-stricken Lucas welcomed as he stepped back
from the door.
"Word's spread about what happened to Mark, we just heard,"
Johnny explained as he shut the
door behind him.
"How is Mark doing?" Lou inquired as her gaze fell upon the
badly battered body on the bed.
"...He made it through the night, we can thank God for that,"
Lucas answered as he offered Lou a chair.
Johnny and Lou could both see how absolutely exhausted and
drained Lucas was, both physically and emotionally.
"Lucas, I know ye'll probably refuse, but if ye do want a room
at the hotel, I've got plenty of empty rooms available. Just let
me know and I can get one ready for ye."
"Thank you Lou, but I want to be here with Mark."
"Has he woken up?" Johnny asked as he looked at his nephew with
"He's been unconscious since the wolf nearly killed him."
"When will he?" Johnny inquired.
Lou and Johnny both were taken aback by the look that crossed
Lucas's face. Lou didn't know if she'd ever seen Lucas so
distraught. Johnny had... right after Margaret died.
"...We don't know if he will," Lucas whispered.
Lou and Johnny stepped towards Lucas and the three were soon in
a long embrace, all crying.
When Lou and Johnny finally realized they needed to get going,
Lucas walked them to the waiting room and was surprised to see
Cassie curled up in a chair, asleep. Lucas gave Doc questioning
look as he gestured to the girl.
"Been here all night. She refused to go home last night, she
said she couldn't leave him," Doc explained.
"She looks so exhausted..." Lou commented.
"She's scared of losing him... we all are," Lucas added.
Johnny and Lou soon left the clinic and went their separate ways
as Johnny left for Oat's and Lou headed to the hotel. Like
everyone else in North Fork though, their hearts and minds
stayed focused on Mark and those in the clinic.
Cassie began to rouse as she heard Lucas and Doc talking. For a
moment she was slightly confused, but then remembered where she
was... and why she was there.
"...Mark...?" Was all she uttered.
"He made it through the night, but no change I'm afraid," Doc
"Cassie, it's been a long night for all of us, why don't you-"
Lucas began, but stopped when Cassie started shaking her head
"I won't leave him," Cassie firmly stated.
Lucas looked into Cassie's eyes and saw stubborn determination.
Lucas gave a very slight grin as he realized he had seen that
same determination in his son many times before, determination
he often knew he couldn't compete with. There was more in her
eyes though. Fear... grief... love. Love that Cassie held for
his son, and his son alone. Love that had connected the two in a
wonderful way. Love... that Lucas doubted would ever go away.
"Cassie," Lucas started. "Would you like to see him for a few
"Thank you..." Cassie whispered as she stood and nodded her head
Cassie followed Doc and Lucas back to room two. She sat down
when Lucas offered her a seat, and was surprised... but grateful
when the two men left her alone.
"Mark..." Cassie softly whispered. "Mark please, you've got to
wake up. You can't leave... I couldn't bear to lose you..."
Cassie tried to wipe the tears falling down her face, but soon
realized it was no use. Cassie rested her head on the bed as she
began sobbing. Pleading with Mark to stay with her. Begging God
to spare his life.
Cassie had no idea how much time had passed when she finally
walked back in the waiting room, finding Doc and Lucas still
"Thank you, Mr. McCain," Cassie stated with an ever so slight
"You're welcome." Lucas smiled, but the smile disappeared when
the expression on Cassie's face turned to shock. "What is it
Cassie simply pointed to the wall behind Lucas, where a tear-off
calendar hung. After seeing the date, Lucas understood. He had
completely forgotten what day it was, due to the events of the
past eighteen hours.
The calendar read December 10th.
It was Mark's eighteenth birthday.
A dark haired woman sat staring out the train window as yet
another town came into view. The train had passed numerous towns
over the past few hours, but this town was different.
"Next stop, North Fork!" The conductor called as he passed
through the car.
The woman was surprised by how much the town had grown since she
had lived there, but then again, that had been a long time ago.
Memories began flooding her, joyous memories of the man she
loved... memories accompanied by pain as she was reminded of his
death. She had known these memories would come with this visit
to her sister; she hadn't realized, however, how much they would
Wiping away the tear that had trickled down her face, the woman
stood and began collecting her things as the train rolled into
the station. She followed the few other passengers off the train
and scanned the platform for her relatives; upon seeing them she
waved and quickly made her way to them.
"Camilla, it's wonderful to see you!" Mrs. Osborne greeted as
she hugged her sister.
"I've missed you all so much, the house didn't seem the same
after you all left," the woman replied as she hugged Anna and
She went to hug one more person, but they weren't there.
"Where's Cassie?" She asked in surprise.
"She's at the clinic, we'll stop in and see her before the three
of you go home," John answered as he took her bag.
"The clinic?" She asked in shock and concern. "What happened? Is
"Cassie is fine," Mrs. Osborne assured her sister. "A young man
that works for John... and that Cassie is very close to, was
attacked by a wolf yesterday and hasn't woken up since. The
doctor doesn't know if he's going to live and Cassie is... more
than devastated. She refuses to leave the clinic... not that we
could really bear to make her leave."
"Oh dear..." the woman commented as she put a hand to her mouth.
"It's been a rough couple days for everyone around town. I'm
sure seeing you will cheer Cassie up, why don't we head over?"
The marshal suggested.
The three women nodded in agreement and they all headed towards
the buck board.
As the four entered the clinic, they found Cassie sitting on the
floor in the corner of the room, sobbing uncontrollably and
visibly shaking. The three adults rushed towards her as Anna
watched close by.
"Cassie, what is it?" Catherine asked with concern as she
watched the tears fall down her daughter's cheeks.
Cassie tried to calm herself down a little bit, but to no avail.
"Cassie, darling, did he..." John started as he knelt beside his
daughter along with his wife and sister-in-law.
"I don't know Pa..." Cassie began. "I was in there with him
and..." Cassie's words stopped as she tried to catch her breath
"What happened, Cassie?" Marshal Osborne tenderly asked.
"Pa... he stopped breathing!" Cassie sobbed as she collapsed
into her Pa's lap.
Lucas sat across the room from Cassie as they both intensely
watched Mark, only surviving by the constant fall and rise of
Suddenly, they both realized it had been too long since Mark's
chest had inflated. Lucas stood and rushed towards Mark as
Cassie did the same.
"Cassie go get Doc!" Lucas ordered.
Cassie quickly left the room, screaming for the doctor who
shortly appeared in the doorway.
"Lucas step back," Burrage calmly commanded.
Lucas did as the doctor said, but continued to helplessly watch
as the doctor put his ear against, and then began pushing on
"Come on Mark!" The doctor yelled. "Don't you dare do this,
you've held on too long!"
Lucas was silently begging his son the same thing, hoping,
praying he wouldn't have to burry Mark.
For what seemed an eternity, Lucas watched as Doc tried to
revive Mark. Finally, the doctor stopped and looked up at Lucas.
"He's breathing again," the doctor stated as he let out a long
Lucas relaxed as the words sunk in. Then he remembered Cassie.
Yes, Doc could tell her, but Lucas felt an obligation to Mark to
tell her himself.
"Doc, I'm going to go get Cassie."
The doctor nodded as he let himself fall into a chair.
Lucas began to make his way to the waiting room, thanking God
his son still lived.
"Cassie, Mark's alright..." Lucas started as he opened the door
to the waiting room. He was surprised to see that there were
several more people there than he had expected, but soon
recognized all but one.
As Mr. and Mrs. Osborne turned around to look at Lucas, Cassie's
aunt froze in her spot.
That voice... It was so close to...
No, he was dead.
"...Can I see him?" Cassie whispered as she started to stand up.
After helping Cassie up and turning around, Cassie's aunt's face
turned white and she reached for a chair to steady herself. Her
mind began racing as she saw who stood in front of her.
The Osborne's could see the shock on Lucas's face as well, but
no one said anything until Lucas finally broke the uneasy
"...Milly?" Lucas whispered as he slowly walked to the other
side of the room. "Milly, what are you doing here? It's
wonderful to see..." Lucas paused as he studied her face.
"Lucas..." Milly inaudibly whispered. "Oh Lucas, I thought you
were dead!" Milly cried as she fell into his strong arms. How
wonderful it felt to be in them again!
The Osborne's quietly made their way out of the room to give the
two some privacy. No one knew what was happening, but it was
obvious the two needed to be alone.
Milly sobbed as she laid her head against Lucas's chest, and he
gently caressed her back.
"Milly, it's alright. Whatever made you think I had died?" Lucas
inquired as he put his hands on her shoulders and stared into
her beautiful eyes.
Milly took a moment to compose herself before replying. She felt
as though a thousand burdens had been lifted from her shoulders.
"Lucas... there were newspaper stories all over the place,
saying the Rifleman had died... I was beside myself with grief.
I wrote Mark... Mark- Mark is in there?!" Milly exclaimed as it
finally hit her.
"I'm afraid so..."
"But Catherine said Doc didn't know if he was going to... Lucas,
Mark might...?" Milly couldn't finish the question and Lucas
simply nodded. "Oh Lucas, I'm so sorry..." Milly continued to
"We never got a letter from you..." Lucas stated, trying to
change the subject.
"I know, it came back as undeliverable. I assumed Mark had moved
away from North Fork since you had died, and..."
"You've thought I was dead for over a year. Milly... I'm so
Lucas and Milly embraced once again, both enjoying being in each
other's arms again.
Eventually the two sat down and Lucas began to explain the
newspaper stories, constantly apologizing for the grief he had
"If I would have known where you had gone, I would've written
you, but I had no clue where you were, besides helping a sick
aunt and dealing with some other things. Milly I knew you had to
leave to deal with your brother's death, I knew our relationship
wouldn't work with the extra burdens you carried. But Milly, my
life hasn't been the same since the day you left... you took a
piece of my heart with you... and Milly Scott, I still love
Milly and Lucas looked deep into each other's eyes, remembering
the last night before Milly left, how much they hated to
"Lucas, I dealt with my baggage... but I still felt empty,
because I left my heart here with you and Mark... Lucas, even
after I heard you had “died” I still held love for you... Lucas
I still do love
you... even more than I did when I left."
Neither one knew what else to say... they just looked into each
other's eyes and understood. They slowly moved closer together
until they found themselves in a passionate kiss.
As their lips separated, they both smiled, enjoying the love
they felt for each other.
"Lucas... I think we need to do some explaining to my family,"
Milly softly stated.
"I suppose we should. Do you want to wait out here, or would you
like to see Mark?"
"If you're alright with it, I would like to see him."
"Of course," Lucas replied as he took her hand and led her to
Milly let out a slight gasp as she saw the man lying on the bed.
"That can't be Mark... he's too..."
"Grown up?" Lucas finished for her.
"How old is he?"
"...Eighteen, today..." Lucas stated, fighting another flood of
"...Aunt Camilla..." Cassie started, breaking the silence. "How
do you know Mr. McCain?"
"Milly, I always thought your first name was Mildred?” Lucas
“That’s what a lot of people thought, and what a lot of people
introduced me as. I eventually gave up on trying to explain,”
Milly chuckled. "To answer your question, Cassie, about six
years ago, I moved to North Fork..."
Milly and Lucas began to explain how they had met, as well as
how Milly thought Lucas had died. None of the Osborne's or Doc
missed the loving looks exchange between the two, and understood
what had been left unspoken.
Milly was finally able to convince Lucas and Cassie to get out
of the clinic and enjoy supper at the hotel. Milly could see how
drained both of them were, and wished there was some way she
could offer either of them comfort. Her own heart was pained by
seeing Mark in such a state, and feared the worst, as did
When the Osborne's, Milly and Lucas entered the hotel they were
greeted by Lou.
"Good to see ye all, how is Mark?" Lou inquired.
"Hanging on," Lucas replied, trying to stay positive. "Lou, I'd
like you to meet Milly Scott, I think you'll remember me telling
you about her."
"It's good to meet ye, I've heard so much about ye," Lou told
"Good things, I hope," Milly commented.
"This town... especially a certain cowboy adores you," Lou
"Milly, you remember me telling you about my brother-in-law,
Johnny, right?" Lucas asked in order to change the subject.
"Of course," Milly replied.
"He came to town about a year ago and Lou married him a little
more than a month ago. They're living here in town."
"Congratulations," Milly told Lou. "I'm sure you two are very
"That we are," Lou replied. "Would ye all like a table for
supper? If ye wait much longer there may not be one left."
"Yes, please," John replied before Lou led the group into the
Supper was not without interruption; the few townsfolk that had
lived in town when Milly had lived there were excited to see her
back in town and stopped to say hello. Lucas and Milly were both
feeling a plethora of emotions... love, joy, regret for what
they hadn't done in the past, hope for what the future may
...But in the back of their minds, as well as everyone else's
minds, was Mark. What would the next few days bring?
After supper, the small group went back to the doctor's office,
disappointed to hear Mark hadn't gotten any better, but glad he
hadn't become worse.
Cassie's parents and Milly were able to convince Cassie to come
home for the night, Lucas assuring her that they would send word
if anything changed.
As the Osborne's and Milly started to leave the clinic, Lucas
made his way back to the room Mark was in.
After stepping outside, Milly asked if John wouldn't mind
waiting for just a moment while she went back inside to grab her
As she entered the office, Milly saw Lucas waiting for her with
"Milly, even under these circumstances, I can't tell you what a
wonderful time I had with you this evening. I hope to see you a
lot these next few weeks."
"You will," Milly replied with a smile as she took the gloves
and gave Lucas a kiss on the cheek. "Keep faith Lucas, we're all
praying for Mark."
The next few days were extremely long and difficult. Having
Milly in town gave Lucas great strength, but it didn't help
relieve the worry he held for his son. Mark still hadn't woken
up, and Doc confirmed that Mark wasn't simply unconscious, but
in a coma.
One evening, Lucas was commenting to Doc how thin Mark was
getting. Lucas couldn't stand watching his son slowly waste
"Lucas, I hate to tell you this, but if he doesn't wake up soon,
his body won't have enough sustenance or energy to keep
fighting. I just hope he has enough of that McCain stubbornness
left in him."
Lucas nodded as he leaned forward in his chair and put his head
in his hands.
"I'm sorry, Lucas."
Doc Burrage left the father alone in the room, having little
hope left himself.
"Mark..." Lucas whispered. "Son, please come back to me."
The tall rancher cried himself asleep that night, afraid that
when he woke, his son... his life, would be gone.
Ever so slowly, Mark opened his eyes. Looking around, he
gathered that he was in Doc's office, but why...
Suddenly the memories flooded him. The fence, the wolf,
"Cassie!" Mark yelled, waking Lucas.
It took Lucas a moment to realize what was going on, but then he
realized... Mark was awake!
"Son...?" Lucas called as he reached for Mark.
"Pa, where is Cassie? Is she alright?" Mark demanded as started
to get up.
Lucas put his hands on Mark's shoulders and laid his son back
"Calm down Mark, Cassie is fine, just worried sick about you."
"Did the wolves hurt her? Did she-"
"Mark, they didn't touch her, I promise," Lucas assured.
Mark took a moment to look at his Pa. His face looked worn and
tired, his eyes... were filled with grief, and his cheeks had
"Pa... how long was I out?"
Mark could see his Pa struggling, trying to fight the tears that
threatened to fall.
"...Ten long days, son. ...Mark, we thought you were going to
die..." Lucas's voice shook as he spoke, and finally Mark saw a
tear fall, followed by another... then another.
"Pa, I'm sorry this happened..."
"Mark, you listen to me. This was no one's fault. Not yours, not
Cassie's, no one's. Do you understand me?" Lucas asked as tears
of joy streamed down his face.
"Yes Pa. ...Are you going to be alright?"
"In time," Lucas sighed.
The father took a moment to look into his son's open eyes. How
wonderful was it to see them again, to hear Mark's voice.
"Son, I love you," Lucas said as he hugged Mark.
Mark gladly returned the embrace and assured his Pa that he was
going to be fine.
After a long moment, Lucas sat on the edge of the bed, still
trying to stop the tears of relief that were falling down his
"Pa, do you know how Cassie is doing?"
"She was completely distraught when I came into the office the
first time. She's only left the clinic a few times, Mark she's
"Is she here, now?" Mark hopefully asked.
"Doc has been letting her stay in one of the rooms," Lucas
replied as he nodded.
Lucas suddenly saw excitement appear in his son's eyes, and
slightly grinned at Mark's next question.
"Can I see her? Please?"
"If Doc says it's alright. Let me go get him," Lucas stated as
he stood and started to make his was out of the room.
"Pa?" Mark called.
"Being here, staying with me even though I wouldn't wake up.
Loving me. I love you, Pa."
"I know you do, Son."
Lucas quickly made his way to the front office where he found
Doc Burrage asleep at the desk. Lucas started to gently shake
him as the doctor began to rouse.
"Lucas, is something wrong?" Burrage inquired as he stood.
"Doc, he's awake," Lucas happily announced.
Doc didn't wait for an answer and rushed to the room with Lucas
right behind him. As the doctor
opened the door, he saw Mark lying there, eyes open.
"Mark McCain... you're a living miracle!" Doc exclaimed as he
walked over to his patient.
"I think that McCain stubbornness you're always complaining
about finally paid off," Mark jested.
"How do you feel?" Doc questioned.
"Tired and sore."
"Dizzy or nauseous at all?"
"No, but my head hurts."
"Let's try to sit you up, and see how that goes. Lucas why don't
you..." the doctor's sentence trailed off as Mark quickly sat
himself up and rested against the wall. "Mark I don't know what
I'm going to do with you..."
"I can sit up by myself," Mark defended.
Doc and Lucas let out a long sigh as they realized it was going
to be hard to make Mark take it easy.
"Are you hungry?" Burrage asked.
"Starving," Mark replied.
"I'll head over to the hotel and see if I can get your aunt to
fix you up something light."
Looking at the clock in the room, Mark realized it was only
seven past four.
"You don't need to bother her this early, that's if she's even
"She had the overnight shift anyway, your uncle stayed up with
her and I'm sure they both want to hear that you're awake,"
Lucas assured Mark.
The doctor started making his way out the door when Lucas called
"Yes, Lucas?" The doctor asked.
"Mark wants to see Cassie, I told him that you had to say it was
"As long as you promise to take it easy Mark, you can see her.
No more sudden movements,"
the doctor ordered before leaving room.
Lucas got up and went down the hall a few doors. He loudly
knocked on one of the doors and waited for Cassie to open the
"Is it Mark? What happened?" Cassie asked with worry as she
opened the door.
"Cassie, he's awake," Lucas told her with a smile.
Cassie didn't waste a moment and ran down the hall to room two.
She stopped in the open doorway and saw Mark sitting up, his
wonderful eyes wide open.
"Mark!" Cassie cried as she ran to him.
Not remembering what the doctor had said, Mark got out of the
bed and went towards Cassie at the same time.
Neither Mark or Cassie cared that Lucas was watching them or
what he thought, they gladly embraced each other as Cassie let
her tears flow.
After a few moments, Mark put his hands on her shoulders and put
a little more distance between them.
"Hey now... why the tears? Cassie, it's gonna be alright," Mark
tenderly stated as he used his thumbs to wipe her tears away.
Cassie looked into Mark's eyes, almost wondering if it all was a
"Mark... I thought I was going to lose you! Doc said you had a
high chance of dying... he said-"
"But I'm here. It's alright Cassie... I'm fine."
Cassie fell back into Mark's arms and continued to cry.
"I was so scared that I was going to lose you... Mark I... I
thought I had lost you!"
"You didn't Cass, I'm still here for you. It may have taken me a
bit longer than I wanted it to, but I came back. You haven't
lost me, I promise," Mark comforted as he rubbed his hand across
Lucas watched as Mark continued to comfort Cassie and reassure
her that everything was alright. Lucas could tell how unstable
and weak Mark had become since he stood up, but Mark didn't seem
to care. Lucas felt so much joy and relief as he stood there,
watching his son. He couldn't explain the weight he had felt was
lifted from him when he had seen that Mark had woken up. He
couldn't explain how thankful he was that his son was alive.
Lucas watched as Mark tucked Cassie's hair behind her ear and
went to whisper something in it. Lucas couldn't hear what his
son said, but he saw the words Mark's lips formed. Some of the
most powerful words on earth.
"I love you, Cassie."
Lucas had just gotten Mark back in bed when Micah walked through
the open door.
"Mark, you're going to give me a heart attack one of these
days!" Micah exclaimed.
"Good to see you too," Mark jested.
"Good to see ya finally awake, boy. You had this whole town
worried sick about you. How do you feel?"
"Pretty good, considering what happened."
"Has Doc talked about how long you're going to be stuck in
"No, but I'm hoping not very long."
"Don't get your hopes up," Doc Burrage started as he entered the
room. "You've gone through a lot Mark, and I'm not letting you
out of here until I'm absolutely sure we're not going to have
any complications. And the easier you take it, the quicker that
"Doc, how long do you think?" Mark asked.
"Three or four days at the least. You need to get your strength
back. Your aunt and uncle will be over as soon as Lou finishes
fixing you something."
"Has anyone been over to the Osborne's?" Micah inquired.
"No, Mark hasn't been awake for long," Lucas answered.
"I'll head over and tell them the good news. Cassie do you..."
Micah stopped asking if Cassie wanted to come along. It was
obvious she was where she wanted to be.
Shortly after Micah left, Lou and Johnny entered the clinic,
grateful to see Mark fully awake.
"Mark, we're going to have Micah lock ye up to keep ye from
gettin' into trouble!" Lou joked. "We missed ye Mark, I'm so
glad ye're awake."
"Thanks, it's good to be awake. Did I miss anything while I was
"Not really, except ye did manage to escape that birthday party
I told ye last year I was goin' ta plan for ye."
"Well thanks for the thought."
The group made some small talk over the next little while before
Lou said she had to get back to the hotel.
"Mark I'm glad you're doing better, we'll get out of your way so
you can get some rest," Johnny stated.
"Thanks for stopping by," Mark replied.
Doc walked Lou and Johnny out of the clinic as Lucas gave Mark
the bowl of broth Lou had brought.
As Mark ate, he was very conscious of Cassie and his Pa
carefully watching him. Finally Mark dropped the spoon back into
the bowl and started laughing.
"What is it?" Lucas asked.
"I'm not going to choke on broth. You two are watching me like
hawks, is something wrong?" Mark chuckled.
"No, I suppose we're just still worried," Lucas replied.
Mark understood, he'd been on the opposite side of the equation
many times before.
Mark smiled and shook his head before finishing the broth and
handing the bowl back to Lucas.
"You know, it was strange. I did a lot of dreaming, but
sometimes it was almost as if I could hear your voices. Most of
the time I couldn't understand what you were saying, other times
I could. It was strange though, some of the time I thought I was
hearing your voice Pa, or Doc's, or yours, Cassie. But then I
must've kept imagining someone else's."
"Why do say that?" Cassie inquired.
"It was strange, I kept hearing Miss Milly's voice. Cassie, she
was a close family friend years ago," Mark explained.
Lucas and Cassie looked at each other and grinned slightly.
"Cassie's aunt came for a visit, and was in here a few times,
maybe it was her voice," Lucas suggested. "When the Osborne's
and her get here, I think you'll want to meet her."
"Now? Like this? Don't you think that's a little..." Mark
stopped as he heard the front door to the clinic close and soon
the Osborne's were walking into the room. Mark stared in shock
at the last person who came through the door.
"Mark?" Milly called.
"...Cassie, I thought your aunt's name was Camilla...?"
"It is. Camilla Rose Scott," Cassie gleefully replied.
"Miss Milly? Pa...? How...?"
"It's wonderful to see you Mark," Milly stated as she went to
stand next to the bed with everyone else.
"It's great to see you too, but will someone please explain
what's going on? Miss Milly when did you get into town?"
Those crowded around Mark started explaining what was going on,
and how Milly ended up in North Fork. Mark was glad Milly was
there, she had always been like a mother to him... and still
The next day brought Ned to North Fork. He was glad to see his
family again, but shocked when he heard the news of Mark. Ned
visited Mark at the clinic, wishing him a speedy recovery.
Everyone's spirits had lifted, and every day Mark was getting
stronger and stronger. The days were very long for those at the
clinic though. Someone always had to be with Mark, not for fear
of something going wrong, but in order to make sure Mark stayed
put. Cassie willingly went home every night, but spent the
afternoons visiting with Mark or reading to him. She also did a
good amount of chiding when Mark would try to overdo it.
The morning of Christmas Eve, Mark woke up and saw his Pa and
Doc talking on the other side
of the room. He couldn't read the expression on Doc's face and
wondered if something was wrong.
"Is something the matter?" Mark inquired as he sat up.
"Yes there is Mark," Doc began. "I can't come up with anymore
reasons to make you stick around."
"You mean I can go home?" Mark hopefully asked.
"I don't see why not. Get dressed and get going, I don't want to
see you back in this room again!"
Before heading home, Lucas and Mark stopped by the Osborne's.
Mark told Lucas he needed to talk with John about work, but
Lucas knew he was wanting to see Cassie, too.
John told Mark to not bother coming back to work until the
second week of the new year, and even though Mark tried to
persuade the Marshal he could come back sooner, finally
"Cassie is out in the barn if you want to talk to her," John
"Thank you Marshal Osborne," Mark replied before stepping out of
Lucas started to follow, but John stopped him.
"Lucas, do you mind if I talk to you for a minute?" John
"Sure, what is it?"
"I'm assuming Mark told you he wanted to ask me if he could
"Yes he did. I told him I was fine with it, as long as he waited
until they were both eighteen to actually start courting."
"I don't know if he already told you this, but he did ask me a
few months back. When he did, I wasn't surprised in the least
and gave him mine and Catherine's blessing, as long as he waited
until Cassie finished school. When he asked me, Catherine and I
had already talked about how wonderfully the two worked
together, how they seemed to complete each other. I thought it
would be good for them to get to know each other more with a
common goal in mind. I didn't realize until these past two weeks
just how..." the marshal was at a loss for words.
"In love they already were?" Lucas suggested.
"Exactly. Lucas, as hard as it is for me to say this, I think
our children are going to marry... soon. Cassie's grown up so
fast and I hate to let her go, but I think she and Mark were
meant for each other. Mark has shown me that he is the man I
want for my daughter, and believe me, that's quite a feat. I
wanted to know if you thought the same thing. I don't want to be
encouraging them in a direction you don't approve of."
"John I appreciate it, I probably should've been the one to say
something first, but I agree. I was a little surprised when Mark
asked me for my blessing, but the more I watched them the more
understood. When Cassie saw Mark for the first time after he
woke up... I knew they were meant for each other. Like you said,
they complete each other. They also drive each other and build
each other up. Even being as young as they are, I think they're
ready. They truly do love each other. I honestly can say I hope
Cassie is the woman who becomes my daughter-in-law."
"And Catherine and I feel the same way about Mark. Lucas, I look
forward to seeing what the next several months bring."
"I hope that the next year or two sees our families brought
"In more ways than one?" The marshal teased.
Lucas just chuckled in response. But in all seriousness, he did
hope Milly would become his wife.
"Cassie?" Mark called as he entered the barn.
Cassie's head suddenly peaked over the edge of the hay loft.
"Mark McCain! What are you doing out of the clinic!?"
Mark started to make his way up the ladder as he answered.
"Doc said I could go home. What are you doing up here? You're
going to catch a cold out in this weather."
"'Bout what?" Mark asked as he sat down next to Cassie.
"What about us?"
"How wonderful it is to be together again. While you were
sleeping, your body was there... I could talk TO you... but I
couldn't talk WITH you. I felt like my whole life had been
shattered. But then you woke up and started putting the pieces
back together." Cassie turned and looked into Mark's eyes. "Then
you whispered those words in my ear... and Mark, I've never felt
so complete in my life... I had never felt so much life in me.
Mark, I've had the typical girlhood crushes and such before...
but you... Mark, I love you."
"Cassie, I'll say it a thousand times and never get tired of
saying it, I love you with all my heart. ...I want you to know,
I want to live the rest of my life with you."
"Mark I-" Cassie stopped as she saw Ned come into the barn out
of the corner of her eye. "I think we have company," she
"So... I still love you," Cassie replied.
"We should probably get down, anyway. Pa will probably want to
Christmas Day brought the Gibbs, Micah, and McCain's all to the
Osborne's for Christmas dinner.
Mark accepted defeat as Cassie out ate him one final time, they
both agreed their stomachs couldn't handle many more pie eating
As the day wore on, Mark watched the interaction between his Pa
and Ms. Milly. He could see the loving looks exchanged between
the two, and he could almost hear the unspoken “I love you's”
Maybe... just maybe it wasn't too late for Milly to be his Ma.
Mark quickly looked to his right as he felt a splash of water on
"What was that for?" He asked Cassie.
"You've been drying that plate for two minutes!" Cassie laughed.
"Maybe I like extra dry plates," Mark defended.
"Well Maybe-" Cassie started, but Mark splashed some water back
All the adults looked up as they heard Cassie yell Mark's name
from the other side of the kitchen door. Anna let out a long
moan as she put her hand to her forehead.
The adults around the table who were at the previous year's
thanksgiving supper all exchanged glances before letting out a
bout of laughter. Those two would make a great couple one day...
if they didn't kill each other in the kitchen first.
Do You Trust Me?
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch