The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Cherishing the Time
Chapter2
Written by Morgan

Mark threw the covers off himself and tried to slow his breathing as he sat on the edge of the bed. He had hoped that the dreams would go away, but they had succeeded in plaguing him once again.

Mark had been through this so many times before that he didn't even bother trying to go back to sleep. He stood up, made his bed, and began to dress knowing that he would just waste time trying to fall asleep again. Careful not to wake his Pa, Mark left the bedroom, rolling his eyes as he caught sight of the timepiece which read a few minutes after four O'Clock.

After three months, Mark thought he should be over what had happened, and emotionally he really was... but every one to two weeks, he would startle awake from another world without his Pa. After the third night of disturbing dreams, Mark had learned to just get up and start on the chores rather than lying in bed until his Pa woke up.

As Mark entered the front room, he stifled a yawn and headed for the cupboard which held the matches. He proceeded to light two lanterns, one for the front room and the other to take with him as he did his chores.

It wasn't too long after Mark headed outside that the sun began to peek over the mountains and he could feel the fall air warming a bit. After finishing his chores, Mark took a deep breath of what he thought would be fresh air, but instead caught a whiff of the chicken coup.

'Well,' Mark thought, 'I guess now is as good a time as ever.'

Mark set to work cleaning the chicken coup and did it as quickly as he could. Cleaning the chicken coup was his least favorite chore - next to dishes, that is.

Once Mark finished, he grabbed the basket of eggs and lantern, and headed towards the house. As Mark walked in the front door he saw his Pa exiting the bedroom and buttoning his shirt.

"Morning Pa," Mark said as he handed Lucas the eggs.

"Morning, Mark," Lucas started to reply. "How long have you been up?"

"Not too long, I couldn't fall back asleep after I woke up. The chores are done though; I needed an early start with school starting today and everything anyway."

"Are you looking forward to starting school again?" Lucas inquired. He wasn't actually sure what to expect Mark's reply to be. His son used to hate school with a passion, but the past year and a
half or so, Mark had started to take his lessons more seriously.

"Yeah, I actually am. Never thought I'd be saying that though," Mark answered with a smile before continuing. "Boy, I sure used to give you quite a bit of trouble with my schooling, I'm surprised you didn't give up on me!"

"Believe me, I was tempted," Lucas replied with a smirk as he shook his head.

As Lucas began preparing breakfast, Mark set the table and then joined his Pa at the stove like he did every morning. They talked about school, work, church and several other things before sitting down to eat breakfast.

During their meal, Mark suddenly remembered something he was wanting to ask his Pa about.

"Oh, Pa. I was wondering if it would be alright with you if I could help Marshal Osborne out after school this week. Doc finally told him he was in good enough shape to start working on his house, and I know he's worried about everything getting done before his family arrives, I'm sure he could use some help." Mark explained.

"I don't know Mark, you've just been so irresponsible around here lately..." Lucas said sarcastically. "Sure," he continued, "Just make sure you leave in time so you can get back by dark."

"I will," Mark assured. "He bought the Buchman's old place. It needs a lot of fixing up and he'll have to build a new barn, but I think it will be great for his family, it's a good sized house. Plenty of land too."

"Well, sounds like he knows a good property when he sees one. You better get going or you'll be late for your first day of school," Lucas said as he stood and took the dishes to the sink.

"Sure you don't want help with the dishes first?" Mark offered, only because it was his turn.

"Go ahead and get going, I can manage."

"See you tonight Pa," Mark said as he walked towards the door.

"Have a good day, son."

' Margaret, you'd be so proud of him,' Lucas thought as he watched his son head to the barn to saddle BlueBoy.

1MC1

After school was dismissed, Mark didn't rush out the doors with the rest of his classmates as he would have done only two short years ago. Instead, he grabbed the stack of books underneath his desk and proceeded to take them to the front of the classroom and place them on Mr. Griswold's desk.

"Thank you for letting me borrow the books, I really enjoyed them," Mark told his teacher, who turned away from cleaning the chalkboard.

"I'm glad to hear it, Mark. A bit surprised, I must say, but glad you found pleasure in reading them," the teacher replied.

"You and me both. I couldn't believe it when half way through summer I realized I actually missed being at school," Mark said with a smile. "Never thought I'd hear myself say that in a hundred years."

"Would like to borrow any more?" The teacher inquired, elated that one of his students was finding the joy of learning.

"I don't know how much extra time I'll have, but if you have any more medical journals, I'd be interested in those."

"I think I should have a few more, I'll try to have them tomorrow."

"No rush," Mark began. "I'm going to be plenty busy the next few weeks, but I should be able to squeeze some reading in over the weekends." Mark paused before continuing, "Mr. Griswold, there was a short article in one of the books about law and order out here in the “wild” west... It piqued my interest. I was wondering if you had any books on law and stuff?"

"I'll look Mark, but I believe most of what I have would be included in the American History curriculum you've already completed. You could ask Micah though, he most assuredly would have several."

"Wouldn't those just be books full of codes and regulations?" Mark asked in confusion.

"Mark, there's much more to being a lawman than knowing when to throw someone in jail and under what circumstances you can keep them there. A lawman must know the law in complete detail if he wishes to do his job correctly. He has full knowledge of how our court system works, how the different government departments come into play in the different states and territories; he knows the letter of the law, and breathes the spirit of the law."

"I guess that makes sense," Mark stated. "I'll ask him when I get a chance, maybe Marshal Osborne too. Thanks, Mr. Griswold, I better get going."

"You're most welcome Mark, anytime!" The teacher shook his student's hand and watched Mark as he exited the building.

Many of the town's people were very impressed with how Mark had matured and grown into a young man over the past six years, especially the last two, and Stephen was proud of the hard work Mark had begun putting into school. He did, however, hate to see Mark's childhood fading away as quickly as it was. He admitted that Mark was ready to be “grown up”, but the circumstances that had been forced upon Mark to make him the young man he was were things no grown man should have had to experience. It had caused Mark to see things too early in life, making him grow up faster. Stephen hoped, and maybe for simply his own personal pleasure, that Mark's boyhood wouldn't completely disappear as it seemed to be doing.

2MC2

Marshal Osborne looked up from fixing the porch step and smiled as he recognized the small figure on a horse heading his way. He stood, removed his hat, and wiped the sweat off his forehead before replacing the hat as he waited to greet his visitor.

"Afternoon, Mark. What brings you out this way?" The Marshal asked as Mark dismounted.

"You, actually."

"Me?"

"Yep. Seeing as how you managed to get yourself shot up a few months back I figure you might be needin' some help getting this place fixed up."

"I'm completely healed up and I'm sure you have plenty of stuff to do, I couldn't ask you to help. Besides, I'm sure your Pa will be expecting you home soon." The Marshal appreciated Mark's offer greatly, and really would enjoy the young man's company, but he couldn't ask Mark to take what he knew was valuable time out on the frontier to help him.

"First of all, you and I know that arm of yours is still giving you a bit of trouble and you need to have everything done in two weeks. Secondly, I finished my chores at the ranch and Pa said it was fine for me to help you out this week, and thirdly, you aren't asking, I'm offering," Mark said with finality as he went to hitch his horse to the section of porch railing that was still intact.

"Alright then," Marshal Osborne said as he shrugged his shoulders. "Would you hand me that can of nails over there?"

Mark did as was told and the two set to work on the porch. They worked quietly, not saying much until Mark remembered his conversation with his teacher earlier that afternoon.

"Marshal Osborne, do you have any books on law?" Mark inquired.

"Yes I do, several, actually. Why do you ask?"

"Well my teacher gave me some books to read over summer break and in one of them was an article on law and order. I found it interesting and was just wanting to learn more about it, I was wondering if you'd let me borrow one or two."

"I'll have to look through some boxes that my wife just sent over, but I'd be happy to lend them to you. Have you ever considered becoming a lawman, Mark?" The Marshal asked.

"Oh, when I was younger I did... but then again, I considered being everything I could possibly be back then. I have a lot of respect for the law, but I don't think that kind of work is for me. And with people like you and Micah as role models, I don't think I could live up to the badge."

"I know you could Mark, and I say you'd make an exceptional officer of the law."

Mark sort of shrugged the comment off as he moved on to fix the hinges on the door, so Osborne asked what kind of work “was for Mark.”

"Ranching." Mark smiled as he thought of one day running his own ranch, or continuing working side by side with his Pa. "It's one thing I'll never get tired of."

"Cattle ranching?" Osborne asked.

"Probably, but I have seen a few horse ranches and I love working with horses. I think horse ranching might be something I'd like to do. I've got plenty of time to figure it all out though."

"Are you busy next Monday?" The Marshal asked.

"I don't think so... besides school, that is," Mark replied.

"My wife is sending our horses over by train ahead of her and the girls. If your Pa is alright with it, would you mind giving me a hand getting them home after school?"

"Sure, not a problem," Mark said. "When are you going to start on your barn?"

"Unfortunately, the supplies I need won't be here until Friday on the train, so I probably won't start until Saturday. I'll probably have to put up a large paddock this week so I have somewhere to put them until the barn's done."

"How many horses do you have?" Mark inquired.

"Nine." Seeing Mark's surprised face, the marshal explained, "Five riding horses, one for each of us. My oldest keeps his horse at home during the school year. We have one team for the buck board, then two colts that Cassie is raising. My wife's parents sure will be glad to see them gone," Osborne chuckled.

Eventually, Mark said he better be headed home and told John he would be back the next day after school. The Marshal said that wouldn't be necessary, but Mark insisted.

Before Mark mounted up, the Marshal admitted he was very much in need and appreciative of the help, then he thanked Mark before shaking his hand.

"Stay out of trouble," John said as Mark kicked Blue Boy's flanks.

"I'll try!" Mark hollered back and waved goodbye.

3MC3

Lucas stood in front of the stove, stirring the pot of stew as Mark entered the house. He watched his son put his gun in its spot, next to Lucas's rifle, hang his hat, and start setting the table.

"Have a good day son?" Lucas inquired as he added a little more salt to the stew.

"Sure did," Mark answered. "It was good being at school again, even though most of today was review. Marshal Osborne and I were able to finish fixing the porch and a few of the windows before I had to leave." As Mark thought about his conversations with Marshal Osborne that day, he began realizing something he was going to need to talk with Lucas about... eventually.

Lucas noticed that Mark's attention had been drawn to something else, but he didn't press for more conversation. He was contemplating something else himself, trying to find the best way to bring an issue up with Mark.

Lucas set dinner on the table, and after saying grace the two ate dinner in silence, both sorting through their own thoughts. Neither one had realized how much they had been lost in thought until a knock on the door brought their attention to the present. Lucas stood to get the door, and realizing that both he and his Pa were done eating, Mark began to clear the table and do the dishes. Mark heard Micah's familiar voice and Mark and Micah exchanged a few words before Lucas stepped onto the porch and shut the door.

After Mark finished the dishes and watched through the window as Micah mounted up, Mark stepped outside to join Lucas on the porch and say goodbye to Micah.

"What did Micah need?" Mark asked after Micah left.

"Oh, he just stopped by on his way back from visiting some of the outlining ranches to say hi and tell me there was a council meeting Saturday evening," Lucas replied.

After a few minutes of silence, Lucas and Mark turned and began talking to each other at the same time.

"Pa, I..."

"Mark," Lucas stopped before continuing. "Go ahead."

"Well I was just going to say you were pretty deep in thought during supper, and have seemed... “preoccupied” I guess, the last couple days. Is something wrong?"

Lucas took a deep breath and thought a moment before answering. He had been meaning to talk to Mark, he supposed now was as good a time as ever. His only apprehension was... He didn't know if he was ready to admit to himself that Mark was ready for this.

"Well Mark, I guess I've been meaning to talk to you for a couple months, but I've been really noticing it the last few days. And..." Lucas paused, "I don't really know how to go about this, so I'm just going to tell you. I noticed it the first day we rode into town after I... “came back from the dead”, and I will tell you, it surprised me. But I suppose what surprised me the most was that I didn't know how I felt about it."

"Felt about what?" Mark asked, confused at first, then he thought about it some more. "Are you talking about me carrying my rifle more places... well, I guess carrying my rifle everywhere...?"

"It was strange seeing you carry it wherever you went..." Lucas nodded as he spoke. "And honestly I do suppose that it saddens me to see you carry it, knowing I caused you to lose that much more of your innocence." Lucas paused, searching for more to say, but Mark spoke up instead.

"I guess I should've talked to you about it, but it didn't really cross my mind. During that week it just became a habit. It brought me a little sense of security, it... reminded me of you, and the character you had taught me to have. By the time you showed up again, I didn't think about it anymore, it was like... I don't know... a part of me in some strange way. But, I understand if you want me to leave it in the scabbard, I don't want to disrespect you in any way or bring back those memories if it bothers you."

"No... more than it bringing sadness, Mark, it brought me pride to see the way you carry it, and more importantly, for me to see the way you continue to carry yourself. I know you're responsible enough to handle it, mature enough to know when to use it, and man enough to use it when you need to." Knowing what he needed to do, more for his own sake than Mark's, Lucas
continued. "I do have one problem though..." Lucas said as he went inside and motioned for Mark to follow him.

Mark carefully followed his Pa inside, not really sure what was going through his Pa's head. If Lucas had said to put the gun away, he would've done so without a second thought. His Pa was always sure about what he was doing and rarely seemed as apprehensive as this. Mark watched his Pa get into the closet and bring a box down.

"I was going to wait until your birthday to discuss this, but I think we're to the point where we need to deal with it now."

As Lucas handed the box to Mark, Mark wondered what was wrong; his Pa's apprehension was beginning to worry him.

"I don't think that .22 of yours quite suits the man within its owner, and it's about time I face that fact," Lucas said, gesturing to the box.

Mark slowly removed the lid and his eyes widened as he saw what was inside: An 1860 Spencer Repeater rifle... and not just any Spencer; Mark realized it was the one his Pa had used during the war.

"Pa, I..." Mark began, before Lucas interrupted him.

"Mark, it's about time I've faced the man you are, I think I need to do this as a way of settling that once and for all, and besides, that .22 was starting to look a little small on you, anyway."

"Pa, are you sure...?" Mark asked, not really sure if he thought he was ready himself.

"Positive Mark," Lucas said with a smile. "You want to go try it out?"

Mark slowly nodded, still trying to let it sink in. Lucas chuckled at his son's astonishment before the two went outside. Lucas helped Mark adjust to the new gun and the father and son spent the rest of the evening working on Mark's target practice. As the two walked back to the house, Mark looked up at his Pa.

"Thanks for the rifle, Pa. And thanks... for everything."

"You're more than welcome, son. I love you Mark."

Lucas smiled, he had finally accepted Mark as the man he was. And although a bit surprised he wasn't, Lucas didn't find himself worried about letting Mark go. He knew Mark would make the right choices as decisions would begin to fill his manhood.

As they settled into the house, Lucas was even more satisfied with the decision he had made to give Mark the rifle that night. He watched Mark put his new rifle in the stand next to the .22, settle into his chair with Lucas's Bible, and open it up like he had every night for the last three months.

4MC4

When Lucas woke Wednesday morning, he found his son absent from his bunk. Intrigued but not alarmed, Lucas dressed and stepped into the front room to find Mark sitting at the table, Bible in hand, staring out the window. Lucas could tell Mark was deep in thought, struggling with something, and watched his son for a minute trying to figure out what was running through Mark's head before closing the bedroom door behind him.

Mark jumped as he heard the door close, and turned to see his Pa walking towards him. Lucas noticed Mark was tense, but saw him slowly relaxing. His eyes which had been concentrated and... almost worried, a few moments before were now as calm and soft as ever. Without saying anything, Mark stood and started to put the Bible away.

Lucas wanted to straight up ask Mark what the matter was, but he could tell there was something very different about this problem, whatever it was, compared to previous issues. Lucas was thinking about what to say to start a casual conversation when Mark put his hat on, grabbed his rifle, and went out to start chores. Lucas put the coffee on before following his son to the barn.

"Morning, Mark," Lucas said as he started to grab a shovel to help his son muck the stalls.

"Mornin' Pa." Mark replied in his usual cheerful manner, grateful his Pa had followed him out there. With school having started he knew the time he could spend with his Pa was becoming less and less.

"What are you doing up so early?"

"Couldn't fall back asleep is all. Decided to do some reading before I started on the chores."

Mark had been surprised that he had two of his nightmares so close together, but brushed it off as a rare scenario... he hoped.

"Are you helping Marshal Osborne out after school again?" Lucas asked.

"Yep. We have a few finishing touches on the bedrooms and then we'll move on to the kitchen."

Lucas once again saw Mark's train of thought leading him elsewhere and together the two silently finished the chores. Lucas was still wanting to find out what was bothering Mark, but it didn't seem to be the right time. Lucas enjoyed the time working with his son and during breakfast finally decided to simply ask Mark what the matter was.

"Mark, is there something we need to talk about? You seemed pretty disturbed this morning."

Mark waited a moment to collect his thoughts before answering his Pa. He had been wanting to ask his Pa this question for a while, and one of his conversations with Marshal Osborne had reminded him that it needed to be dealt with fairly soon. Mark just didn't want to make his Pa upset, and he wondered how his Pa would react.

"Well, I guess there is. Pa, I know I've still got a while before I finish school and such, but when the time does come... well... do you ever see me living off the ranch... or even outside of North Fork?"

Lucas processed his son's question for, what seemed to Mark to be an eternity. Lucas had known it was something he would have to deal with, although he didn't want to, but he knew what his answer needed to be and stood behind the answer he gave Mark with all his heart.

"Mark, I'll be honest. I would love to see you get married and raise a family on this land. After all, it is our ranch, and as much yours as it is mine. I would love to see my grandkids running barefoot across the yard, and love to see you working with me, continuing what we started together. But, I would hate to see you stay here if that's not what the Good Lord intended for you to do. Mark, I promise you right now that I give you my full blessing to do whatever it is you want to do with your life. It's your life Mark, not mine. I'll be happy to give you counsel and guidance, but in the end, whatever you chose to do is your decision and I won't interfere. I love you so much Mark, and want to see you prosper, I don't want to stand in the way of whatever it is you decide to do."

"Thanks Pa, that means a lot... I wouldn't ever want to do anything to cause a rift between us, and I didn't know how you would feel if I ever thought about moving on."

"Are you thinking about it?"

"Not at this point. Monday, Marshal Osborne and I did get to talking about the future, and it just made me think about the possibility of it. At this point I want to stay and work on the ranch, but there's always more options."

"Well, since you have plenty of time on your hands before school, would you mind dropping that special saw blade off at Jackford's for me?"

"Sure. Oh, and I was supposed to ask you if I could help Marshal Osborne Monday after school, he has a bunch of horses he has to get to his property that are comin' on the train."

"I think that should be fine, Mark. Has he started on a barn yet?" Lucas asked.

"No, materials he needs won't be here until Friday evening. He said he would just have to make do with a large paddock until the barn was built." Mark paused a moment before continuing, and Lucas could see the wheels turning in his son's head. "...But if I talked to a few people... I'm sure we could organize a barn raisin'... sorta make it a surprise, too...?" Mark hopefully asked.

Lucas smiled at Mark's proposition, his son was always thinking of ways to help somebody else out.

"Sure, just remember that a few of us, including the Marshals, will have to leave for that council meeting Saturday night."

"Shouldn't be a problem," Mark said as he began to clear the table and do the dishes. Mark already knew who to talk to. Four simple conversations would have Marshal Osborne's barn up by late Saturday afternoon.

5MC5

After dropping the saw blade off and talking to Oat Jackford about organizing a barn raising, Mark quickly made his way into town. Lou was simply elated at the idea of such a large get together and promised to talk with the women and make sure food was taken care of. Micah agreed to pass the word on as he walked the town, and during lunch Mark asked Mr. Griswold to make an announcement before he dismissed school.

As Mark helped Marshal Osborne with his house that afternoon, Mark smiled at the prospect of having the barn raising. There hadn't been any sort of social gathering since the summer social at the end of June, and it would be good for the Marshal to meet the rest of the townspeople since he had still been recovering during that event.

After supper that evening, Mark used the little daylight that was left to have some target practice like he had the night before. Lucas joined Mark about half way through and gave him some tips on how to improve.

As Mark settled into bed that evening he smiled at how good things were and how everything seemed to be coming together. Mark drifted off to a peaceful sleep... but it didn't last long.
*****

Mark startled awake for the third time that week, and grew frustrated at himself for having such childish nightmares. It was only two in the morning so Mark hoped he would fall back asleep, but it wasn't so. After lying in bed for half an hour, Mark got up and made his bed before dressing, then made his way to the front room. He sat down with the Bible once again, something that had become a daily occurrence for him. He wasn't really sure when exactly he had started to do this, but he knew it had to do with the week he had thought his Pa was dead. Mark had found it was his only source of peace and found comfort in learning about the God who understood his pain and grief. If his nightmares ever did really come true, Mark knew there was only one place he would find comfort, because there was only One who would never leave him.

Much to his surprise, Mark found Lucas still asleep by the time he had finished the chores and it was time to start breakfast. Mark put the coffee on and started the eggs, he would let his Pa sleep just a little bit longer. When the coffee was finished, Mark decided to take a sip of it himself. He'd never tried any before, but it sure did smell good. Mark poured two cups of coffee and proceeded to drink from one.

Lucas stepped out of the bedroom just in time to see Mark spitting the coffee into the sink. He had a good laugh and remembered the first time his sister had tried coffee, her reaction was about the same as Mark's.

"How do you drink that stuff?" Mark asked as he got a glass of milk.

"Good, isn't it? Want some more?" Lucas asked as he went to pick up the cup Mark had poured for him.

"It's disgusting! At the rate you and Micah drink it, I thought it was some amazing thing."

"You want to try some brandy next?" Lucas teased. Lucas had never “forbidden” Mark to drink until he was old enough, it wasn't necessary. Mark had sworn on more than one occasion he would never touch alcohol.
*****

Mark's routine was pretty much the same as it had been the last three days and would be the next day. Mark was thankful for a full night's sleep Thursday and Friday, and he woke refreshed Saturday morning, ready to head over the Marshal Osborne's with his Pa.

6MC6

John Osborne sipped from his coffee cup as he surveyed the kitchen he and Mark had fixed up. He had to admit, Mark did a right fine job with a hammer and couple of nails. Osborne wasn't looking forward to starting on the barn, but knew it had to get done sooner or later. He realized that he was really going to miss Mark's company and wished the young man hadn't been busy that day, but Mark did have things of his own to do.

As the marshal walked to the sink to wash his cup, he heard a ruckus out in the yard. Curious, he walked to the window and was surprised to see practically the whole town on his property.

"What's this?" The marshal asked as he stepped onto the porch.

"Just our way of welcoming our new Marshal to town," Micah answered. "Where do you want us to start?"

"Start with what?" Osborne asked in confusion.

"The barn," Jackford hollered. "Ain't ya ever heard of a barn raisin'?"

Not waiting for a reply, everyone started dis-mounting or getting down from their buckboards, and before Marshal Osborne could grasp what was going on, the barn was underway.

"Well are ya gonna stand there all day or help?" Mark teased as he passed Marshal Osborne.

Any other adult, Mark wouldn't have dared tease... except his Pa or Micah, but Marshal Osborne was like both of them; he was like family.

By the time the marshals and the rest of those on the city council had to leave, the barn was pretty much finished. Despite the warning Osborne gave for everyone else to leave, Mark, Oat, and his hands stuck around to put the finishing touches on it.

Knowing his Pa wouldn't be home for quite some time, Mark took a detour on the way home and stopped at the Donalds. With Tim working at his uncle's ranch in California, Mrs. Donalds didn't have much help with more of the physical work around the house. Her others were too young to do things like chop wood, except Emma, but there was no way she could do it. Emma was so small and slight of build; though if you ever told her she couldn't do anything, she'd set out to prove you wrong. One time Mark had gone over and said she couldn't fix the fence by herself, that the posts were to heavy for her to support. She set out to prove him wrong, and almost did... only she lost her balance at the last second and dropped the post on herself. Laughing, Mark had helped her up and then the two mended the fence together, but Mark made a mental note to never tell her she couldn't do something... he didn't want to know what kind of trouble she would get herself in.

As Mark rode up to the Donalds, he saw Lilly making yet another batch of mud pies. Every time he visited, he tried his best to make sure he took a minute to talk with her. Mark loved young children, but Lilly was something special, and not many people treated her like anything but a nuisance. He remembered what it had meant to him when he was younger for people to make a point of talking with him, so he tried to do the same.

"Good evening Miss Lilly. I see you're hard at work on your pies again," Mark greeted her.

"Yep, and before you ask, you may not have one. I told you last time, and the time before that,
and the time before that. They are pretend," Lilly said emphatically.

The little girl giggled as Mark picked her up and swung her upside down, tickling her in the process.

"Put me down!" Lilly laughed.

"Not until you say I can have one," Mark insisted.

"Alright, alright!" Lilly said before Mark put her down. She knew Mark was joking and pointed to the house as she told him that's where her mama was.

"Thanks," Mark said. "One day, when you make real pies, promise me you'll let me eat those."

"Just as long as you promise to stop eating mud!" Lilly giggled.

Mark made his way towards the house and gently rapped on the door. Emma opened the door, and was surprised to see him.

"Oh! Hello Mark."

"Evening," Mark said as he removed his hat.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Emma remembered her manners and invited Mark inside.

"Ma, Mark's here!" Emma hollered to the kitchen.

Mrs. Donalds came to the front room and greeted Mark warmly, then asked if he was needing anything.

"No ma'am, just on my way home and stopped in to see if you're needing anything. Pa has a council meetin' tonight so I figured I could stop by and see if there was something I could do," Mark explained.

"Well I appreciate it very much Mark, but I think you covered everything last time you were here. We still got plenty of firewood and the kitchen door is holding up fine."

"Alright then. Emma, I didn't see you or your brother in school yesterday...?"

"Ted came down with some cold and Ma needed my help here. Did I miss anything important?" Emma asked.

"Not anything too terribly vital. He did assign all of us older ones to write a one page report on the importance of community."

"Thanks, I'll be sure to get it done. See you Sunday... I guess that would be tomorrow...?"

"No, the circuit preacher got delayed and isn't expected for another two weeks, so it'll be Monday," Mark corrected.

"All right, see you then," Emma said as she walked Mark to the door.

"Thank you for checking in, Mark," Mrs. Donalds offered.

"Not a problem!" Mark waved goodbye and headed over to mount BlueBoy.

Emma watched as Mark rode away, and didn't hear her Ma calling her name until Mrs. Donalds stood right behind her.

"Emma?"

"Huh? Oh, sorry. What did you need Ma?"

"I asked if you would finish churning the butter."

"Sure," Emma replied as she turned away from the door, a smile spreading across her face.

7MC7

As he had said he would, Mark met Marshal Osborne at the train station on Monday afternoon to help him with the horses. Marshal Osborne took note of how well Mark worked with the horses, calming and coaxing them, and even slipping some of them a sugar cube or two. Mark seemed like a natural with horses and actually impressed the marshal with how well he handled the biggest one, Trigger, who was a little on the wild side.

After getting the horses to the Marshal's barn, Mark was invited inside the house.

"Care for some coffee?" The Marshal offered.

"No thanks. I had my first sip Saturday and didn't care for it to much," Mark replied in disgust.

The marshal laughed and poured himself a cup, then got Mark a glass of water.

"Thanks for heading up that barn raising Saturday, I can't tell you how relieved I am that everything is done."

"Who said anything about me heading it up? Lou, Micah, Mr. Jackford, and Mr. Griswold were
the ones who headed it up."

"And I wonder how they found out I was needin' to get my barn up," The Marshal said sarcastically.

"Ya must've said something to Mr. Lanely at the hardware store," Mark replied innocently.

"Even if you won't admit to headin' it up, I still appreciate it."

"When does your family arrive?" Mark asked, trying to change the subject.

"Five O'clock train, Saturday. If you and your Pa aren't busy, I'd like to ask you to join us for supper at the hotel."

"I'll ask Pa, I don't think we're doing anything."

Marshal Osborne looked down to his cup, but his eyes caught sight of Mark's rifle leaning against his leg.

"Mark, when did you get a new gun?" The marshal inquired.

"Last Monday. It's the first time I've carried it with me off the ranch since I got it, I wanted to be confident with it before I took it anywhere. I've been working on my target practice every night and Pa's been helping me some."

"It's a Spencer Repeater, isn't it?" John asked.

"Yep, the one Pa used during the war." Mark handed the rifle to Marshal Osborne, who looked it over.

"Seems to be in pretty good condition considering it's been through the war." There was a brief pause before the Marshal continued, "Mark, I hope you understand just how much it probably took your Pa to give this to you."

"Yes sir... I already had an idea, but Pa explained some things to me that I didn't understand when he gave it to me. I hope I don't ever make him regret giving it to me."

"Carry it with integrity Mark, and you never will."

8MC8

Saturday evening, Mark and Lucas sat on one of the benches on the train station's platform, while Marshal Osborne paced in front of them. Mark didn't understand why he was so anxious.
Sure, he was excited his family was coming, but what was the big deal? Lucas knew perfectly well why. He had been the same way after being separated from Margaret during their marriage, he couldn't wait to see her again.

As the train slowed to a stop, Mark and Lucas stood in preparation to meet the arriving passengers. They all turned when they heard someone call out behind them.

"Pa!"

Mark saw who he assumed to be Marshal Osborne's family coming towards him. John reunited with his family and kissed each of his girls atop the head before embracing his wife.

"Welcome to North Fork!" Lucas said as he and Mark made their way closer to the family.

"Catherine, this is Lucas McCain and his son, Mark. They've become good friends over the past three months and Mark here helped a lot with gettin' our home ready for your arrival," John explained.

"A pleasure to meet you," Mrs. Osborne said as she smiled.

"I'm Cassie," Osborne's older daughter stated as she stuck out her hand to shake Lucas and Mark's.

"Anna," was all the younger of the two said.

Mark really wasn't surprised, Marshal Osborne had said Anna was quite shy and didn't really speak up much.

"Well, let's get you folks' things and load them up on your buck board, then head over to the hotel. Lou serves the best food within a hundred miles," Lucas informed.

"We're just thankful she does the servin' and not the cookin'," Mark quipped as he went to help move the boxes that were full of the Osborne's belongings.

"You better not let Lou hear ya saying that," Marshal Osborne warned.

"Oh I won't, I value my life," Mark replied.

After getting the Osborne's things off the train, the group headed to the hotel for supper.

It wasn't very often that they ate at the hotel anymore, especially since Lucas was standing in for Micah less and less, so Mark enjoyed every bite of his meal. As much as both of their cooking skills had improved, bachelor cooking was nothing compared to the hotel's food, even when Lou was short staffed and had to help with the cooking. Mark admitted Lou wasn't really that bad of a cook, she was actually getting fairly good, but he and Lucas loved to tease her about her cooking anyway.

During a lull in the adults' conversation, which Mark ended up taking more part in than he had expected to, Mark started asking Cassie and Anna questions to engage them in conversation.

"What do you like to do during your free time?" Mark inquired.

"Ride," Cassie piped up. "I love spending time with horses, and if I'm not doing that I'm reading. I just finished Hamlet, and although it was somewhat difficult to understand at first, I got used to it."

"I love reading as well, but the Shakespeare is too much for me," Mark said. "What do you like to do, Anna?"

Anna took a moment to reply, and Mark noticed she seemed to be very carefully choosing how to word her answer.

"When I'm not finishing assignments for school or helping mother, I like to go for walks in the woods, or pick wild flowers out in the field," Anna quietly replied.

"Sometime Mark will have to take you two for a ride and show you the view from Miner's Peek, it's quite a view," Lucas suggested.

Cassie and Anna both seemed interested and after getting permission from their respective parents, the three decided to go for a ride next Saturday afternoon.

After finishing supper and dessert, the group stood and left the hotel. Mark and Lucas walked the Osborne’s to their buck board, and said goodnight.

"Will we be seeing you in church tomorrow?" Mrs. Osborne asked.

"Circuit preacher won't be here until next week, unfortunately," Mark replied.

"Well hopefully we won't have that predicament too much longer," Lucas said. "The town council decided to start looking for a permanent preacher, they hope to have one in place by thanksgiving time."

"Well stop by then on your next trip intro town, we'd love to have you for a visit," Mrs. Osborne invited.

"Thank you, ma'am we might just take you up on that," Lucas said.

After the formal goodbyes were given, the Osborne's drove off, and Mark and Lucas mounted up and headed home.

"Pa," Mark said as they rode, "You never said anything about a preacher coming...?"

"I didn't?" Lucas said as he looked towards Mark. "Guess not. Well, Saturday the council decided North Fork is gettin' big enough to hire a full time pastor. We've already got a church separate from the school house, so we don't have to worry about space, and it's about time we try again."

"I hope it's not a repeat of the last time we looked for a preacher."

Mark thought about when he was eleven and some criminals killed the actual preacher and his wife and took their places, then tried to rob the bank. It didn't end well for anyone, and no one wanted to see it happen again.

"Don't worry about it, I'm sure it won't," Lucas assured.

Mark had been held hostage that night and Lucas wondered if that would affect the way Mark accepted the new preacher.

"Are you going to handle it alright?" Lucas asked.

"Yeah. What happened was a bad thing and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It'd be stupid to hold onto it and let fear control me. 'Sides, we've been waitin' a long time for a preacher, I'm excited."

"Good," Lucas said with a smile. "So... I saw Mrs. Donalds in town the other day."

"Ya did?" Mark asked, not sure why his Pa would mention seeing her in town.

"She said you dropped by again to see if there was anything she needed help with."

"I try to help her out when I have a few minutes to spare is all. Why are you bringing this up?"

"Sure there's not someone you're wanting to see while you're there?" Lucas teased.

"Oh, Pa, gross! That's just... ew!"

Lucas laughed as Mark kicked BlueBoy's flanks and hurried past his Pa.

"Just disgusting..." Lucas heard Mark mumble.

Lucas caught up to Mark and patted his son's shoulder.

"Just teasing you son. But one day, you will find that special one and your feelings about all that “gross” stuff will change."

"Well today isn't that day and tomorrow ain't looking too good, either," Mark said, shaking his head. "What does love do to a person, make them lose their mind?"

"Pretty much," Lucas laughed.

9MC9

As the months passed, life became slower in the town of North Fork. The excitement of school had died down, and even Mark was beginning to find the hours during school monotonous. The Osborne girls had little difficulty getting caught up with the other children their age, and Anna was doing so well, Mr. Griswold advanced her a grade.

Mark, Anna, and Cassie often went for rides on the weekends, especially when the Osborne's invited Mark and Lucas over for Sunday dinner.

One thing that the townspeople were looking forward to was the arrival of the new preacher, who had a wife and young son. Mark was excited to see North Fork getting a permanent preacher, but he would miss the Sunday Mornings he and his Pa would spend together when there was no circuit preacher in town.

One day when Mark was at the Donalds, he and Emma were working on the barn chores together when Cassie rode up. Emma was the first to notice her and called out to her.

"In the barn Cassie, come on in!" Emma invited as she wiped her hands on her dress.

When Cassie came into the barn, she was surprised to see Mark mucking a stall.

"Hi Emma! ...What are you doing here, Mark?"

"Just helping out. Emma was having trouble with the cow so I came in to help her after chopping some wood."

"And how did that lead to you mucking stalls?" Cassie questioned.

"Just a little bet that I lost," Mark replied. "What are you here for?"

"I invited Cassie to spend the night," Emma replied.

"We're going for a ride as soon as Emma is done with her chores, want to come along?" Cassie asked.

"Sure, it'll probably be our last ride for a while, the weather is getting nippy."

"I nearly froze to death on the way to school yesterday, I don't know how we're going to survive this winter..." Emma complained.

"I don't know if we will... we've never faced a cold New Mexico winter before! We'll freeze over and they won't find our bodies 'till spring!" Mark said, dramatically putting a hand to his forehead.

"Har har," Emma said as Cassie and Mark had a good laugh.

After Cassie and Mark helped Emma finish the chores, the threesome headed off for a leisurely ride through the woods.

After seeing the two girls back to the Donalds', Mark said goodbye and rode off on BlueBoy.

"So, does Mark feel the same way?" Cassie inquired as she turned to her friend.

"Same way about what?" Emma asked innocently.

"Oh, please. I can tell you are sweet on him. Does he like you?"

"I wish I knew. You're close to him, why don't you ask him?" Emma asked.

"Well hold on, I wouldn't say we're “close”. Our parents are close and he and my Pa talk a lot, but all we ever do is go riding with Anna on the weekends."

"You spend more time with him than I do, could you just ask him for me, please?"

"I suppose I could try, the McCain's invited us for dinner tomorrow. No promises though."

"Thank you!" Emma stated excitedly.

"Now let's get the horses in the barn before we freeze!"

As the girls were brushing down their horses, they chatted away, talking about anything and everything they could. After a pause in the conversation, Cassie decided to ask Emma a question she had been wondering about for quite a while.

"Emma, do you know what happened to Mrs. McCain?"

"I'm not sure. We moved out here after my Pa died, and the McCain's were already settled. He never talks about her, so my guess is she left."

"Well you can't just jump to that conclusion, for all you know she died and he's very sensitive about it."

"Take your pick, I think she left," Emma stated bluntly.

Cassie was surprised to find her friend so insensitive about the matter, but then again she also realized it was none of her business weather Mrs. McCain had died or left. Cassie put the question aside and hurried to finish brushing Storm before the girls headed into the house.

10MC10

Mark arrived home to find his Pa un saddling Razor in the barn.

"Have a good day, Mark?" Lucas inquired.

"Yep. After I helped out at the Donalds, Cassie and Emma invited me to go riding with them, so we rode through the woods for a while."

"You're quite a lady's man, I see."

"Pa, please not with that again," Mark begged as he put BlueBoy in his stall. For the past few months it seemed that all Lucas could tease Mark about was girls. Mark knew his Pa, and now Micah, did it all in good fun, but he was getting tired of it. "For the last time, I'm not interested in girls!"

"Sure, just keep telling yourself that."

"Where did you go?" Mark asked, trying to change the subject.

"Went to visit the new preacher and his family. I invited them to join us and the Osborne's for dinner tomorrow."

"Did they accept?"

"Yes, they said they would be delighted to join us."

After supper that evening, Mark went outside to get a little bit of target practice in. Lucas stood in front of the window after he had finished the supper dishes and watched Mark for a bit before walking out to him.

"Getting a little cold to be shooting, isn't it?" Lucas asked.

"With the way the weather's been acting I figured tonight's probably the last night I'll be able to get some practice in. Want to get in whatever I can." Mark replied as he shouldered his rifle to take another shot.

"You're getting pretty good with that thing, I wouldn't be surprised if you win the spring shootin' contest."

"I'm not entering," Mark simply stated before taking his shot.

"Why not?" Lucas asked, intrigued by his son's statement.

"Well like you've said, a rifle is a tool, not a toy to be played with. I practice so I'm good enough with it incase I ever need it, but I don't see the point of seeing who's the best shot. If a situation ever did arise where I need to use my rifle, and someone else happens to be there, we're not going to take the time to decide who should take the shot 'cause they're “better.” Just starting out, I don't really see the point of me entering a contest..." Mark paused before pulling the trigger. "Even if I did win, like you always say, there's always someone better."

"I see your point, but there's no harm in a little contest. I'd like to see you try just once, at some point. But if you're not comfortable with it, I understand," Lucas stated.

"Maybe I will, when I'm older, but for now I'm just happy with hitting the target." Mark said before reloading, then throwing up the tin can next to him and firing at it seven times. Lucas went to pick the can up and was shocked at what he found.

"Well?" Mark asked as Lucas walked back towards him.

"You hit it all right - all seven times," Lucas said as he handed Mark the can.

Satisfied with himself, Mark headed towards the house to clean and put his rifle away. Lucas followed Mark, telling himself it had to be a lucky shot in that lighting.

11MC11

The next morning, Lucas and Mark got up early to do the morning chores together before eating breakfast and heading to church. They arrived just a few minutes before the service started and took a seat after Lucas introduced Mark to the preacher and his family.

After the service ended and Reverend Graft had shaken hands with the congregation, the Osbornes and Grafts followed Lucas and Mark to the McCain ranch.

For lunch they had a simple roast and biscuits, and Mark was elated when he found out Mrs. Osborne had brought apple pie for dessert.

Lucas suggested that the children go for a ride, seeing it was a beautiful fall day. Mark and Cassie were eager to get out of the stuffy house, but even though she didn't complain, Anna would have been just as happy staying indoors. As the three started to walk out the door, they heard the Graft's three year old son saying he wanted to go too.

"Darling, this is for the big kids," Mrs. Graft said.

"Mrs. Graft, if you're alright with it, I wouldn't mind at all if Ethan rode with me. BlueBoy's very gentle and calm," Mark offered.

Mrs. Graft looked to her husband who gave a simple nod, then set Ethan down.

"Thank you Mark, I'd appreciate that," She replied.

Mark helped Ethan put his coat on, then picked him up before grabbing his rifle and hat and heading out the door.

Cassie wanted to race up the first hill and took off ahead of the others. Anna didn't like racing and Mark wanted too, but didn't because Ethan was sitting in front of him. They soon caught up to Cassie who was now stopped in front of a grave marker.

"Mark? What's this?" Cassie asked, quite confused.

"A grave," Mark replied. "Ever seen one before?"

"Ya know what I mean," Cassie retorted, annoyed at Mark. "Why is your Pa's name on it?"

"Long story... but I guess we have time. Come on, I'll tell you about it," Mark replied as he urged BlueBoy forward.

Mark proceeded to tell the Osborne girls the story of how his Pa “died,” and why Lucas was “buried” on the hill.

"...And the criminals are now serving their sentences in the New Mexico Territory prison. I don't know why we haven't taken it out. I suppose we just haven't gotten around to it. We took Micah's tombstone out of the cemetery but I guess we forgot about taking Pa's out once we got home," Mark concluded.

"Was it hard? Without your Pa?" Anna asked.

Cassie shot her sister a look telling her not to ask such questions.

"It's alright," Mark assured. "It was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, and if it hadn't been for your Pa and God, I don't know if I would've survived that week. But it's in the past now, and I'm glad everyone's back together."

After a while, the group decided to turn back and after arriving back at the house, Mark asked Anna to take Ethan inside while he and Cassie took care of the horses.

"Mark?" Cassie asked as she brushed Storm down.

"Yeah?"

"What would you say if I asked you if you liked any one?"

"Oh please, not you too! What do I have to do to get you people to realize that I am happy single!"

"I was just asking. Emma wanted to know if you liked her and I told her I'd ask," Cassie said as she rolled her eyes.

"Wait - she what?"

"Emma wanted to know if you liked her."

"I mean, she's nice and I like her as a friend, like you and Anna, but... just no. I never liked her that way."

"Good, I can tell her and she can get over this silly crush," Cassie said, not realizing what she had stated.

"I have a feeling she didn't want me knowing that..."

"Oh shoot!" Cassie exclaimed as she stood straight up. "Mark, please don't tell her I accidentally told you that!"

"Sure, just do me a favor, will ya?"

"Sure," Cassie answered.

"Let her down easy, don't shatter her. She's quite... fragile."

"I will. I can be gentle when I need to be, believe it or not."

Mark put his finger to his chin and paused a moment, pretending to think.

"Can't quite picture it. All I see is a bull in a china shop," Mark teased.

Cassie threw the brush she had been using at Mark after he turned back to brush Anna's horse.

"What was that for?" He asked as he picked it up.

"Mess with the bull, ya get the horns!" Cassie replied with a smirk.

12MC12

The next week, Mark and Lucas found themselves celebrating thanksgiving with Lou, Micah, the Grafts, and the Osbornes. With all of her guests away at friend's and relative's, Lou was able to close the restaurant part of the hotel and host the thanksgiving meal there. As the women worked in the kitchen, the men organized the tables and placed decorations that Lou had given to them. Every time Mark would sneak into the kitchen to steal a bit of pie filling or cake frosting, Lou playfully swatted his hand and sent him back out to help the men. About the third time Lou had endured enough, and would've given Mark an earful if Cassie hadn't beat her to it.

"Mark McCain, ya get out of here for the last time!" She hollered. "Interfere with the “women's work” before the meal, and you'll be doing the “woman's work” after the meal!" Cassie shooed Mark out of the kitchen and sighed as the door shut. "Men!" She mumbled.

The older ladies and Anna chuckled at Cassie's frustration with Mark. It took a lot to rile her, even with all of her spirit, but when you did she was ready to explode.

After the meal, each person took time to share what they were especially thankful to God for that day, Mark was last and thought for a few moments before speaking.

"Today, I'm especially thankful for family, and friends who are practically like family. Pa and I've been through a lot this past summer and without some of you we wouldn't have survived it. I'm thankful that God's given us such good friends as you."

"I think I can safely say we all feel the same," Micah said as the others nodded their heads, agreeing.

"Even if you do eat all the pie," Cassie quipped, which got everyone laughing.

Cassie chuckled softly, but her thoughts were occupied with something else. Mark was like a friend, she realized. Even more of a friend than Emma in some ways. At first she thought it was strange, being so close to a boy, but then she admitted that deep down she'd always known he was more than an acquaintance, he really was a true friend.

Cassie smiled as she stood to get another slice of pie for herself. Mark was up on her by two slices, and she wasn't going to let him win this competition.

Mark volunteered to help with the dishes so the adults could talk, and Anna, Mark, and Cassie began clearing the table. It wasn't long after the kids had gone into the kitchen that they heard dishes crashing, Cassie laughing, and Mark swearing he would get Cassie back. Lucas and John stood to see if everything was alright, but Anna came out before they left the table.

"Everything's fine. Anyone want any pie before it gets destroyed?" She quietly asked as a smirk spread across her face.

"What exactly are those two doin' in there?" Lou asked.

"Mark, don't you dare!" Everyone heard from the other side of the kitchen door.

"I don't really know how to explain it..." Anna said as she looked back at the door. "I don't know if I really understand it myself."

"I don't know if I want to know..." Mrs. Osborne stated, knowing how wild Cassie could get at times.

"Just tell 'em I said my kitchen bet'r be clean by the time I come back there," Lou said.

Anna turned and walked back in the kitchen to find Mark chasing Cassie around the kitchen with a spoon of pudding.

"Ms. Lou said you better have the kitchen clean by the time she gets back here... and if you keep making such a racket, I don't think that will be too long," Anna stated.

Mark rolled his eyes and popped the spoon in his mouth before they went back to cleaning the dishes.

"I am going to get you back," Mark stated.

The adults didn't hear anymore outbursts from the kitchen for another fifteen minutes. When they did hear Cassie squeal Mark's name, Lou stood to go find out what the two were up to.

At first, Lou was pleased to find the dishes had been completed. Then she saw Cassie and
Mark and couldn't help laughing as Anna put her palm to her own face.

"Mark, I don't think ye've ever looked better. Pumpkin pie is such a good color on ye! And Cassie... the chocolate puddin' compliments yer blonde hair so well!"

Cassie and Mark joined Lou in her laughter as Anna shook her head slowly.

"You two best get cleaned up, Cassie ye can go out that door and use the powder room, first door on yer left. Anna and I will be rejoin' the adults," Lou said gesturing to the kitchen's back door.

Lou was still laughing as she took her seat again, and Anna's cheeks were red with embarrassment... she couldn't believe her sister!

"What's so funny?" Lucas asked. "Or do I not want to know?"

"Oh, those two were just havin' a wee bit of funnin'," Lou replied. "Ah, to be young again."

Mark was the first to rejoin the group, then Cassie. There were a few smirks between the two, but neither cared to share with the group what had happened in the kitchen. The adults simply decided to let it go... whatever “it” was that had happened.

After the restaurant's furniture was back in place and the decorations taken down, everyone left the hotel and headed to their respective homes.

On the ride home, Mark turned towards his Pa to ask a question.

"Pa... I know before holidays haven't really been something we've celebrated a lot of, and pretty much just always stayed at home. But I actually really enjoyed myself today... do you think we could... well... spend more of the holidays with friends?"

"I think it's about time we did, Mark. Your Ma loved the holidays and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't keep celebrating them like we would have if your Ma was still here." Lucas paused a moment before continuing, "Mark, honestly... do you wish we would have done more things like we did today after your Ma died?"

"I don't think I was ready for it until this year... I think it would've been too painful for both of us, but I'm ready for it now. I'm... ready to move forward, and not cling to the past. Ma will always be a part of me, but..."

"I understand, Mark... it's the same way I feel. Your Ma is and always will be a part of us, but a part we take with us as we move forward, not hold onto as we cling to the past."

Mark smiled at his Pa and the two continued to ride side by side down the road.

"So..." Lucas began. "Mind filling me in on what happened in the kitchen?"

Mark smirked as his eyebrows and shoulders lifted.

"Sorry Pa, but I've been sworn to secrecy."

"Maybe Marshal Osborne can drag it out of you, then."

"I'd rather deal with him than the one that swore me to secrecy."

"And who's that?" Lucas inquired.

"His daughter."

13MC13

As November turned to December, Mark and Lucas soon found themselves at Lou's having a special dinner to celebrate Mark's birthday. Mark had made it clear after Lucas suggested a party, this was one “holiday” he didn't mind celebrating quietly at all.

"Well, It's not very often I see you two in my restaurant, what's the occasion?" Lou asked after seeing them eating supper together.

"I asked Mark what he wanted to eat for his birthday, and he said he'd like to eat here," Lucas replied.

"As long as we were sure you weren't in the kitchen," Mark jested.

"Oh, ye!" Lou said as she slapped Mark with her notepad. "Mark, I didn't know it was your birthday! Lucas, why didn't ye tell me? I could've planned a wonderful party for 'im."

"Exactly," Mark said. "You would've planned a big party. Pa and I prefer to celebrate our birthdays quietly."

"Well, now I know when it is and I won't be missin' it next year. I'll give ye the grandest party North Fork's ever seen!"

"That's alright Lou, I-"

"No arguin' about it. And both of yer dinners are on the house tonight," Lou said as she walked away.

"Pa, why are women so... persistent?"

"Same reason us men are, Mark. But keep in mind, there's persistent
and then there's Lou."

After supper, Lucas rode to the edge of town with Mark before heading back into town for the council meeting. He had hoped to get out of it, but there were already several members of the town council gone including Marshal Osborne and Micah said there were some major issues that needed to be dealt with.

"See you when ya get home Pa?"

"Don't wait up for me, this is supposed to be a really important meeting so I'm sure it will last a few hours. I won't be home until late."

"Alright. See you later!" Mark said as he rode off.

"I Love you, son," Lucas replied before turning Razor around and heading towards town.

14MC14

When Mark woke the next morning, he looked at the timepiece which read nine-thirty, and was surprised that his Pa hadn't gotten him up yet. On Sundays they had to get up extra early to finish the chores in time to get to church. Once he looked out the window though, he understood. Everything outside was covered in at least six inches of snow, meaning his Pa had probably decided to skip church that morning for safety reasons. Mark began to dress so he could help his Pa with whatever was left to do.

When Mark stepped out of the bedroom though, he started to wonder if something was wrong. There was no coffee brewing, and the fire had died out in the stove. Mark got his hat and coat off the peg on the wall and put them on before grabbing his rifle and heading outside. There were no footprints in the snow, and none of the chores were done. Then, Mark realized something was wrong. Really wrong.

Mark stepped into Razor's empty stall and looked for any sign to indicate that his Pa had been there that morning, but there didn't seem to be any. Razor's food was still there from when Mark had put it there last night, and everything seemed to be undisturbed from the night previous. Lucas should have moved several things around to bed down Razor when he got home.

Mark quickly ran back into the house, hoping he had overlooked a note or something, but didn't find anything.

“Maybe Pa just decided to stay in town because of the storm.l,” Mark tried to convince himself as he mounted BlueBoy. That had to be it... Mark didn't want to think about the alternative.
*****

The first place Mark checked was the hotel. He looked through the register, hoping to see his Pa’s name, but there was no “Lucas McCain”.

Next, Mark checked the jail and Micah's; maybe his Pa had spent the night with him.

The jail was closed up and there was no answer at Micah's. Checking the establishments he passed on his way to the church, Mark hoped he would find Lucas soon. Mark quietly entered the church and scanned the crowd for his Pa, but no tall, blond haired man with a rifle was to be seen.

Mark left the church and checked the rest of North Fork, hoping, praying he would find his Pa. By the time Mark was done checking every square inch of North Fork, church was letting out. Mark hurried to find Micah among the large crowd of people, and finally caught sight of him talking with Mr. Griswold.

"Micah, have you seen Pa?" Mark desperately asked.

"What happened, you lose him?" Micah joked.

"Micah, seriously! It doesn't look like Pa made it home last night and I've checked all over town, do you know where he is?"

"I'm sorry Mark, I said goodnight to him about eight-thirty."

Mark's heart sunk.

"Pa should've been home before ten... I was up until eleven reading. Micah, something's wrong!"

"Calm down, Mark. I'm sure your Pa is around somewhere. Let's check around town and-"

"Micah, I already looked everywhere. Pa isn't here, and he isn't at home!"

Micah thought a minute before replying to Mark.

"I want you to go home and make sure your Pa didn't show up there. I'll double check in town and get some men together for a search party. If neither of us find anything, we'll meet up at the church and set out to look for him."

"Alright," Mark said before whirling around to leave.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder, turning him back around.

"Mark, it's going to be alright. We'll find your Pa," Micah assured before giving Mark a hug.

Micah could only imagine the thoughts and emotions running through Mark after what had happened that summer. Micah hoped they would find Lucas soon, and that he would be fine when they found him.

As Mark raced home, he fought the tears that were pushing to fall.

“Not again, not now. Please... let him be alright.”

When Mark rode into the yard, his heart skipped a beat when he saw Razor standing in front of the house. Mark jumped off BlueBoy and ran as fast as he could into the house.

"PA?!" Mark called as he ran inside.

Mark looked around the front room, then checked the bedroom. Everything was as he had left it; Lucas was nowhere to be seen.

Mark ran to check the barn, constantly calling out for his Pa, but no reply came. When Mark ran back towards the horses, he saw his Pa's rifle in Razor's scabbard, telling him Lucas hadn't ridden his horse home. If he had, Lucas would have his rifle in his hand. If he had, Mark could be in his Pa's arms.

Although Mark wanted to fall apart, he did his best to pull himself together before grabbing his Pa's rifle, stuffing it in his scabbard next to his own rifle, putting Razor in the barn, and heading to town.

When Mark came to the turn off for the shortcut, he didn't even think about whether it was safe or not; whether he was supposed to take it or not. All Mark could think about was his Pa somewhere out in the cold, without his rifle, without any form of protection.

15MC15

Micah paced the front of the church, waiting for Mark to show up... hopefully with Lucas.

Finally, Mark stepped through the church doors. Much to everyone's dismay, he was alone.

"Micah, I found Razor at the ranch, but Pa wasn't anywhere," Mark began as he walked up to the marshal. "Micah... Pa's gun was in the scabbard... he's out there, somewhere without-"

"We'll find him, boy," Micah said as he patted Mark's shoulder, before turning to address the
crowd. "Alright, listen up! Lucas McCain is missing and the last place we saw him was right outside this church. Spread out in groups of two's and three's, searching the countryside and off the roadways. No one, and I mean no one," Micah said as he eyed Mark, "goes off alone. We don't need another person missing. Meet back here by five so we can make sure everyone is back by sunset. If you find anything, fire two shots up in the air and anyone who hears it head that direction. Any questions? ...Good. let's go!" Micah turned towards Mark before continuing at a much quieter volume, "Mark, you ride with me."

"But Micah, we could cover twice as much area..." Mark argued.

"I don't want to have to worry about you and your Pa at the same time, so stay close."

"But..." Mark paused before continuing. "...Alright." Mark realized he wasn't going to get anywhere trying to argue with Micah, at least not now.

Micah and Mark went as fast as they could while still looking for prints in the snow. Up one hill, down the next Mark called out for Lucas, even though his throat burned every time he tried to talk.

As each hour passed and the sun set lower and lower behind the mountains, Mark's heart sunk deeper and deeper. Mark ignored his growling stomach and pounding headache, he couldn't focus on anything besides finding his Pa.

Finally, Micah was somehow able to convince Mark that it was time turn back. The two quietly, reluctantly rode to the church in silence.

Mark did his best to keep himself composed, especially when one by one the groups of men came back saying they had found nothing. Micah thanked everyone for their efforts, and said anyone who wanted to search tomorrow should be back by seven A.M., sharp.

Micah took Mark to the hotel to get something to eat, he knew the boy must be starving. Much to Micah's surprise, he didn't get the typical “I'm not hungry” he normally did from a McCain. Mark just nodded to whatever Micah said and went along with it.

Mark didn't notice the stares he got from the townspeople, he couldn't even tell you what he ate. He was too numb, too worried to care.

His Pa could be freezing to death, slowly enduring torture from the elements. What kind of pain was he going through? Should Mark have stayed up and waited for his Pa to get home? Should he have known something was wrong? Why didn't he wake up sooner that morning?

"Micah..." Mark barely whispered as they sat at a table in the restaurant. "If something happens to Pa, it'll be all my fault..." Mark quietly said as he stared at the table.

"Mark, I can't promise you that we'll find your Pa, you know that. But you know as well as I do, none of this is your fault."

"But I should've-"

"If I know you, you did exactly what your father told you to. Let me guess: your Pa rode you to the edge of town, told you not to stay up because the meeting was suppose to go late, then you two parted ways. You went home, read, then turned in. As soon as you woke and found out Lucas wasn't there, you did everything you could to find him. And if I know your father, he told you he loved you before you separated, and I'm sure that hasn't changed in the last twenty-four hours. He wouldn't blame you, I don't blame you, no one should blame you. Mark this isn't your fault, do you understand me? Mark?"

"...Yes sir," Mark said as he slowly nodded. "Micah... I can't... go through this again. If Pa-"

"I've said it more than once, Mark, “if” is a troublesome word. Have faith, pray. The Good Lord has a purpose for what He allows."

"Oh, I've been prayin' Micah. Believe me, I've been prayin'."

16MC16

Mark slipped on his boots, jacket, and hat, then quietly exited the jail house where he and Micah had spent the night. It was a cold December morning, one that Mark was already beginning to loathe. The wind stung his cheeks and the snow that fell between his neck and collar was melting fast, but Mark pushed it all aside and focused on his one goal: find Pa.

Mark knew he was in for a lecture with Micah about going out on his own, especially on a day like this, but Mark couldn't wait three more hours, he had to do something now.
Mark started out at the church, where the council meeting had taken place and looked around in a circle.

“Where do I start?” Mark asked himself.

He eventually decided to head towards the ranch, since that's where his Pa should have been headed two nights before.

Mark called out as best he could, but eventually he had to stop, anything that came out was a quiet whisper.

After an hour of riding, Mark stopped before a bridge to let a wagon past. Mark looked at the
river and bank below before continuing, and then realizing what he had seen, Mark guided BlueBoy down to the river's edge.

As Mark passed the hat from his left to right hand, he confirmed that it was his Pa's. Joy and worry flooded Mark at the same time. He'd found a trace of Lucas, but it was next to the nearly frozen river.

Holding on to the little bit of hope he had left, Mark rode BlueBoy up the bank, scanning for any other sign of his Pa.

After riding for quite some time, Mark figured Micah had found his note by now and was furious. He'd apologize... no, he'd explain later - after his Pa was safe.

After spotting a cave, Mark decided to give BlueBoy a few minutes of rest and them both a break from the wind. As much as Mark didn't feel like stopping, he knew it was the best decision.

As Mark stood in the cave, trying to get the matches from his saddle bag, he thought he smelled faint traces of smoke. Intrigued, Mark lit the lantern he had grabbed from the jail, as well as his rifle, and explored deeper into the cave.

First, Mark caught sight of the what was left of a fire. Then he saw the hand, the arm, and finally his Pa's wonderful face.

"PA!" Mark barely squeaked out as he rushed to his Pa's side.

Mark put his ear to his Pa's chest, hoping... praying he would hear his Pa's heart beating. To say that Mark breathed a sigh of relief would be an understatement; the weight of the burden lifted from him was indescribable.

Mark began tapping his Pa's face, trying to rouse him, but to no avail. Mark knew Lucas was much too cold to the touch, so before running outside the cave to gather firewood, Mark slipped his jacket off and put it on his Pa.

After getting the fire blazing, Mark began to assess the rest of Lucas. Everything seemed fine... until Mark saw his Pa's leg. It was only then that Mark saw the good of his Pa being unconscious. Mark knew what he needed to do, but slightly hesitated at the thought of setting his Pa's leg even though he wasn't awake. Mark knew how to set a leg, he'd also seen it done several times, he'd just never done it himself. Mark also knew that the longer the leg went like this, the more permanent problems there could be, but what if he did something wrong?

"God, help me," Mark whispered before snapping Lucas' leg back in place.

Mark hurried to make a splint out of some extra firewood and his belt, then added more wood to the fire before heading outside.

Mark fired two shots in the air, hoping someone was nearby and would hear them. Next, Mark began to make a big fire right at the edge of the cave to attract attention. The wind had died down some, but it still took quite a while to get the flames to keep burning. Mark sent another two shots into the air before returning to check on his Pa.

As he released a big breath of air, Mark squatted next to his Pa and began rubbing his Pa's hands and face, trying to warm them.

Time slowly drug on. About every ten minutes or so, Mark would check on the fire at the entrance of the cave, fire two shots, then return to his Pa and continue rubbing warmth into him.

"Pa, you've gotta hang on..." Mark hoarsely whispered.

17MC17

After finding Mark's note, Micah was enraged to say the least. He wouldn't have waited for the search party to assemble at the church, but the snow had already covered whatever tracks Mark left and there was no use him going out there alone in that weather.

Micah and Jackford set off as one of several groups, calling for Mark and Lucas as they went.

"Mark! Lucas!" Micah called. "Oat, I'm gonna tan that boy's hide when we find him..."

"Sorry, you'll have to wait your turn," Jackford replied.

"I can't believe Mark went off on his own like that."

"I can," Oat commented.

"What do you mean?" Micah asked as he eyed the rancher.

"This is Mark and Lucas we're talking about. We would've expected it from Lucas, we should've been expecting it from Mark. Frankly, I don't blame him for heading out so early, I just wish he would have thought it through more thoroughly and brought somebody along."

"Remind me to lock him in a cell next time."

"Let's hope there isn't a next time."

The time passed slowly as the search party pressed on. The wind stung their cheeks and passed right through their clothes, chilling their bones. Even Micah was beginning to lose hope when they heard two gunshots in the distance.

"Somebody found something, let's go!" Micah said as he and Oat headed towards the noise. It was a while before they heard a second set of shots and were able to pinpoint the general area of the gun shot. Making their way down the river's bank, they thought they could smell a faint trace of smoke.

18MC18

Mark headed out to fire his rifle once again. He didn't know how much longer his Pa was going to last... he had warmed up a tiny bit, but was still unresponsive.

As Mark pulled the trigger, he caught sight of two riders heading his way. Mark continued to rapidly fire, and waved his arm to get their attention. As the riders got closer, Mark was able to recognize them and breathed a sigh of relief. Micah and Mr. Jackford hurried over to where Mark stood.

"Mark McCain, I'm gonna-" Micah started.

"You can lecture me later, Pa's inside and he isn't too good," Mark hoarsely told them as he motioned for them to follow him.

The men followed Mark inside the cave, and after assessing the situation began to build a travois from what they had available. The three of them lifted Lucas onto it and carried it outside to hook up to Micah's horse.

"Mark, go back inside and get the rest of the materials, then put the fire out," Micah ordered.

Mark did as he was told as quickly as possible, and when he came back out of the cave there were more men from the search party there. The small group shortly set off, slowly making their way back to North Fork. Mark rode directly behind Micah, keeping his eyes glued on his Pa the whole way. Micah sent Oat ahead to tell the doctor they were coming and what to expect.

Once they arrived in town, they carried Lucas into Doc's back room where the old doctor began to examine him. Mark stood close by, watching as the doctor began to work.

"Micah, I need you to get him out of here," Burrage said as he pointed to Mark.

Mark didn't put up a fight and walked with Micah to the hotel. Mark knew he was going to be in the way, and until later he best just do what he was told.

After sitting down and ordering something for the both of them to eat, Micah sternly looked Mark in the eyes.

"Mark, what were you thinking? I told you to not go off by yourself, and yet you deliberately set off this morning, not even having the decency to tell somebody!"

"I left you a note," Mark said respectfully in a raspy voice.

"It's not the same. Do you have any idea what could have happened? Do you realize you could be lying out there, freezing to death?"

"Pa still could be, too. If I hadn't left when I did, Pa would still be lying in that cave, and as much as I don't want to admit it, Pa could be dead right now, Micah. Something was tugging at me, I had to go; I had to be out there, looking for Pa. I couldn't bear just lying there, imagining having to go through what happened this summer all over again. I had to do something."

"Mark, I was worried sick about you, boy. I love you and your Pa like family - you're the only family I've got. What if you would've gotten lost? What if you would've been attacked by an animal? What if your Pa showed up and you weren't here? What was I supposed to tell him?"

" “If” is a troublesome word, Micah," Mark replied, using Micah's own words against him. "The point is none of those things did happen. I was able to take care of myself and find Pa, alert you, and get Pa back to town. I get your point, it wasn't smart to leave by myself. And if I could've avoided it, I would've. But everyone else, including you, would have said it was just as important to make sure we were rested and that it would be no use starting out while it was that dark. I'm sorry Micah, but the rest wasn't that important and there was use. I... I'm not sorry for going off and finding Pa, but I am sorry to have worried you. Believe me, I know how that feels. Please try to understand that what I did wasn't to spite you, but all I could think about was Pa out there, somewhere."

Micah didn't want to admit it, but he knew Mark was right. Had Mark woken him, he would've convinced him to stay in town for a few more hours, hours that could've killed Lucas. What surprised Micah though, was that Mark seemed to understand what he was trying to tell the boy... and what surprised him more was that he realized maybe Mark really wasn't so much of a boy anymore.

"...Alright, Mark, I understand," Micah replied.

Once their food came, Mark spent more time moving his soup around than eating it. Mark didn't really have much of an appetite, still concerned about his Pa. He did eat enough to satisfy Micah, but Lou insisted he take the bowl with him when they went back to the doctor's office.

Mark still had his Pa's hat with him and toyed with it as the waited in the front room. Finally, after about twenty minutes of waiting, Doc came through the door.

"Well?" Mark asked as he stood, trying to not lose his voice.

"He's stable, Mark," the doctor replied. "His body temperature is almost back to normal and he is breathing deeper. We will have to watch him close for signs of pneumonia, as well as any other kind of infection. As for the leg, it should heal nicely. Micah, I didn't know you knew how to set broken bones...?"

"I didn't do it, I didn't even realize it was set," Micah responded.

"Well then who did? Oat?"

"No, he was with me. The-" Micah turned to look at Mark. "You
set it?"

"Only because I knew it would get worse if I left it," Mark replied.

"Where did you learn to do it?" The doctor asked in amazement.

"Some medical journals I've been reading, and I had seen it done plenty of times."

The doctor and Micah stood dumbfounded, and Mark eventually broke the silence.

"Can I see him?" Mark asked.

"Let me check your throat, your voice doesn't sound too good," the doctor replied.

"I just strained it hollerin' yesterday." Mark stated.

"I'd still like to check it over."

Mark consented and Doc Burrage examined him before giving him something to soothe his throat, then Doc let Mark see his Pa.

Mark sat in a chair near the bed and let out a breath of air. He didn't feel like crying anymore, he realized that he didn't have control over what happened to his Pa and would just have to trust God to make the right decision. He prayed that the decision would be to let Lucas wake up, but if it wasn't... Mark realized he was going to have to accept it.

"God, please let my Pa wake up, please..." Mark quietly prayed. "I want my Pa to stay here so bad... I don't want to live life without him again. God..." Mark was about to say the most difficult prayer he ever had. "If you chose to take him... I... I trust that it is best, and that you have a purpose for it. Give me strength, either way, please. I need You."

Mark relaxed in his chair and watched the steady rise and fall of Lucas's frame. He didn't want his Pa to die, but amidst the worry that plagued him, Mark felt an unmistakable feeling of peace.

19MC19

Two days later, as Mark walked out of the hotel, he placed his hat on his head and then passed his rifle to his left hand. Mark walked down the street and headed for the telegraph office to see if they had any mail.

"Mark, I was just coming to find you," Amos, the town's telegrapher, greeted him. He walked towards Mark and handed him two letters, then a telegram. "You may want to read the telegram first, it... didn't seem too friendly."

Confused, Mark read the telegram... then he read it twice more. There was no name at the bottom of the telegram. After thinking a moment, Mark looked up.

"Do you mind if we just keep this between us? I'll tell Pa when he wakes up, and then let him decide what to do."

"Of course Mark, I'm not a at liberty to share any information anyway."

"Thanks," Mark said before leaving the office.

As Mark walked back towards the doctor's office, he thought about the mysterious telegram. Who would send something like that? Why would they send something like that?

Mark's thoughts were interrupted by someone calling his name, and they didn't sound too happy, either.

"Mark! Mark McCain! Ye hold it right there!" Lou hollered.

Mark waited for Lou to catch up with him before continuing towards the office.

"Mark, I've got somethin' to discuss with ye!"

"Evenin' Lou. What on earth could you want to be talking to me about?" Mark asked innocently, he had known she'd come after him sooner or later.

"Yer supper, that's what! I told ye ta get somethin' ta eat as ye were leavin' my office, and did ye mind me? No. Just what do ye have to say for yerself?"

"I'm not hungry...?" Mark replied as he held the door to the doctor's open for Lou and stepped inside after her.

"Doc, ye've got ta get him- where's Doc?" Lou's asked.

"Making his rounds. Should be back in two hours or so. Lou, I'll eat later, I'm just not hungry." Mark plainly stated as he shrugged his shoulders.

"Mark, ye skipped lunch, I better see ye in that restaurant within two hours, or so help me-"

"I promise, you'll see me. Now whether you'll see me eating or not..." Mark teased.

"Oh, you McCain's!" Lou said before storming out of the office.

Mark chuckled at her wild Irish temper, as well as her sweet concern as he entered the room his Pa still lay in.

"Do me a favor and tell Lou to keep it down, will you?"

Mark looked up and saw his Pa on the bed, eyes open and a smile spreading across his face.

"Pa?" Mark called as he hurried to Lucas' side. "Are you alright? How do you feel? Do ya hurt? Can I get you something?"

"Slow, down Mark," Lucas chuckled. "How about you just tell me what happened?"

"You don't remember any of it?"

"I remember leaving the meeting, then falling from Razor. I have a vague recollection of getting some fire wood or something, but that's about it."

"Well, you didn't come home Saturday night, but I didn't realize it until Sunday morning. After not finding you in town, we had a search party go out, but didn't find anything before dark. The next morning was when we found you in a cave, nearly frozen and with a broken leg. You've been asleep for two days... Doc was getting concerned and didn't know if you were gonna... Oh, Pa, I love you..." Mark said as he hugged his Pa.

Lucas returned the embrace before Mark sat down in the chair and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Some birthday present, you sure know how to pick 'em," Mark teased.

"I put a lot of thought into getting Razor to throw me," Lucas joked back.

"What got him bucking?" Mark inquired.

"I'm not really sure, probably an animal. Thankfully one that wasn't hungry."

"Doc isn't here, he'll be back in less than two hours."

"I heard. What'd you do to get Lou so riled? It can't just be over food."

"She's been frettin' over me ever since we came back with you. Apparently, Micah told her I had left before everyone else and got her all worried, and even though she 'bout talked my ear off yesterday, she's been hovering over me like a mother hen."

"Hold it, what do you mean you left before everyone else?"

"Oh… about that. I couldn't sleep Monday morning, so I decided to get an early jump on things and start looking for you again."

"By yourself? In that weather?"

"Only because you were by yourself in that weather. And you can't say you wouldn't have done the same thing, if you even would have stopped to sleep."

Lucas wanted to tell Mark it was different, that Mark had no reason to go off by himself, but he knew it wasn't different. Even though Lucas loved Mark as a son, and Mark loved Lucas as a father, they had grew beyond how they were related, and, Lucas realized, he was beginning to see his son as his equal. Lucas couldn't really blame Mark either, considering that summer. Mark must have been reliving that week over and over in his mind the past few days.

"I understand," Lucas said, surprising Mark a bit.

"You do?"

"You're right, I would've done the exact same thing. Promise me though, you won't do it again."

"If you promise me not to go off by yourself when I'm missing."

"Mark..." Lucas stopped. He was going to have to accept that in a situation like this, he couldn't make his son promise him anything, let alone make him keep that promise.

"Alright, I get it, really. So'd Micah just 'bout tan your hide?"

"I could tell he wanted to, at first..."

Mark and Lucas continued talking with each other until Doc Burrage came back, happy to see Lucas awake. The doctor examined his patient and was happy with what he found.

"I don't see really any sign of infection, which really is a... “miracle” as you call it. Your leg should heal good, Lucas you can thank your son for that. Mark, if you keep a close eye on him and make sure he stays in the house, you can take him home in the buckboard tomorrow."

"Thanks Doc." Lucas said. "...What do you mean by thank Mark?"

Doc Burrage and Lucas turned to look at Mark, who was wondering what his Pa's reaction would be.

"I may or may not have set your leg in the cave..."

"You what? How...?" Lucas began to ask.

"You've got a bright son Lucas, wouldn't surprise me if he became a doctor someday," Burrage said before collecting his equipment. "Oh, and Lucas, I was supposed to make sure you got that package on the table over there," Doc added before he left the room.

Mark picked up the package and brought it to his Pa.

"What do you think it is? We didn't send for anything," Mark commented.

"We didn't, but I did. I was hoping it'd make it here in time for your birthday, but I suppose late is better than never," Lucas replied as he handed the box back to Mark and gestured for him to open it.

"Pa, I wasn't expecting-"

"I know. Just go ahead and open it."

Mark opened the package and his eyes grew wide at what was inside.

"Pa..."

"Now, I don't mind you using mine, but as often as you read my Bible I guess it's about time you got one of your own."

"Thanks, Pa... it means a lot."

"I love you, Mark. Keep it close and you won't go wrong."

20MC20

A few days later, Lucas came out of the bedroom to see Mark deep in thought as he stared out the window.

"Everything alright?" Lucas asked as he made his way towards Mark on the crutches.

"Yeah, I'm just thinking," Mark replied

"About what?"

"Lots of things, actually, but mostly about you going missing."

"Anything you need to talk about?" Lucas asked as he sat next to Mark.

"I don't think so. It's strange, I've always had a hard time getting over stuff like this, but it seems different this time. I think that once I admitted I had no control over what happens to either of us, it helped put things in perspective. I think I've learned to cherish the time we have, and let God do the problem solving. Though, I'm sure He doesn't really do much solving. He's already got it figured out, doesn't He?" Mark asked.

"Yes, He does."

"In one sense it kinda makes me feel helpless, but in another I think it kinda brings me peace." Mark looked from the window to his Pa before continuing. "I love you Pa, I'm glad you're home."

"Me too, Mark. Me too."
 

The Telegram

Morgan's Corner

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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