Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Friend and Foe
Written by Morgan
“There you are.”
Ned looked up to see the last person he wanted to talk to.
“...I suppose you're here to finish our… “discussion”?”
Mark looked at his brother-in-law in confusion until he
finally understood Ned’s comment.
“Is that why you've been avoiding me all week?”
“Isn't that why you've been looking for me all week?”
“Of course not,” Mark replied as he shook his head. “Ned,
you were looking out for your little sister. I get it. But
you also forgot the second half of our conversation.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you found out I was sweet on Cassie, yes, you said
that if I hurt her, I'd have to answer to you. But I also
replied and said that if I did hurt her, there wouldn't be
any part of me left for you to deal with. Ned, I love your
sister and wouldn't ever do anything to hurt her. ...I value
Ned and Mark broke into laughter as what had been tension
between them dissipated.
“Mark, I am sorry.”
“Don't be. After all, I honestly wanted to punch you as much
as you wanted to punch me.”
“Well I probably deserved it.”
“I'm just glad there were bars between us.”
“You and me both.” Ned briefly paused before going on, “But
I'm not just sorry about threatening you. I'm sorry I
“You had every right to. It's in the past, why don't we
forget about it?”
“...You want to meet the train with me?”
“I've got a few minutes; why not?”
The men began making their way to the train station as the
whistle blew in the distance.
“There been a decent amount of travelers lately?” Mark
“Not particularly. With the mill being as unstable as it is
right now, there are a lot more folks leaving than coming to
“What's exactly going on?”
“Not enough business, not enough money to pay enough
employees, not enough employees to make deadlines.”
“You think it'll go under?”
“Well I certainly hope not, but if things keep going the way
they are, I'd say she closes by next spring.”
“It's sad to see; North Fork was really growing. Now it
seems I see a new for sale sign every time I come into town.
Thankfully most of what made up North Fork five years ago
will make it, even if the mill doesn't.”
“We certainly hope so.”
Once the train finally settled, Mark and Ned began greeting
and directing the few passengers that stepped out onto the
Ned had finished with a traveler when he saw a dark-haired
man step off the train. The man caught sight of Mark first,
and made his way towards him; however, Ned was shocked to
see Mark cock his rifle and aim it at the man.
“Easy,” the man began as he raised his hands. “I'm not here
to cause nobody trouble.”
“You should be back in jail where you belong,” Mark coldly
“I served my time, and have papers to prove it.”
“Mark, what's going on?” Ned inquired, looking between the
“If I may?” The man asked, gesturing to his coat pocket.
“Ned, check his papers.”
Ned pulled a few papers from the man's pocket and carefully
read them before putting them back.
“What the man said is true. He served his time,” Ned told
“What are you doing back here??” Mark demanded.
“Look, I don't know who you are, or even how you know who I
am. But I served my time, and a man's gotta right to settle
“Not here, you don't.”
“Mark!” Ned exclaimed, shocked at Mark's behavior. “He's
just as free to be here as you are.”
Mark spun his rifle and relaxed his hold before taking a
step closer to the man and pointing a finger at him.
“I'll give you one warning. Get out of this town, and don't
come near my family.”
As Mark turned to walk away, Ned called out to him.
“Where are you going?”
“To tell Aunt Lou and John Hamilton to guard their safes
Ned watched Mark storm away before he turned to the man.
“I take it you two have a history…?”
“If we do, I don't recall it. There's only two or three
people I remember from this town, and he wasn't one of them.
Who is he?”
“...Mark McCain? That explains a few things,” the man
chuckled. “Boy, he sure has changed.”
“Mark, we weren't expecting you home this early. What-”
“Where's Pa?” Mark interrupted his mother.
“...Out on the range,” Milly slowly replied. “Mark, what's
“I'll explain later.”
Milly and Cassie watched Mark storm out of the house and
mount BlueBoy again.
“What on earth was that about?” Milly asked her niece.
“I have no idea. He was fine this morning…” Cassie briefly
paused before going on, “He was going to talk to Ned today,
but I can't imagine that making him this upset. He… he
looked so… bitter.”
“Whatever it is, I'm sure Lucas will be able to help him.”
“Did Sally and Micah send details about their arrival yet?”
Cassie asked, trying to change the subject.
“I didn't tell you? They're getting in Saturday on the
evening train. Sally's so excited to be coming.”
“Well I certainly hope we don't bore her to death. North
Fork is so dull compared to Denver.”
“I'm sure she will immensely enjoy herself. Besides, you two
never had a problem entertaining yourselves as children, I
can't see that changing now.”
“But now we know better than to go exploring old mine
“...Sally and I… we did a lot of things we shouldn't have
“We all did,” Milly laughed.
A few hours later, Milly and Cassie heard a horse
approaching the house. A few moments later, Lucas was
entering the kitchen.
“Did Mark find you?” Milly asked.
“Mark? I thought he was running errands in town?”
“He was,” Cassie began, “But then he came home and asked
where you were. He took off and we haven't seen him since.”
“We hope not, but the look on his face wasn't a good one,”
“He was so angry...” Cassie commented, worry in her voice.
“I'd go after him, but there's no telling where he could be.
I'm surprised he went to try to find me.”
“It seemed rather urgent,” Milly replied with a shrug.
“If he comes back to the house, I'll be in the barn.”
“Lucas, you're going to hurt your back…”
“I'll be fine.”
Milly sighed and shook her head as Lucas walked back out the
“Those two are so much alike…” Cassie chuckled.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Milly laughed.
As the two women began working on supper, Lydia began crying
from the bedroom. Milly went to feed her just as Rachael
entered the house.
“How was school, Rachael?” Cassie inquired.
“It was school,” she shrugged. “It’s so… boring. I feel like
it's a waste of time.”
“Well your geometry came in handy when you were trying to
find those bullet casings.”
“I'm not saying learning is a waste of time; just sitting in
the classroom all day.”
“You should ask Mr. Griswold if he could help you get ahead
so you can finish earlier.”
“You think he would?”
“I'm sure he'd be happy to. Mark finished a year early, Anna
finished two years in advance.”
Cassie nodded before going on.
“It takes work, but if you're determined, you can do it.”
A short while later, everyone was getting ready to sit down
for supper when Mark came through the back door.
“There you are,” Cassie began, “We were starting to get
“Pa, I thought you were working the north pasture today?”
“I finished early,” Lucas replied, seeing the anger Cassie
had talked about on his son's face. “Mark, what's wrong?”
“Your friend showed up in town today,” Mark replied as he
took his seat at the table.
“Friend?” Milly asked in confusion.
“I have a lot of friends, Mark,” Lucas replied, not
understanding why Mark was so upset.
“Not too many that try to rob our bank.”
Lucas realized who his son was talking about and nodded in
“... Let's talk about it after supper.”
Milly, Cassie, and Rachael were all thoroughly confused but
sensed that this wasn't the best time to ask questions. As
the conversation changed subjects, Mark didn't pay
attention. He was too lost in his own thoughts.
After supper, Mark and Lucas walked out to the barn to work
on the chores.
“Where did you see him?” Lucas asked his son.
“I met the train with Ned. He had absolutely no idea who I
“You confronted him?”
“Of course I did. Unfortunately, he was released from
“What'd you tell him?”
“I told him to get out of town.”
“Mark, the man has as much right to be here as the next
“Don't you remember what he did, Pa??” Mark asked, a little
shocked that Lucas seemed to be defending him.
“Yes, I do. But he's paid his debt to society, and we were
“You were like brothers. I know.” Mark picked up a pitchfork
and drove it into the hay.
Lucas watched his son for a moment before taking a few steps
forward and putting a hand on Mark's shoulder.
“Mark, I know you didn't like the idea of us being friends
ten years ago. I doubt much has changed. But there's
something else bothering you.”
“Something else?? Pa, he set the hotel on fire! They
could've killed Ms. Jackson!”
“The bank teller they shot at!?”
“Mark, if he's back, something must have changed.”
“Or he's trying to use your friendship again.”
“We should at least hear him out.”
“Do what you want, he's your friend. Just don't forget that
you could've ended up dead if you had made it to the bank.”
“Is that what's getting to you?”
“That's part of it.”
“Mark, I didn't make it to the bank, and I didn't end up
dead. He went to prison for what he did, and they released
Mark shook his head as he threw more hay into a feeding
Mark stopped and looked at his Pa. He sighed as he put the
“Pa, there are very few things you and I don't see eye to
eye about anymore. But we're both entitled to our opinions.
If you feel like he's worth the risk, you have every right
to talk to him. But you always say this ranch is as much
mine as it is yours. In light of that, I'm asking you to not
invite him out here. You may be willing to put yourself and
your family at risk, but I don't trust him, and I don't want
him anywhere near my wife.”
“... I understand, Mark, and I'll respect that. But you need
to consider the possibility that he could've changed.”
“... I'll try.”
Lucas halted Razor in front of the saloon and dismounted,
pulling his rifle from the scabbard.
As he walked inside the establishment, Lucas scanned the
crowd for Tom Birch. He found the man sitting alone at the
end of the bar, and made his way towards the seat next to
“Thought I might find you here.” Lucas put his rifle up on
the counter but kept his hand over it.
“...Good to see you, Lucas,” he hesitantly replied, unsure
of what to expect.
“Tom, I want a simple, honest answer. We're not playing
games like last time. What are you doing here?”
Birch looked at Lucas and tried to read his expression. As
Tom looked at Lucas’s eyes, he thought he saw hope of trust
“I know you have no reason to believe me, but I'm telling
you the truth. I'm here to settle down, hopefully, one day
start a ranch. I'm here to start over, and I don't intend to
cause anybody trouble.”
“Why North Fork?”
“To be honest, Lucas, because you're here. I know I have no
right to expect this, but I was hoping… hoping things could
go back to the way they used to be. I know I messed up, I
know I did wrong. I'm hoping you can forgive me.”
“Too much has changed for things to go back to the way they
used to be, Tom,” Lucas replied, letting a hint of
frustration in his voice. Yet as he went on, he changed his
tone. “...But I can forgive you, and we can move on from
“Lucas, I know I don't deserve a second chance, but-”
“None of us do, but we all need them,” Lucas said as he
cracked a smile. “How about giving me a second chance at
“Well I'll give you a second chance, but don't get your
hopes up too high. Ten years hard labor does a lot to a
Both men stood and positioned themselves to arm wrestle. A
few men soon found themselves circled around the two old
friends as they went at it. At first, neither one made any
progress; however, Lucas soon began losing ground.
“You may be willing to clean blood off your own floor,”
Birch began, “But I'm not so sure your bartender will be so
happy about it.”
“Don't worry, there won't be any to wash.”
In one clean swoop, Lucas pushed Tom’s arm down and pulled
him to the ground.
“Alright, you got me,” Tom laughed as Lucas helped him up.
“What’s your secret?”
“Diapers?” Birch asked in surprise. “You go and get
“Two years ago. My daughter was born in August.”
“Well, congratulations on both. I'd like to meet your wife
“Why don't you-” Lucas stopped himself as he remembered his
conversation with his son. “Tom, I'd love to have you out to
the ranch, but there's a bit of a situation. My son-”
“He didn't really appreciate me showing up. We had a nice
“chat” this afternoon.”
“He said you didn't recognize him.”
“I didn't, I asked your marshal who he was. He never was too
fond of our relationship. I could tell that the first time I
showed up at your ranch.”
“Mark's usually very hospitable, it's just-”
“I was the head of a gang, Luke. I understand.”
“I'm sure he'll warm up to you in time. In the meantime,
I'll have to bring my family out for supper sometime.”
“I don't want to cause any division-”
“Mark and I respect our differences of opinion. He may not
agree with me, but that doesn't mean there has to be
division between us. Besides, Milly's been hinting at him
making dinner for Cassie for weeks. They could use some
alone time without spending money on supper in town.”
“Cassie? Don't tell me Mark's married!”
“They celebrated their first wedding anniversary at the end
of August. Once things settle down, you'll have to meet her.
She's a wonder.”
“So you're married, your son's married, you've got a
daughter, what else has changed?”
“My niece has been living us since last fall. She's brought
a lot of… spunk, into the family.”
“She give you all those gray hairs?” Birch teased.
“Mark did that.”
The two old friends continued talking for hours, reminiscing
about old times and making up for lost time. Lucas
definitely sensed a change in Birch; a good change, and he
was glad to see it.
It was late when Lucas walked Tom back over to the hotel
before he went to the Marshal's office, where he was glad to
“Ned told me your friend was back in town,” Micah said with
raised eyebrows as Lucas sat down at the desk.
“He's not here to cause trouble, Micah. He did his time, and
he's here to start over.”
“I certainly hope that's all.”
“He's different, Micah, believe me.”
“Well, we'll just have to wait and see.” Micah briefly
paused before going on, “I heard Mark wasn't too thrilled
about his arrival.”
“No, he wasn't,” Lucas freely admitted. “But he's entitled
to his opinion; one that I hope to see change over the next
“Just be patient. Lucas, don't forget that you have a
history with Birch that no one else in this town does. It
may take those who were here last time Birch came to town a
while to get over what happened.”
“I know.” Lucas shifted his gaze out the window as he let
out a sigh.
“What is it, Lucas-boy?”
“I don't know if Mark ever will. I want him to, but… I just
don't know. What happened last time affected Mark more than
“What do you mean?”
“We talked about it a little because I knew he'd hear the
town gossip and I wanted him to know the truth. What I
didn't realize was that he heard a lot more than I ever
knew, and he felt like Tom put my life in danger.”
“In a way, he did.”
“It's not like Mark to hold a grudge though.”
“We know he's capable of it.”
“Osborne nearly got him and Cassie killed, I can understand
“You're his family, Lucas. Before Milly and Cassie entered
the equation, you were solely his world. Birch rocked that
world. It'll take time, just be patient like I said.”
“What are your feelings about it, Micah?”
“I don't trust him right now, but he has as much right as
anyone else to be here.”
Lucas nodded in understanding as he stood to leave.
“I better get on home before Milly starts to worry.”
“Oh, Lucas, I had a favor to ask.”
“What is it?”
“Can you help out for a week, starting Thursday?”
“What happened to this being temporary?”
“It is temporary,” Micah replied with a grin.
“Sure. Where's everybody going to be?”
“Ned got an assignment to transfer a prisoner and needed
Johnny to go with him.”
“And where are you going to be?”
“I got called to Denver for some convention.”
“I thought they didn't waste time on teaching the old dogs
new tricks,” Lucas teased.
“You better watch it. This “old dog” could ruin “The
Rifleman's” reputation in five minutes flat.”
“Have a good night, Micah,” Lucas chuckled.
“Tell the family I said hello.”
“Cassie, could you hand me the scissors?” Milly asked as she
gave her needle and thread on last pull.
Not hearing a response, Milly looked up to see Cassie
staring out the window.
About ten seconds passed before Cassie looked at her aunt
“Where did you go?” Milly chuckled as she reached over to
grab the scissors.
“...Sorry, did I miss something?”
“Never mind,” Milly laughed. “You seem quite deep in thought
Cassie shrugged as she looked back down at the curtain she
was sewing and began working again.
“...Cassie, are you alright?”
“Of course,” she replied with a weak smile. “How’s Lydia's
“I just have the initials to put on there, then I'm done.
What sounds good for supper?”
“Why don't we have fried chicken? It's been a while.”
“Sounds fine,” Cassie replied, staring back out the window.
Milly shook her head in confusion and went back to work.
Several hours later, Rachael arrived home from school
shortly before Mark and Lucas got back from working the
cattle. When Lucas entered the kitchen, he was pleasantly
surprised by the aroma that greeted him.
“Well Mark, looks like it's your lucky day,” Lucas said as
he went to kiss his wife. “It's been a long time since
you've made your friend chicken, Milly.”
“I figured it was about time, wouldn't you say, Mark?” Milly
Mark replied with a shrug as he went to give Cassie a long
As Lucas went to change, Mark started to set the table.
“Don't worry about it, Mark,” Milly stated. “Rachael already
set the table in the dining room.”
Yet Mark kept working on his task.
“I said Rachael already set the table in the dining room.”
“Sorry,” Mark replied as he started putting the plates back
in the cabinet.
“It wasn't too bad.”
Milly watched Mark walk beside his wife and take her hand.
Neither one said anything, but Milly knew they were
communicating; she could see it in their eyes.
After supper and the evening chores, everyone sat out on the
front porch; Lydia in Lucas’s arms. It was a strangely quiet
evening, void of the banter that could almost always be
heard on the McCain property.
Shortly after Rachael went to bed, Mark and Cassie went home
for the evening, leaving Lucas and Milly alone with their
“Lucas, Cassie's been acting strange all day. I thought it
might just be an off day for her, but when Mark came home… I
don't know. Something is just off.”
“Mark wasn't himself today, either. He was extremely
distracted while we were working. I couldn't help but notice
how reserved and drab they both seemed this evening.”
“What do you think is wrong?”
“I don't know. ... I guess it could be about Birch.”
Milly nodded, not having considered the possibility before.
“You're probably right.” Milly paused briefly. “But did you
see how little of their supper they both ate? Fried chicken
is their favorite!”
“Mark probably has Cassie worried. I'm sure it'll be fine
after they have a chance to get to know Tom.”
“I hope so.”
Lucas looked down at the child in his arms and smiled.
“She's going to have such an easier childhood than Mark.
Milly, sometimes I wonder if I should have stayed in Enid.
Raised Mark there, let him grow up around family…”
“You and I both know that wouldn't have worked; not with
“...And then I wouldn't have met you, either. Still, I
wonder what I could've done to make his childhood easier.”
“No childhood lacking a mother is easy. You did your best,
Lucas, and you did a wonderful job. Here… there… anywhere,
people like Birch or Neff would've showed up. Whether it be
North Fork or New York, you still would've always stood up
for what was right, and there still would have been
situations we would much rather not have seen Mark go
through. But it molded him into a wonderful man, and he
doesn't regret his upbringing.”
There was a brief silence before Lucas changed the subject
“How were you feeling today?”
“It wasn't one of my best days, but it wasn't my worst,
“Is that medicine Doc gave you for the nerve pain still
“Lucas, I can't take it while I'm nursing Lydia!” Milly
“How long have you been off your medication?”
“Since I found out I was pregnant. I wasn't going to take
any risks, Doc said some medicines can affect newborns.”
“How are you handling it? Before, you could hardly go one
day without it.”
“I've healed quite a bit since last summer; the pain isn't
as intense. I am looking forward to when I can take it
again, though. Some days a little relief would be very
“Anything else I should know?” Lucas asked, a little
“Lucas, I wasn't trying to keep anything from you,” Milly
assured. “I assumed you had picked up on it based on what
Doc said at the appointments.”
“You didn't marry the smartest man alive,” Lucas said with a
smile before leaning over to give his wife a kiss.
“What do you have to do tomorrow?”
“I'm helping Tom look at a few spreads before I pick up some
supplies in town, and then Mark and I are building a corral
for the yearlings.”
“Wasn't Mark just in town yesterday?”
“The order wasn't in yet, they said it'd be there tomorrow.”
“How does he feel about you helping Tom?”
“He's not keen on the idea, but he respects that I believe
Tom has turned over a new leaf.”
“That's good. I certainly hope he has.”
“...You and me both, Milly.”
“Sally, over here!” Milly called as she waved to her niece
and husband who were getting off the train.
The two quickly made their way to the large group awaiting
them and greeted the family. When Sally was done greeting
Cassie and her aunts, she said hello to Lucas before turning
to Mark. She was a bit taken aback at how much he had
“Is that really you, Mark?”
“In the flesh,” Mark replied with a shrug.
“My, how you've…”
“Grown?” Mark suggested.
“I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude-”
“It's been years, we've both done a lot of changing. I see
the years have been kind to you. And this must be your
“Oh, yes, of course,” Sally replied. “Mark, this is my
husband, Micah. Micah, this is Cassie’s husband, Mark, and
his father, Lucas McCain.”
“I've heard a lot about both of you, it's a pleasure.”
“Pleasure is ours,” Lucas replied with a charismatic smile.
“And who's this?” Sally asked, referring to a young woman
towards the back of the crowd.
“This is Rachael,” Milly began. “She's Lucas’s niece and is
living with us. Rachael, this is my niece Sally, and her
Sally immediately went to give Rachael a hug, shocking her a
bit, but she quickly returned the embrace.
“Why don't we get your luggage in the buckboard, and then
head over to the hotel for supper?” Lucas suggested.
“Sounds wonderful, I've been wanting to eat there again. I
don't know what it is about it, but I'd say your hotel has
better food than any of the restaurants in Denver.” Sally
As the group headed towards the hotel, Sally asked where Ned
“...I thought he was based out of North Fork?”
“He is,” Catherine began to reply. “But he had to transport
a prisoner and couldn't get out of it. He should be back in
about a week.”
“I certainly hope we can see him before we have to leave.
Micah wants a rematch.”
“Rematch?” Catherine inquired.
“Last time we played, he cheated,” Micah said.
“Played what, exactly?” Catherine asked with raised
“...Just a little bit of poker.”
“I knew those camping trips weren't a good idea...”
Catherine replied as she shook her head.
“Don't worry, your husband always made sure we took our
money back at the end of the night.”
“Well I'm glad about that,” Catherine replied.
“You all grew up together?” Mark asked curiously.
“We all lived in the same town for several years.” Micah let
out a chuckle before going on, “Cassie and I were convinced
we were going to marry each other.”
Mark stopped walking and looked at his wife; her cheeks
turning a dark red.
“You mean she didn't tell you?” Sally asked before chuckling
along with Micah, Catherine, and Milly. “I think it's
Cassie couldn't help but crack an embarrassed smile as Mark
realized he'd been worried about nothing the last few
“Well that makes me feel a lot better,” Mark replied as he
joined in the laughter. “Micah, I assume you know about
Sally's visit a few years ago?”
“She told me all about it when the two of you got engaged.”
With a jovial tone having been set for the evening, the
family had an enjoyable dinner filled with light-hearted
conversation and banter. After dinner, Mark drove everyone
else back to the ranch while Lucas headed to the Marshal's
office for the night.
“Enjoy your dinner?” Micah asked as he got up from the desk.
“Of course, Lou had the night off.”
“One of these days you're going to go too far and she'll
have Johnny throw you into jail.”
“What about you?”
“I'll be right beside you.”
Lucas laughed and said goodnight to his friend before
deciding to make the rounds. As he walked, Tom came up
“What are you doing out here?”
“I'm helping Micah out while the rest of his deputies are
out of town.”
“How many deputies does the town need?”
“One,” Lucas laughed. “But it's kinda complicated. You
decide on a ranch yet?”
“I like the spread about five minutes out of town. Looks
like it was used for horses, but it'll work fine for cattle,
“It was, but you're right about it working for cattle.”
“It was strange though, I went to check out the barn a
little more, and I found a small sack of wilted rose petals
in the corner of a stall.”
“Rose petals?” Lucas asked curiously before he realized why
they were there. “Those… those have been there for nearly a
year and a half. Mark must've forgotten about them.”
“Why would your son have rose petals?”
“He proposed to his wife out there.”
“Of all places, why there?”
“She lived out there for about two years and they made a lot
of memories in that barn.”
“That makes sense then,” Tom replied with a shrug. “Anyway,
that's the one I'm hoping to get, just as soon as I can get
enough money for a down payment.”
Tom walked with Lucas as he made the rest of his rounds
before leaving for the boarding house. Lucas returned to the
jail and turned in for the night.
Although the town was fairly quiet throughout the evening,
Lucas had a hard time staying asleep. When he was on duty,
he never got a good night's rest, and this week had been no
The next morning, Lucas was pouring himself coffee when the
door to the office opened. He looked up to see Rachael
standing inside the door.
“What are you doing out here so early?”
“I wanted to talk to you before church if that's alright.”
Lucas could hear the hesitancy in Rachael's voice. He
motioned for her to close the door and take a seat before
sitting across from her.
“Something the matter?” Lucas asked with concern.
“Uncle Lucas, I had an absolutely miserable existence one
year ago. Hiding, cowering, having to sneak everywhere I
went. The only thing that made life worth the living was my
Ma. And then my father took her away from me. I... I still
have nightmares about what he did to us. I don't know if
I'll ever get over it. Even though he's dead, it's like he
haunts me. Everywhere I go, everything I do; I feel like
he's still there… in a strange way, still a part of me. And
I don't want him there. You and Aunt Milly have given me a
new life, a new hope. And I can't thank you enough for it.
I'll miss my mother my whole life, but I want to move on. I
want to let go of the past. I don't want to live in fear of
the life I once had. And part of how I'd like to move
forward… well, I would like your blessing to take on my
mother's maiden name. My mother, you, Aunt Milly, Mark…
you've all made me who I am. And I'm not a Davis.”
Lucas took a moment to process everything his niece had just
told him. It was clear she had thought long and hard about
this, and he was glad to see her taking steps forward.
“You don't need my blessing, Rachael…”
“But I'd like it. Uncle Lucas, you've been more of a father
to me this last year than my own father had been over
fifteen years. I value what you think, and I want to know
“Of course I do, Rachael. I think your mother would be
honored that you chose to take on her maiden name. But no
matter what you choose to go by, you're a part of this
family, and we love you.”
Lucas came around the desk and gave his niece a long hug. As
he let go and looked down, he could tell there was more on
“Something else you want to talk about?”
“...One day, I'll ask for it back...” Rachael pulled her
revolver from her saddlebag. “...But until then, could you
hold onto this for me?”
Lucas took the handgun and put it on the desk. He gently
smiled as he took the gun from Rachael, understanding it was
a difficult decision for her to make.
“I'd be happy to.”
“And this is after the cattle drive?” Micah asked in
amazement as he looked out at the McCain herd.
Mark laughed at how taken aback the man was.
“This is small compared to our neighbor’s herd.”
“How do you do it all?”
“A lot of long days,” Mark chuckled.
“Just you and your father?”
“We hire hands for the cattle drive, and my Uncle Johnny
helps out here and there, but most of the time it's just the
two of us. Sometimes Rachael will help check on the cattle.”
“Ever thought about hiring some hands?”
“We used to hire the occasional hand when I was younger and
couldn't really be much help, but we haven't really needed
help until recently. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until
next year to hire someone.”
“How can you wait with this much cattle?”
“We've had our fair share of difficulties this last year,
don't have the money to hire one. But we'll make it
“Sounds like ranching requires as much faith as doctoring.”
“You better believe it.” Mark paused briefly before changing
the subject. “So how'd you and Sally end up together?”
“As I said, we all grew up with each other. By the time I
was thirteen, Cassie and I realized we were simply good
friends and decided to leave it at that. As I got older, I
started taking an interest in medicine and spent a lot of
time at the clinic, where Sally often helped her father.
This simply aided our friendship, at first. But after I came
back from my first semester of college, we both realized it
was more. After years of courtship, I proposed with two and
a half years of schooling left. It was a long wait, but
worth it. I don't know how I got so lucky.” Micah shook his
head as he smiled. “What about you and Cassie? I only heard
things here and there.”
In an instant, memories of the good and bad flooded Mark's
mind. He tried to quickly reply to Micah before he got lost
in the details of everything that had happened.
“I… I helped out around their place, working with horses for
Marshal Osborne. Cassie, Ned, Anna, and I all became good
friends, but Cassie and I held something deeper. We started
courting two years after they moved here, and celebrated our
first wedding anniversary in August.”
“I didn't realize how far ahead of us you were,
“Thanks.” Mark briefly paused before going on. “Just don't
get so caught up in looking to the future that you miss the
now. I can't believe the first year of our marriage is gone.
Take it in while you can, and enjoy every stage of life
while you can.”
Mark spent a little while longer showing Micah around the
property before they returned to the homestead. The two rode
up to the barn just as Johnny was pulling his buggy to a
stop. He let Maddy down before walking around the buggy and
helping Lou down, who held a sleeping Madison on her arms.
Maddy started slowly walking to Lucas and Milly’s front
porch and calling for, “Cass”.”
Mark and Micah greeted Johnny and Lou before the three men
started taking care of the horses. Lou followed her daughter
up the porch and opened the door so they could head inside.
“I thought I heard horses,” Milly said as she came into the
front room. “I'm glad you could make it.”
“Johnny and Ned got home this afternoon, later than
expected. Sorry we're late.”
“No worries, dinner will be another half hour yet, and I
still don't know where Lucas is.”
“Maddy, stop right there,” Lou called after her daughter who
was headed for the kitchen.
Maddy stopped and turned around with a confused look on her
“Cass?” She innocently replied.
Milly let out a chuckle before picking her niece up.
“Cassie is up the hill using her oven. She'll be down in a
“Me go?” Maddy asked as she pointed towards the general
direction of Mark and Cassie’s house.
“Not now,” Lou began. “Cassie will be here in a while.”
Milly offered Lou a seat before the two sat down.
“It amazes me that she remembers Cassie so well,” Lou
commented. “She hasn't spent a lot of time with her the last
year and a half.”
“But Cassie was spending almost every day with her,” Milly
“I suppose. Do you need any more help with dinner?”
“No, Cassie and Sally did most of it. We just needed a
second oven for dessert, and the girls are up there now.”
“I have a feeling it's apple pie?”
“Mark, Sally, and Cassie insisted that Micah try my apple
pie before he and Sally leave. I haven't had time until
today to make one.”
“I can't believe they leave tomorrow; it seems they just got
“I was hoping they could stay longer, but they have to visit
some of Micah's relatives before they return to Denver.
Samuel has to take a trip in less than two weeks and Micah
has to be back to take care of the clinic.”
“Well, I'm glad they made the trip. They're a wonderful
couple, and it was wonderful meeting them.”
As the evening pressed on, family members began to trickle
into the house. Ned and Catherine showed up shortly before
“Where have you been?” Milly asked as she set supper on the
“Just a little trouble in town, and then I had to put Nils
in charge before I could leave.”
“That's the one problem with having the three of you as
deputies,” Milly chuckled.
“What is?” Johnny asked.
“Having a family get together is near impossible.”
“Having a family get together is nearly impossible, period,
with our family,” Mark laughed.
Lucas said grace before everyone sat down for dinner.
Halfway through the meal, Micah asked for everyone's
“Sally and I have an announcement to make…”
“You're moving to North Fork?” Ned joked.
“No, not quite,” Micah laughed. “Sally and I found out a few
weeks ago that we're expecting.”
The room exploded with congratulations and light-hearted
banter, as Milly asked Sally when she was due. As
conversation continued, Mark looked at Cassie to see how she
was handling it. She had a gentle smile, and Mark could tell
she was happy for her cousin.
Later that evening, everyone sat in the front room
conversing. Ned asked how Sally’s father was handling the
fact that he was going to be a grandpa.
“Oh, he's ready for grandchildren,” Sally replied with a
“Speaking of grandchildren,” Lucas began. “Mark, when am I
ever going to see some running around here?”
Shock came over Johnny’s face as he looked from Lucas to
where Mark and Cassie sat. Cassie gave a polite smile as
Mark gave her hand a slight squeeze.
“You'll have to take that one up with God,” Mark replied as
everyone gave a slight chuckle.
Johnny quickly changed the subject to get the subject off
Mark and Cassie. He could see the discouragement in their
eyes, but they kept strong smiles on for everyone else.
As the evening drew on, Johnny announced that the Gibbs
family needed to take their leave.
“Mark, would you mind helping me with the team?”
Mark nodded in reply and followed his uncle out the door,
grabbing his rifle on the way.
Once they got inside the barn, Johnny stopped and turned
towards his nephew.
“You haven't told them yet?”
“Cassie's not ready.”
“Mark, I'm sorry. You and I both know that if your Pa had
“It's not your fault.”
“You two seemed to handle it fairly well…”
“It's not the first time someone has brought it up.”
“Mark, your parents, especially your Pa would understand if
you told them.”
“I know, but Cassie says she can't face them. She hasn't
even told her mother.”
“Why not?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“Uncle Johnny, you know how most of the world sees it. They
base a woman's value on how many children she can have. They
say she is to blame when she loses a baby. No matter how
many times I try to tell her otherwise… Cassie still feels
“Are you two coping alright, besides that?”
“As well as can be expected. ...I never had a chance to
thank you for doing that cross.”
“It was the least I could do. If there's anything else, let
“Thank you, but I think we just have to give it time.”
“No, Pa,” Mark firmly stated.
“Mark, he needs the money, he's willing to work for it, and
doesn't mind waiting to be paid until the cattle sell. You
and I both know we need a hand.”
“We've handled it fine so far, we can wait until the right
person comes along. Uncle Johnny doesn't mind helping out,
“Mark, why won't you give the man a second chance?”
“We've been over this, Pa. I don't trust Birch. I honestly
don't understand how you can after what he did.”
“Because he's my friend.”
“Well, he's not mine.”
“Mark, will you at least just talk to the man?”
“Pa, you don't understand.” Mark started out the door as
Lucas let out a frustrated sigh.
Lucas stood in the barn for several moments, debating what
to do. Finally, Lucas walked after his son.
The tall rancher caught up with his son and caught Mark’s
shoulder, turning him around.
“What don't I understand, Mark?”
“You may not see Birch as a threat, but I do.” Mark held up
his hand, holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart
as he continued. “Pa, I've come this close to losing you,
Ma, and Cassie in the last eighteen months. I'm not ready to
be optimistic about someone who's hurt us before. Please,
I'm asking you to give me time. Things are finally settling
down. Please don't stir them up again.”
Mark started to walk away, but Lucas stopped him and put his
hands on his son's shoulders.
“Mark, we may not see eye to eye on this, but I want you to
know that I will respect your position, and I love you,
“I love you too, Pa.”
October turned to November and the McCains anxiously awaited
the arrival of Lucas’s brother and his family.
The day finally came when they would arrive, and Milly
watched as Lucas nervously ran his hand up and down his
“Lucas, it's going to be alright,” Milly chuckled. “What are
you so nervous about?”
“I don't know,” Lucas said as he let out a frustrated sigh.
“Where is that train?”
Mark laughed at his Pa as he put an arm around Cassie.
Several minutes later, the train pulled into the station and
began to settle. The first few passengers were apparent
businessmen, but suddenly several children spilled out onto
the platform. A man and woman came out behind them, calling
several names. Finally, the man had their attention.
“Best behavior or I'll have to borrow your uncle's woodshed
for a few hours.” The man opened up to scan the platform,
revealing a sleeping toddler on his shoulder.
“Dan??” Lucas called as he made his way towards his brother.
The two men met and shook hands, wide smiles on their faces.
“Too long, Lucas. It's been much too long.”
“I can see that,” Lucas laughed. “These can't all be yours?”
“They are, and we're missing two. We have a lot of catching
up to do.”
“Let me introduce you to my family.”
Lucas and Dan both took steps towards their families before
bringing the two together.
“This is my wife, Milly, and our daughter Lydia. Dan, you'll
“Of course,” Dan replied as he shook Mark's hand. “And this
must be your wife?”
“Uncle Dan, Aunt Hannah, I'd like you to meet Cassie,” Mark
“It's wonderful to finally meet you, all of you,” Hannah
said with a smile.
“... Where's Rachael?” Dan suddenly asked.
“She's in school, but she'll be out in a few hours.”
Dan nodded before going on, “Wel,l I suppose you're all
wondering about this side of the McCain clan.” Dan turned to
look at his family. “This is my wife, Hannah. Next to her is
Julia, then Carson, Caleb, Jacqueline, William, and then
Little Henry here decided to fall asleep five minutes before
we arrived. Rebecca and Lee wish they could've come, but
they had prior engagements.”
“We understand,” Lucas replied. “Why don't we… try, to load
up in the buckboard and head to the ranch? It may be a
“Sure, just let us stop by the hotel first.”
“We won't hear of it,” Milly replied. “You are our guests,
and we expected to have you out at the ranch.”
“We couldn't ask you to put up eight people!” Hannah
“There's plenty of room between the two houses,” Mark told
“I'm not going to let you pay for a hotel room,” Lucas
“But-” Dan began.
“You best not argue with him, Uncle Dan,” Mark started. “He
has authority to lock people up in this town.”
Dan gave in, and soon everyone was attempting to load up in
the buckboard. Mark had ridden BlueBoy into town and offered
to have Julia ride in front of him.
“Why does she get to ride the horse?” William, who Mark
guessed to be six or seven, asked.
“Because I need you to be in charge of the back of the
buckboard and make sure nothing falls out,” Mark replied.
“But if you can't do it, I'm sure Julia-”
“Oh, no, I can do it!”
Mark smiled as he kicked BlueBoy and urged him forward.
On the way to the ranch, sleeping arrangements were
discussed. It was decided that the girls would stay in
Rachael's room, while Dan and Hannah stayed in what would
eventually be Lydia's room. Mark and Cassie invited the boys
to stay in their guest room, so they didn't take over Lucas
and Milly’s sitting room.
It took a while to get everyone organized, but eventually,
the families were settled. Mark took care of the horses,
knowing his Pa and uncle needed some time to talk.
Lucas and Dan left the homestead and started a long walk on
“Lucas, I'm sorry,” Dan simply began. “I had no right to
blame you, I had no right to cut Klarissa off, and I had no
right to distance myself for so long. I was young, foolish,
and arrogant… and my little brother showed more maturity
than I did. ...I'm sorry I wasn't there for you the way I
should've been when Margaret died… and I hope you can
“Of course I can. Dan, we all attributed to the arguments,
and I'm sorry for my part in them. I'm also sorry it took me
so long to reach out to you.”
“Considering I'm the one that walked away, you shouldn't
have needed to reach out. I should've come to you years
“It's in the past and the important thing is that we're
here, now, brother.” Lucas offered his hand to Dan who
gladly accepted it.
The two men continued walking a little farther before Dan
finally asked the question that had been plaguing him for
“...What happened to Klarissa? Your letter was rather
Lucas let out a long sigh before turning towards his
“Davis killed her. Apparently, their first few years of
marriage were alright, but it didn't end well. He would beat
both Klarissa and Rachael, threatened to kill them if they
tried running. One day… he came home drunk and Rachael
watched her father... throw Krissy into a wall. It killed
“How'd Rachael end up here?”
“Klarissa told her that if anything ever happened, she
needed to find me. Klarissa sent Rachael with a letter for
me. Dan, Krissy knew she did wrong, she admitted it, and
apologized for it. But she asked that I not hold what she
did against Rachael, and give Rachael a home.”
“How did Rachael get here?”
“She rode the whole way. Outside of town, her horse threw
her and she hit her head. For a long time, she didn't
remember who she was. It finally came back to her.”
“...What aren't you telling me, Lucas?”
It may have been over ten years since they had seen each
other, but Dan knew when his brother was holding someone
“Rachael's father came looking for her. He almost killed
her. He would've if she… she hadn't shot him, first.”
“How old was she?”
Dan shook his head in disgust as he turned away from Lucas.
“How could someone try to do that to an innocent
“I don't know, Dan. I don't understand it, and I never
will.” Lucas paused before continuing. “But you'd never
guess she went through what she did. She's her mother's
daughter alright, rambunctious and full of life. She doesn't
let anything stop her.”
“I'm glad to hear it. Lucas… does she know what happened
between me and Krissy?”
“Yes, she does.”
“How did she react when you told her I was coming?”
“Dan, she was the one who suggested I write to you.”
“What?” Dan asked in astonishment.
“She wanted to meet you. She didn't understand why you
disowned her mother, but she didn't let it stop her from
moving on. She was so excited when you wrote back; you
should've seen the look on her face.”
“You better believe it. This morning she was beaming with
excitement. I was the closest to letting her skip school
I've ever been.”
“I'm glad to hear it.”
“Dan… how's Joseph?”
“Stubborn as always. He has a wife and two children; Adam
and Audra. He's still bent against Krissy, even after your
letter. One of these days the three of us need to sit down
and settle all this once and for all.”
“...Does he still live in Enid?”
Dan looked at his brother, a bit surprised.
“...You haven't been back since… since she died, have you?”
“No, I haven't.” Lucas sighed heavily. “But one of these
days, I need to.”
Mark watched as his father and uncle disappeared from view.
He prayed their discussion would end well… too many years
had gone by since they'd seen each other.
Mark went back to work and got the horses settled in their
stalls before working on the rest of the barn chores.
Quite a while had passed when Mark heard a horse riding into
the yard. He walked outside expecting to see Rachael… but
instead found Tom Birch.
“What are you doing here?” Mark demanded.
“Look, I know I'm the last person you want to see. But I
couldn't help it. Rachael got hurt in town and Doc said
someone needed to get you or Lucas.”
“Nothing serious, but her horse got spooked on the way home
and threw her. Doc thinks she has a slight concussion and
between that and her sprained ankle, he doesn't want her to
Mark turned and started hooking the team up again. To his
surprise, Birch was soon there, helping him.
After the team was ready, Mark went inside to tell his Ma
what had happened.
“Where's Lucas?” Milly asked.
“He could be anywhere, I don't have time to find him if I
want to be back before dark. We'll be home soon.”
Mark walked out of the house and climbed up into the
buckboard. He urged the team forward and started towards
town, Birch following close behind.
When he got to the clinic, Mark rushed inside calling for
“Room three!” Mark heard from behind the walls.
Mark hurried to the room to find Rachael on the bed, an
annoyed frown on her face.
“Mark, what is it about you McCains and not following
orders?” Doc Burrage asked, exasperated. “I can't leave her
alone for one second.”
“I sprained my ankle, I didn't break my arm.”
“Young lady, you were unconscious.”
“What?” Mark asked.
“It's nothing,” Rachael assured.
“Mark, Liberty threw Rachael on the way home from school.
Rachael was out cold in the middle of nowhere. Thank
goodness Birch was out there, or she might have gotten
“Can I go home now?” Rachael asked.
“I’ll check and see if your clothes are dry so you can
change out of that nightgown.”
The doctor left the room, leaving the two cousins alone.
Mark eyed Rachael curiously before finally speaking.
“You took the shortcut, didn't you?”
Rachael’s jaw dropped open as confusion covered her face.
“How- how'd you know?”
“I was looking for signs of trouble on the way out here.
Liberty should have left signs of throwing you. But I didn't
“I just wanted to get home.”
Mark laughed as he shook his head.
“You sound like me eight years ago.”
“... I'll tell your Pa.”
“I think he'll appreciate that.”
The doctor came back in to give Rachael her clothes before
he and Mark walked out to the waiting room. Mark was
surprised to still find Birch there.
“Everything going to be alright?”
“She'll be fine,” Doc answered.
“...Well, I best be going.”
Birch started walking to the door, but Mark's voice stopped
“Tom…” Mark hesitated before going on. “Thank you.”
“Don't mention it.”
“Tom, I… I still don't know whether to trust you or not. But
I guess you have been here a while and the town's still in
“Mark, I know what I did was wrong. You have every right to
be leery of me, but I appreciate what you're saying.”
Birch started to turn the doorknob as Mark's voice stopped
“You know, they say to keep your friends close, and your
enemies closer.” Mark hesitated again before going on.
“...You want to join us for supper at the ranch?”
“It's been a while since I've had a home cooked meal.”
Everyone impatiently waited for Mark to return home with
Rachael. When they finally heard the buckboard outside,
Lucas and Milly hurried out the door.
“Rachael, are you alright?” Milly worriedly asked.
“I'm fine, I promise.”
Rachael started getting out of the buckboard, but Mark
cleared his throat. Rachael sighed and retrieved her
crutches before getting down.
“I invited a guest for supper, I hope you don't mind,” Mark
told his parents.
They both finally looked away from Rachael and realized Tom
was standing by his horse.
Lucas looked back and forth between Mark and Birch,
confusion written all over his face. When Mark didn't
explain, Lucas simply invited his friend inside as Milly
helped Rachael up the porch stairs.
When Rachael entered the house, Dan was shocked. He made his
way to her, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
“You… you look so much like her.”
Rachael could see he wanted to embrace her, but he
“Could you do me a favor?” Rachael whispered.
Dan nodded in confusion.
“Could you hug me so I have an excuse to drop these
As his brother and niece embraced, Lucas stepped back
outside and found Mark putting the team away.
“What changed?” Lucas finally asked.
“I'm considering the possibility that he's changed.”
“Worst case, you'll get to keep an eye on me,” Tom stated
from the barn door.
“Worst case,” Mark agreed. “But I'm hoping we'll do better
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch