The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 25 - A Sick Heart
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret giggled as Sunshine neighed as soon as she walked into the barn. “Good morning, Sunshine,” Margaret greeted her young horse. “It’s certainly a nice day! Perhaps you would like to get some exercise.” Margaret opened the door in the filly’s stall and led her out into the corral.
 
A gentle breeze blew softly as Margaret watched Sunshine slowly walk the length of the corral. Already she had grown stronger and bigger.
 
Margaret smiled as she leaned on the fence and looked at her horse. March was soon to be upon them. Up to now, their year had been quite pleasant. Lucas kept busy working on the range, making sure his cattle were fed and well watered. When he wasn’t working with his cattle, he was helping Hal with his. Lucas was proud of the deal he and Hal had come to. Lucas would be able to bring home two calves a month for working part time with Hal. Come spring, Margaret worried he’d push himself too thin, but Lucas assured her it would all work out.
 
Margaret enjoyed the time she and Lucas had together. He would leave her with a kiss as soon as breakfast was finished, then he’d return for his noon meal, except for the times he had to go to town for errands. Margaret would do her best to have her chores done and supper on the table by the time Lucas arrived home in the evening. Sometimes, he would mumble his reply to her “How was your day,” while other times he would kiss her soundly on the lips.
 
For the most part, February had been unseasonably warm after the blizzard they had experienced at the beginning of the month. This allowed Lucas and Margaret to spend time on the porch long after the sun went down. They talked sometimes, but sometimes they stayed silent as they allowed the other to reflect on their thoughts of the day.
 
Margaret informed Lucas very early in February that Sunday’s were to be considered a day of rest. Both of their folks’ had always set Sunday aside as a day of rest, and she felt it was a good philosophy to follow. Lucas grumbled a bit, stating he had too much work to do on the ranch to go to church, but Margaret remained firm.
 
Church was followed by the McCain/Gibbs lunch. Sometimes it would be at the Gibbs’ house, and sometimes at the McCain farm. When at the farm, they’d usually hold dinner at the largest house, which would be Peter and Tiffany’s house. Abe, announced that due to his growing family, he would be building on come spring, so everyone should realize that his house would eventually because the larger of the McCain’s.
 
The youngest addition to Abe and Julie’s family was thriving! At already three months old, the baby showed no signs of suffering from her harsh birth. Julie doted on her youngest daughter, Scarlet, knowing she could very well be the last baby she would ever have. Margaret asked Julie one day how she felt about that. At that very moment, the triplets ran in chasing little Rachel who had just taken a hard poke at one of them. As Julie blew wisps of hair from her eyes and shifted Scarlet on her other side, she declared, “At the moment I’m perfectly fine with it!”
 
Abe was continuing to get better as well. Little by little, his brothers allowed him to do more work. Julie could still tell that on days he pushed himself too hard he would show signs of discomfort, but she knew time would heal him. Abe was already working as hard as he ever had. The scars on the outside were healed, but inside, he continued to carry small wounds that he and Julie knew may never completely heal.
 
Em was growing excited about the upcoming birth of her baby as well. She talked about nothing else but the baby growing inside her. Her face, always baptized in joy of the prospects the baby held for her family, was always smiling. Her eyes shone like stars that had just been plucked from the sky.
 
Em longed to give Jeremiah a son. Jeremiah insisted that the gender of the child didn’t matter in the least to him, but nobody missed the hopeful look that crossed the expectant father’s face. Jeremiah was even caught saying ‘he’ or ‘him.’ When Em would point it out to him, he insisted it was just his way of referring to the baby. However, Jeremiah seemed to pay special attention to Abe’s boys and the way father and sons interacted with each other.
 
One Saturday night while the McCain/Gibbs families were having a special get-together, Jeremiah did it again. Em laughed at him and declared, “You see, you DO want a son!”
 
Jeremiah chuckled as he twitched his mustache and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Alright,” he finally admitted. “I do. I want a son more than anything in the world!”
 
“I knew it,” Em beamed. Her cheeks blushed the color of roses as she pressed a hand to her belly and gasped. Everyone watching had seen the little foot kick hard against her belly. “And I believe he must be a boy! No girl can kick that hard!” Em declared.
 
“Hm…Unless your name is Margaret Gibbs McCain!” Lucas declared, then groaned when her elbow landed against his ribs.
 
The family was happy. Their family was thieving, and all were in good health. Yes, Papa and Mama McCain would be proud!
 
That morning at the end of February, Lucas came to stand beside Margaret as she looked over the corral fence at her horse, bringing her thoughts back to present. “She’s beautiful. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful, Luke?”
 
Lucas, feeling quite chipper that morning, brushed his fingertips against Margaret’s cheek. “No,” he answered with a grin as he stared at her. Margaret giggled and allowed him to give her a short kiss before she hurried in to fix breakfast.
 
That afternoon as the family gathered around Peter’s table for Sunday dinner, their attention turned to Em who stood from the table and rubbed her fat belly. Jeremiah, immediately anxious, jumped up beside her wondering if it was time for the baby to come. Em shook her head. Nobody missed the excitement turn to disappointment in Jeremiah’s eyes as he helped her to the rocking chair. “I shouldn’t have let you come. You should be in bed.”
 
“I don’t think so,” Jason declared as he gave Em a long look. “The exercise does her good. I expect she’ll deliver any day now.”
 
Margaret saw the blush on Em’s face as she mentioned once again that she hoped Jeremiah would have his son. The couple were so happy to be welcoming their second child. Jeremiah decided it was time to get Em home and in bed, and quickly said his goodbyes.
 
It wasn’t until Wednesday that Margaret saw Em again. Some of the joy and excitement had left her eyes. She sat at her kitchen table and rested her hand on her fat belly, trying to keep up with the conversation Margaret was having with the other women, but nobody missed the look in Em’s eyes. The women wondered what was wrong, but Em simply smiled and declared she was just very tired. The baby simply had to come soon so she could get some rest.
 
Margaret worried. As they drove home later that afternoon, Lucas questioned her reason for being so quiet. Margaret bit her lip and shook her head. “I don’t exactly know, Luke. I’m worried for Em.”
 
“Oh? Why?” Lucas asked as he called to the horses again. “Jason said everything’s fine.”
 
“Luke…Em’s been so happy ever since she discovered she was pregnant. Today though she…” Margaret stopped speaking, mulling over what she had observed.
 
“She what?” Lucas questioned, breaking the silence.
 
“Well…she looked worried. I watched her hand and she was rubbing her belly. Her eyes looked rather moist.” Margaret shook her head. “I don’t know.”
 
“Maybe she’s just nervous, Margaret,” Lucas tired to shrug it off. “After all, I’m sure having a baby can be a scary experience.” Margaret barely heard what he said. “Well?”
 
“Yes.”  Margaret nodded. “I’m sure that’s what it is.
 
***
 
When Lucas and Margaret arrived at church the next Sunday, Margaret discovered that the entire McCain family was missing. She questioned her mother, but Jennifer shook her head stating she knew nothing. The worshipers had just sat down to begin church when the back door opened. Margaret and Lucas turned to see Abe slowly walk into the church with his head down. He slowly walked up to the Lucas and Margaret. “You best come,” Abe whispered.
 
Lucas and Margaret hurried out after Abe. Abe waited until they were seated on the wagon before speaking. “I’ve bad news. It’s about Em.”
 
“The baby?” Margaret asked, her heart suddenly racing.
 
Abe sat still on the wagon seat and looked down at the floor. “I’m afraid that…the baby didn’t make it.”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret threw her hands to her mouth. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill out. “No!” She wept against Lucas’ shoulder. No more was said as Abe clucked to the team and started toward the farm.
 
Children stood outside in the yard of Jeremiah and Em’s house. Laura looked sad as she threw the ball back and forth, but even the children seemed to know something terrible had happened. Margaret paused for only a moment outside the door and observed the sadness of the children, then Lucas led her inside.
 
Immediately, she heard the wailing sobs coming from the bedroom as Em grieved for the child she had hoped for. Margaret went to Julie and Tiffany and hugged them, whispering her apologies. Emily sat in the rocking chair, clinging to her little one as tears ran down her cheeks. The mood of the house was quiet somber.
 
“What happened?” Margaret finally managed to ask, her heart breaking at the continued wailings coming from the bedroom.
 
“The baby was born dead,” Tiffany answered, barely moving her lips. She was in shock herself. “I think that’s what was wrong the other day. I think Em knew something was wrong.”
 
“She’s blaming Jason.” Emily’s voice spoke quietly from the chair. “Jason’s beside himself with grief and guilt.”
 
“I don’t understand…” Margaret felt her knees grow weak, and slowly lowered herself to a chair. “What happened?”
 
Nobody had any answers. They were all shocked, trying to understand why God would allow such a thing to happen. The wailings from the bedroom slowly grew quieter, then ceased. The door opened and Jason stepped out. His eyes were red from tears. Everyone looked up at him. “She’ll sleep. I sedated her.”
 
“Doc…” Lucas stepped forward. “Jason…What happened?”
 
Jason walked slowly to the table without answering. He calmly snapped his medical bag closed then smacked his fist on the table. “Damn it, I don’t know!” Jason cried. He suddenly hurried from the room and stood inside the kitchen with his back turned away. His shoulders started shaking and sobs escaped his lips. “Maybe it was my fault,” he cried through his grief.
 
Emily jumped from the rocking chair and handed her son to Margaret. “Jason, NO!” She hurried over and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s go.” The family stood dumbfounded and watched as Emily led Jason outside.
 
The bedroom door opened again. Jeremiah stepped out. His eyes were red from crying, and grief was on every inch of his face. Calmly…almost too calmly…he went into the kitchen and filled his coffee cup. No one said a word as he took a sip and walked to the window. “We’ll bury…him…” Jeremiah’s voice suddenly broke as he said ‘him.’ “…tomorrow. Perhaps by then…” Jeremiah, who was as godly a man as a preacher, suddenly slammed his coffee cup down on the table and cursed. He hurried from the house.
 
Nobody had any words. Nobody had any answers. Margaret went to stand in front of Em’s bedroom door. “Poor Em…” she mumbled. “I can’t imagine the pain she must be going through.”
 
“None of us can,” Julie mumbled. “I’ve had a miscarriage, but that’s nothing compared to…to feeling your baby move inside you for nine months, then have him suddenly taken from you!”
 
Abe motioned for Lucas to follow him outside. Margaret looked down at the table and saw the Bible. She picked it up and started for Em’s room. After sitting herself at the head of the bed, she opened the Bible and began reading.
 
***
Abe and Lucas said nothing as they motioned for Peter to follow them. They found Jeremiah sitting on a stump, a shovel in his hand. His shoulders were shaking with sobs. Abe put a hand on the grieving father’s shoulder while Peter put his hand on the other. Jeremiah lifted his head to look at his brothers. “I’m asking God why.” Jeremiah’s voice broke as he spoke those words. “But He’s not answering. I just want to know WHY the HELL he took my son from me!”
 
Abe lowered himself in front of Jeremiah. His own eyes brimmed with tears as he slowly shook his head. “I…I don’t know.”
 
Lucas bent down beside Abe. “Jeremiah…you told me once that it’s not my place to question God. He’s full of mysteries, and He’s all knowing. I’m sure He had a good reason to…”
 
“A GOOD REASON???” Jeremiah dropped the shovel and swung his arms violently, swooping the hands off his shoulders. “HOW CAN YOU STAND THERE AND TELL ME THAT GOD HAD A GOOD…” Jeremiah shook his head. “God creates life…from the moment that baby is conceived, His hand guides every part of that baby! Why would He develop something then just…just KILL it? How could God be so cruel?”
 
The brothers had no answers. “We don’t know, and you know that,” Abe answered gently. “There are a lot of things in this life we simply don’t understand. We can’t sit here and eat ourselves up like this, brother. We must go on.”
 
“Is it Jason’s fault?” Jeremiah suddenly asked. “Could he have stopped this?”
 
“That’s the hell of it…It was beyond my wisdom.” Everyone turned to see Jason standing behind them. Jason lowered his head. “I can’t…” Jason swallowed, trying to regain his composure. “I can’t begin to know how you feel. I wish to…to apologize…for…”
 
“Why, doctor?” Jeremiah suddenly asked. Sobs sounded in his throat again. “WHY? WHY DID GOD TAKE MY SON?”
 
“I don’t know.” Jason spoke in a little more than a whisper. “Jeremiah, you’ve got to believe me…I would do ANYTHING to change what happened. I told you the baby died several days ago. Em knew that.”
 
“It’s because she walked to Peter’s house for Sunday dinner! That’s what did it!” Jeremiah cried.
 
“No!” Jason shook his head. “The reason your child died is not because of anything you or your wife did. These things just happen. I…”
 
“Stop!” Jeremiah held up his hand. “STOP, I SAY…” His voice suddenly died. He bent down and picked up the shovel. “I have a grave to dig.”
 
“Let me do it.” Jason reached out and put his hand on the shovel. Jeremiah’s head shot up. He pressed his lips together in a thin line. He had fight in his eyes. Jason slowly removed his hand. “I’m sorry. I hope someday you can…forgive me.”
 
The men watched as Jason turned and slowly walked off. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders.  The burden he carried wasn’t his to bear, yet at the moment Jeremiah couldn’t see clearly enough to lift that burden from the doctor’s shoulders.
 
“I need to be alone so I can dig my son’s grave,” Jeremiah said. His voice was callused as he spoke.
 
“Brother, listen…” Peter started.
 
“I said GET OUT OF HERE!!!” Jeremiah yelled.
 
The brothers had no choice but to leave him alone. They walked away then paused and turned back to look at him. “He’s the last one I expected to react like this,” Abe mumbled. “He’s always been so strong…His faith…”
 
“He’ll come around,” Lucas mumbled. “He’ll come around.”
 
***
 
“Jason…” Emilie kneeled in front of her husband and looked into his tear-stained face. “Honey, you had absolutely NOTHING to do with this! This is NOT your fault!”
 
“Isn’t it?” Jason’s eyes bore into hers. “I’m the doctor. Delivering that child safely and healthy was my responsibility.”
 
“Yes, Jase. You ARE a doctor.” Emily paused before she added, “But you are NOT GOD!”
 
“Oh damnit!” Jason stood and leaned against a nearby tree. “Damnit! What’s worse is this is my family. I did THIS to MY family, Emily!”
 
“Jase, nobody blames you…not really…”
 
“They do.” Jason heaved a burdensome sigh. “You know they do.”
 
“They’re in shock, Jason. You can’t blame them for…”
 
“Ohhhhhh….” Jason sat down and laid his head face-down in Emily’s lap. He wept as she smoothed his hair. Finally, he sat up and looked at her. “You know, when I was in Medical School back East, the professors there taught us about ethics. They told us there were certain ethics we should practice for the sake of our integrity. One of those things is…not to be a doctor to your family.”
 
“I don’t see a way around that.”
 
“And that’s what’s wrong, Emily! Towns out West have only one doctor. We have to treat our family and friends, and if we mess up…”
 
“YOU DID NOT MESS UP!” Emily insisted loudly. “This is not your fault.”
 
“No.” Jason sighed. “But the family thinks it is.” Jason laid his head back in Emily’s lap. “I hope and pray that someday we’ll have enough doctors where we can practice good ethics…A doctor where we can avoid such problems.” Jason lifted his head and looked at Emily. Emily smiled and wiped her husband’s tears away.
 
***
 
Night was approaching. At some point, Jennifer Gibbs had arrived with her family. Margaret continued to sit at Em’s bedside reading from the Bible. Her voice was hoarse, but she felt Em could hear her through the fog that likely clouded her brain. She believed God was speaking words of comfort through the words she read in the Bible.
 
Margaret paused when Em’s eyes slowly fluttered open. Em looked up into Margaret’s eyes. “Margaret, what…” she started. Then suddenly, she remembered. “My BABY! MY BABY!” She started crying as she tried to sit up.
 
Margaret sat the Bible down and grabbed her by her shoulders. She softly hushed the grieving mother as she spoke softly to her. Em continued crying, begging God to give her the baby back. She promised she would never do anything wrong again. Margaret had to speak loudly for Em to hear. She had to make Em understand. “Em, the baby’s dead!” she suddenly shouted. “He’s gone. He’s in heaven with…with Jesus.”
 
Em froze. Her grieving eyes focused on Margaret. She suddenly threw herself against Margaret and wept bitterly. Margaret held her and rocked her back and forth, allowing Em to cry the tears. Em spoke in fast ramblings, but Margaret couldn’t understand a word she said. “Why? Why did he take my baby?” Em suddenly cried out.
 
“I don’t know, honey. I don’t know!” Margaret answered. “Oh, how I wish I did!”
 
Emily had returned to her family the following day and heard Em’s cries of emotional pain and went to get her husband. Upon his arrival, Jason took a sedative from his bag and hurried into the bedroom. Em fought against him. She didn’t want to see him. She screamed for him to get out of her sight. Margaret wasn’t strong enough to hold Em down. Jeremiah came in and helped Jason hold her still so he could give her the shot. She continued screaming, cursing at Jason to get out of her house…not to come near her family.
 
Then she went limp in Margaret’s arms. Margaret laid her down.   Jeremiah hurried out, unable to stand being in the house another second.  After she and Jason got Em settled back in bed, Margaret turned to her brother-in-law. “She doesn’t mean it, Jason. You know she doesn’t mean it.”
 
Jason wiped his eyes. “That’s what I keep telling myself,” Jason nodded. They stepped away from the bed. “I am beginning to wonder if maybe…maybe there was something I did wrong.” Jason turned to look at the window. “I examined her just a week ago and everything was fine. The baby was alive and moving around a lot…There was no indication of distress…”
 
Margaret laid a hand on Jason’s arm. “Then you did everything you could.”
 
They walked out into the living room. There was nothing they could say…nothing they could do…it would take time.
 
***
 
“She just…sits there! She won’t do anything. She just keeps asking why God took her baby.”
 
Margaret poured more tea into Tiffany’s cup and sat down at the table. Tiffany had arrived with Peter and their children for a visit with Margaret and Lucas. Peter and Lucas stayed outside with the children while the women talked. “I had hoped she’d come around,” Margaret stated as she chewed on her lip.
 
“Ever since the funeral…” Tiffany shook her head. “Two days ago, that was. Jeremiah said she just refused to go and sat down in the rocking chair. She just stares into the fire. She tells Jeremiah she wants her baby.”
 
Margaret laid a hand on top of Tiffany’s. “I wish I knew what to do. Did you talk to Mama?”
 
“Aunt Jenny’s  staying with Em. She’s taking care of Abby. Jeremiah’s come around…even asked Jason to forgive him, but he can’t get through to Em.”
 
“It’ll take time, I suppose,” Margaret stated. She stood from the table and went to get some bread and honey. “She needs something to bring happiness to her heart.”
 
“Happiness?” Tiffany humphed. “She needs a smile…any smile!”
 
“Is she still blaming Jason?”
 
“It’s hard to tell.” Tiffany shook her head. “As far as we understand, she thinks it’s something she did wrong.” Tiffany shook her head again. “Oh, but no one can get through to her. She won’t even talk to her own daughter.”
 
Margaret lowered her eyes to the table. “I would have never thought…Em could ever react in such a state…”
 
“We’re all capable of it, Margaret. Deep down…we’re all capable of such things. We just don’t know how we’ll react until we’re faced with it.”
 
“Would you like me to talk to her?”
 
“I think you should talk to your mother,” Tiffany answered after a short pause.
 
“Mother? Why?”
 
“I don’t know, Margaret. Something’s wrong…I don’t know what it is, but…” Tiffany shook her head.
 
The women chatted on their problem for a few more minutes. Then Peter opened the door. “Ready, Honey?”
 
Tiffany stood from the table. She embraced Margaret. The two women shared a look for a moment before Tiffany turned for her coat and followed Peter outside.
 
Lucas put an arm around Margaret’s shoulders as they watched the family ride off. “Oh Luke…” Margaret mumbled next to her husband. Then they clung to each other and allowed the tears to come.
 
***
A quiet knock sounded on the door later that night. The sun had long gone down and Margaret was reading in her Bible, searching for truth. Lucas stood from the desk and went over to answer the knock. “Samuel…” Lucas greeted his father-in-law in a grunt. “What are you doing here?”
 
“I’ve come to speak to my daughter.” Margaret stood from the table and walked to stand beside her husband. “I heard about Jeremiah and Em’s baby.” Samuel toyed with the hat in his hands. “I was sorry to hear that.” Margaret nodded, studying the emotions that played on her father’s face. “I went to talk to your Mother. I thought she would need me.”
 
“She’s needed you for…” Lucas started.
 
“Hush, Luke,” Margaret ordered quietly as she held her hand up. “Pa, won’t you come in?” Samuel entered the house and went to sit down at the table. Margaret went for coffee while Lucas took down another cup for Samuel. After she had the cups filled and was seated, Lucas reached for her hand when she asked, “Pa, what’s this all about?”
 
“Well you see, Margaret…I have some things to tell you and I think they should be said…in private.”
 
“We don’t keep things from each other,” Margaret pointed out softly, referring to her and Luke.
 
“I know that. And it’s between you and your mother on rather you keep this from Luke. She doesn’t want me talking to you about this, but…I can’t get through to her. I think you should know.”
 
Margaret moved her face in the direction of Lucas. “Luke, please?” Lucas nodded and left the house without saying a word. Margaret turned her attention back to her father. “Okay, Pa. What’s this all about?”
 
Samuel shifted in his seat. “I heard tell that Em’s blaming the doctor and says nobody could possibly understand what she’s going through.”
 
“That’s right.”
 
“Well, there is someone who knows what she’s going through. There is someone who may hold the key to unlock Em’s heart, but she’s afraid…She’s afraid she may unlock her own hurt.”
 
“Mama?” Margaret questioned in surprise. Samuel nodded. “What happened, Papa?”
 
Samuel looked down into his cup. “It was many years ago, daughter.” Samuel rubbed a hand across his forehead, as if the memories pained him as much now as they had then. “We were married two months when we found out your mother was going to have a baby. The next seven months were like a dream for us. We were so excited. Already, my best friend had two boys of his own, and now I was going to be blessed. It was no secret I wanted a son. It’s all your mother and I talked about…having a son.
 
“I remember hardly being able to concentrate on my ranching duties. Every time I saw a calf with its Ma, or I would just ride the range, my thoughts went back to your mother. I remember feeling the baby’s movements inside your Ma as I laid my hand on her belly. We’d stay up late and discuss baby names. We’d talk about our hopes and dreams…all the children we would have…”
 
Samuel stood from the table and went to stoke the fire, needing something to do with his hands. “The doctor told us everything was fine. The baby should come at anytime. When we went to bed that night, the baby gave us a good, strong kick. We chuckled, stating he’d be a good strong man when he grew up.” Samuel’s voice broke at the end. He silently continued stoking the fire.
 
Margaret stood and pressed a hand on her father’s back. “Papa?”
 
Samuel turned. His eyes were brimmed with tears. “It happened so fast, Margaret. The next morning your Mama went into labor. After I went for the doctor, I paced back and forth, excited to see our son…our son Samuel Gibbs Jr.” Samuel heaved a burdened sigh. “But the baby had died sometime in the night, the doctor said. Your Mother gave birth to a corpse.” Margaret sucked in her breath. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to sound so cold about it.” Samuel turned back to the fire. “We reacted the same way Jeremiah and Em reacted. We were devastated. Nine months of planning…a lifetime of hopes and dreams died that morning. Your mother was devastated. She blamed the doctor – said he could have stopped it. I blamed myself. I blamed your mother. Your mother blamed herself.”
 
“Oh Papa…” Margaret grieved for the loss her parents had experienced. “You never told us…We never knew.”
 
“That’s how your Mother wanted it, Daughter. Those were dark times. We weren’t proud of the way we behaved. We weren’t proud of our name those next two months.” Samuel turned back to look at his daughter. “Eventually, we allowed a callus to settle on our pain. It dulled in time. It was two years before there was even a possibility of another child. Your Mother made me promise back then that we would NEVER tell anyone about that time. We numbed ourselves of the events and moved on. Eventually, Scott came along but we never forgot Samuel Jr.”
 
Margaret cried as Samuel came back to sit at the table. He rested a hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “I came home yesterday and your brother told me what happened. I went straight to Jeremiah’s house and talked to you mother. I knew she’d be feeling hurt. I talked to her for a long time, but she wouldn’t even let me talk about the past.”
 
“Oh Papa…” Margaret laid her head on his shoulder. “I had no idea you and Mama had felt such pain.”
 
“It was a long time ago, Daughter.” Samuel lifted her head from his shoulder. “I told you this because you have to go to your mother. You have to convince her to open up to Em. She can help Em heal, and maybe your mother can finally put this behind her.”
 
“What will Mama say when she finds out you’ve told me?”
 
Samuel rubbed his hands on his legs and he let out another sigh. “I expect she’ll have a lot to say, Daughter. But I saw the pain in her eyes. Margaret, no matter what we’ve been through…I still love your mother very, very much. I don’t care if she hates me for this…I can’t bear to see her in pain.”
 
“Alright.” Margaret wiped her eyes. “I’ll talk to her, Pa.” She stood from the table. “But I want you to promise me something.”
 
“If I can,” Samuel said after hesitating a moment.
 
“Pa, I want you to go back to the ranch. I want you to stay there and stay…well…until Ma comes home. I’m sure she’ll need you…more than ever.” Samuel closed his eyes as emotions crossed his face. “Will you do it, Pa? Please?”
 
Samuel stood from the chair and nodded. “I’ll do it, Margaret. I’ll do that for your Mother.”
 
“Promise?” Margaret touched his face so he had to look at her. “Papa, promise me. Please?”
 
“Margaret…”
 
“Promise me, Pa.”
 
Samuel nodded. “Alright. I promise.”
 
***
Lucas stepped out of the barn when he heard the horse gallop away. He hurried to the house, anxious to know how Margaret was doing. When he stepped inside, he saw Margaret collapsed in his chair as sobs racked her body. Rage and fear raced through his being as he took two big steps to the chair. “Margaret!” His voice boomed as he grabbed her and turned her toward him. “What did he say to you?”
 
Margaret stared into his eyes for only a moment. Then she collapsed against him and sobbed. “Oh Luke!” She cried.
 
“Tell me. Tell me what he said!” Lucas demanded as he took her face in his hands and glared into her eyes.
 
Margaret shook her head as he squeezed her face between his hands. “No, Luke…It’s not what you think…” Margaret swallowed. “He told me something…something that happened a long time ago.” Margaret slowly stood on shaky legs. “Pa came because Mama needs me, Luke. She’d be very upset if she knew Pa had told me.”
 
Lucas stood and steadied her by putting his hand under her elbow. “What is it, Margaret?”
 
Margaret straightened, her back to him, and wiped the tears from her cheeks. After lifting her chin and rearing back her shoulders, she answered carefully. “Luke…I’ll tell you. I will! You are my husband, and I can’t keep this from you. But…please let me get Ma’s permission first. I’d feel better if I could do it this way.” Lucas studied her. “Ma made Pa promise a long time ago not to tell anybody.”
 
“Then he shouldn’t have told you!” Lucas argued.
 
“No, Luke!” Margaret shook her head. “He had to tell me. It has to do with what happened to Em. She can help Em face her tragedy through the tragedy that happened to her a long time ago.” Margaret saw understanding in her husband’s eyes. “I’ve told you too much.”
 
“Then you should go talk to your mother first thing in the morning.”
 
“No, Luke. Tonight,” Margaret said in a firm voice.
 
“I’ll take you,” Lucas said with a nod.
 
“Luke, I don’t think you should go. This is something I have to do on my own.”
 
Lucas was already half way to the door. He turned and put his hands on his hips. “If you think I’m going to let you ride over there by yourself tonight, you are crazy!”
 
“Luke…You can take me there and drop me off.”
 
“I’ll go visit with Peter or Abe while you talk to your mother.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
***
 
Jeremiah turned from the stove and slowly walked to the table with his cup of coffee. The burden he was facing was etched all over his face. He and Jennifer had just gotten his burden in bed. Abby walked over and rested her chin on his arm. Jeremiah lifted his head and looked down at his daughter. “Mama still sick?”
 
“Yes, honey. I’m afraid she is,” Jeremiah answered as he lifted his daughter up and put her on his knee. He kissed the top of her head. “But we just have to keep praying she’ll be better soon.”
 
“Mama’s not sick.” Abby lowered her head and stuck her bottom lip out. Tears filled her eyes. “Mama’s sad.”
 
“Abby…”
 
“Abby’s sad too.”
 
Jeremiah lifted his eyes and looked at Jennifer. She shook her head and turned away because she really didn’t know what to say. “Why’s Abby sad?”
 
“Mama don’t want me no more.”
 
“Oh Abby, no!” Jeremiah shouted as he lifted her head. Abby’s eyes held fear that she was going to be punished for saying that. Jeremiah softened his voice. “Abby, who told you that?” Abby heard the accusation in her father’s voice. She hung her head. “I know you didn’t come up with that on your own. Who told you that?”
 
“David,” Abby whispered. “He said Charlie said Mama’s sad cause th’ baby went ta Heaven. He said she’s mad at God. He said she don’t want me anymore.”
 
“What a terrible thing to say!” Jennifer declared as she spun around.
 
“Well, I’ll talk to their father tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll set them straight on a few things.” Jeremiah sat her on the floor and dropped to his knees in front of her. “Honey, listen to me…I know this is hard for a three year old to understand, but your Mama loves you very, very much. She is sick…She’s sick in the heart because she lost her baby…like you would be if you lost your Mama.”
 
“I don’t want Mama’s heart to be sick anymore!” Abby cried as she threw her arms around her father. Jeremiah felt his eyes fill with tears. “Oh Papa, can’t you make Mama happy?”
 
“I’m trying, Darling. I’m trying as hard as I can.”
 
“Papa, Brother’s in heaven, huh?”
 
“Yes, honey. He’s in Heaven.”
 
“With Jesus?” Jeremiah nodded. “Then he’s happy.”
 
Jennifer took a step toward the little girl. “Huh, Papa? Brother happy in Heaven with Jesus?”
 
“Yes, Abby. Your brother’s very happy with Jesus. He’s probably up there laughing and singing…” Jeremiah suddenly choked up. He couldn’t go on.
 
“Papa’s heart sick too?” Jeremiah nodded. “Abby make it better?” Abby bent forward and kissed Jeremiah on the cheek. “I kiss boo boo, Papa?”
 
“Oh Abby…” Jeremiah threw his arms around his daughter and pulled her against him. “Oh baby…” He sobbed as he held his daughter close.
 
Jennifer fought back her own emotions. She forced them down deep so she wouldn’t have to feel. Gently, she took Abby by the shoulders. “Let’s get you to bed.”
 
“Kiss Mama night?”
 
Jeremiah turned his head away. Jennifer lifted Abby up into her arms. “Not tonight, Darling. Maybe tomorrow.”
 
***
 
A soft knock sounded on the door. Jeremiah lifted his head from his hands and wiped at his tears. He forced himself to stand and walk to the door. He was surprised to find Margaret on the other side. “What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
 
“I came to see Mother,” Margaret answered in a shaky voice. She took her coat off, but paused when she saw her Mother stand from the chair. “Mother, I must talk to you.” Margaret’s voice held a firmness mixed with worry. She turned toward Jeremiah. “Luke’s outside. Perhaps you could go visit Abe for awhile?”
 
Jeremiah looked toward the bedroom. “I don’t like to leave her. She may have another nightmare.”
 
“We’ll be here,” Margaret spoke gently. “I’m sorry. But it’s very important.”
 
Jeremiah nodded after hesitating. Then he turned and walked out of his house. Margaret took off her hat and laid it on the table. Jennifer saw something in her daughter’s eyes. That ‘something’ made her turn away. “Mother…” Margaret stepped around the table and started toward her mother, but something stopped her. “Pa came to see me tonight.”
 
Margaret watched her mother’s shoulders slump. A sniff escaped her lips. “He told you?” Her voice held betrayal.
 
“Yes ma’am,” Margaret answered quietly. Jennifer kept her back toward Margaret and stepped toward the kitchen. Without saying a word, she lifted the coffee pot and filled two cups. She turned and carried them to the table. “No need for you to come check on me this late at night, Margaret. Everything’s fine. I think she’s improving.”
 
Margaret sat down beside her mother. “Ma, talk to me.”
 
Jennifer pressed a hand to her mouth and shook her head. She blinked, fighting the tears back. “I…I can’t!” She put her other hand to her face. “Your father…had no right! He had no right at all!”
 
“Mother, Pa did it because he loves you.” Margaret lifted a hand to her mother’s hair and smoothed it back as if she were the child. “Oh Mama, can’t you open up? You and Em share something…a deep hurt…You can help Em. She needs to know somebody understands. She needs to understand this isn’t her fault.”
 
Jennifer struggled with her emotions. Margaret could tell she was trying to keep the pain from bursting forth. She rubbed her face with her hands as her shoulders started shaking. Margaret cried when her Mother lost the battle and began weeping uncontrollably. “I’m so ashamed!”
 
Margaret stood from the chair and hurried to her mother’s side. She kneeled down beside her and threw her arms around her mother. “No, Mama…No…Don’t be ashamed!”
 
“All these years…We’ve preached for you not to hide secrets, and here I am…” Jennifer buried her face in Margaret’s shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably for a long time. Margaret cried with her, encouraging her to let all her emotions out. Jennifer spoke of the incident…various, scattered details, many of which Margaret couldn’t understand. But she knew all she needed to know. This was her mother’s way of healing from the hurt she had carried in her heart for over twenty-five years.
 
Jennifer was finally drained. She couldn’t cry anymore. She couldn’t talk. Margaret kissed her on the cheek and held her. Finally, Jennifer spoke quietly. “Did your father tell you how bad it got?”
 
“He told me it was bad. He didn’t give me a lot of details,” Margaret answered.
 
“Margaret, it was bad…really bad. I don’t want to tell you, but…”
 
“Then don’t,” Margaret shook her head. “I don’t need to know that.”
 
“Your father and I…and Luke’s folks are the only ones who knew everything that happened after our baby…” Her voice died. “And now you know.”
 
“I won’t tell anybody, Mama.”
 
“No.” Jennifer shook her head and stood. “It’s not right. We don’t keep secrets. Does Luke know?”
 
Margaret shook her head. “I told him I’d tell him…with your permission.”
 
Jennifer merely nodded. “I’ll tell everyone in my own way.” She felt so weak. She felt the burden weighing on her. “I need your father.”
 
“He’s at home, Mama. He’s waiting for you.”
 
Jennifer nodded. “Tomorrow, I’ll tell Em my story. But first I must talk to your father. I need strength to face this, Margaret. Please understand. Your father is the only one who can give me what I need.”
 
“Of course. I’ll have Luke drive you home.”
 
***
“I said just leave me be!” Em shouted again as Jeremiah forced her to sit up on the edge of the bed to help her get dressed.
 
“Now, you listen to me, Em!” Jeremiah’s voice was stern. “You have a daughter who needs you. I need you. Do you think you’re the only one who lost someone? I lost a son that day too! Can’t you understand that?”
 
“You don’t understand!” Em shouted as her eyes flashed. “I carried him inside…I killed him…Something I did…”
 
“NO!” Jeremiah shouted. He stood and started pacing the floor. “In the name of God, stop saying that! Our son is DEAD!”
 
“STOP IT!” Em shouted. “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!! DON’T EVER SAY THAT!!!”
 
Abby’s crying sounded from the other side of the door. Jeremiah stuffed his hands in his back pocket and walked toward the door. He paused, then turned. “Fine.” Jeremiah threw his hands up in the air. “You want to lay in that bed and feel sorry for yourself the rest of your life, then DO IT! I’m tired…I’m so tired and…” Jeremiah sighed. “I can’t take it anymore.”
 
Jeremiah walked out and gave the door a hard slam. He picked Abby up and held her close. “Mama’s heart still sick?”
 
Jeremiah tried to keep his voice controlled and calm. “Yeah. Mama’s heart is sick.”
 
Just then a knock sounded on the door. Jeremiah went to answer it. “Aunt Jenny.”
 
Abby gasped at seeing her “Grandma Jenny” and jumped into her arms. “G’ma…Mama’s heart sick.”
 
“I know.” Jennifer kissed the little girl. “I’m going to try to make it better.” She sat Abby down. “Why don’t you and your Pa go on down to the farm? I think your Aunt Tiffany has a big breakfast fixed.”
 
She started past Jeremiah, but Jeremiah stopped her. “You okay?” He saw her red, puffy eyes. He heard the sadness in her voice.
 
“I will be as soon as I talk to your wife,” Jennifer answered. Jeremiah paused and looked toward the bedroom door. “It’s best you weren’t here. Please understand. When it’s over, she can tell you everything.”
 
“Aunt Jenny…” Jeremiah paused as his eyes filled up with tears. “It’s bad. She’s so bitter.”
 
“I know.”
 
“We were fighting. She screamed at me and Abby heard. I got mad and said some things. I told her that…” Jeremiah choked on his words. “Aunt Jenny…I told her I give up.”
 
Jenny rested a hand on his cheek and gave him a sad smile. Her thumb brushed the edge of his mustache as she smiled. “Go on now.”
 
She stood and waited for the door to close as she remembered the night before. When she arrived home, she had insisted she and Samuel talk in private. They both had shed many tears as they talked about the events from long ago. Samuel held her in a way he hadn’t held her in a long time as they grieved…truly grieved…for their loss. Samuel held her all night. She finally fell asleep in his arms. That morning, he gave her a reassuring kiss and told her he’d go with her. She thanked him, but assured him this was something she had to do on her own.
 
The memories of their life together flooded back. She remembered how it used to be and longed for it to be that way again. Samuel had promised he’d be there to hold her when she got done. She saw the look in his eyes and knew that he would indeed be there. He loved her. Then as she started out the door, he said, “I love you, Jenny.” She had longed to hear those words for so long.
 
Jennifer slowly made her way over to the bedroom door. She didn’t knock, but simply opened it and stepped inside. Em laid on her side with her back toward the door. “I told you to go away.”
 
“I’m not leaving until we talk,” Jennifer said in a firm voice.
 
Em turned her head and looked at Jennifer. “I don’t want to talk.”
 
Jennifer walked over to the bed. “Well that’s too bad, young lady, because I have some things to say and you’ll listen!” Em was surprised at the tone in Jennifer’s voice. She slowly turned on her back and looked at Jennifer. “I’m not going to talk to you when you’re laying in bed.”
 
“I’m not getting up!” Em declared.
 
With one firm swoop, Jennifer ripped off the bedding and threw it on the floor. “Yes you are.” She turned toward the door. “I want you up and dressed in five minutes. And I want you at the table.”
 
Em was in shock as she dressed and slowly walked to the table. Jennifer sat with her hands folded and her lips pressed together. She cleared her throat. “I’ll try to get through this without breaking down, but it’s very important you know.”
 
“Nothing you say to me will help. You don’t understand.”
 
“I just may understand more than you know,” Jennifer declared. Em clamped her mouth shut. “Sam and I were married for two months when I discovered I was pregnant with our first child. We hadn’t expected it to happen so soon, but we were overjoyed at the prospect of becoming parents. Oh, how I remember the day I told Sam I was with-child! He was so happy. He picked me right off the ground and twirled me around!”
 
“My husband was happy too,” Em said. “He wanted a son so bad.”
 
“So did Sam. Oh, he never told me, but every time he talked about the baby, he’d say “HE.” I knew Sam wanted a son. I saw it in his eyes every minute of every day. His eyes shone, he was so excited.”
 
Jennifer smiled as she remembered back. “Oh, I was only about four months along when we discussed baby names. Sam had the cradle built by the time I was five months along. He’d hurry through his work, then rush back home to check on me. I, of course, was busy sewing baby clothes. We had more clothes then one baby could ever wear. We built a whole nursery for our child.
 
“I still remember the day I felt him move for the first time. I so wanted to share it with my husband, but of course a mother can feel the movements long before the father. Then one day, Sam had his hand on my belly and he felt it. He felt the baby kick. I had never seen anybody so happy! Our child was growing inside me every day! We imagined what he would look like…how he would be…the adventures he’d face…”
 
Em put her hands to her face. “I don’t want to hear this!”
 
Jennifer ignored her and continued on. “We went to see the doctor…Dr. Stevens. In those days he was a little older than Jason is now. Dr. Stevens told me everything was fine. We should have a baby very soon. His heartbeat was good and strong and he was in the position to deliver. That night, we felt him kick hard. Oh, we were so happy and so very excited.”
 
Em started to stand up from the table. She couldn’t bear to hear anymore! Jennifer’s next words stopped her, though. “Then tragedy struck. I went into labor early that next morning. It was all over four hours later. The baby…” Jennifer swallowed as her eyes filled with tears. “Our son…was dead.”
 
Em slowly lifted her head and looked into Jennifer’s eyes. “Dead?”
 
“He was born dead. The doctor said he probably died sometime in the night.”
 
“Why? How?” Em asked, her eyes filling with tears.
 
Jennifer reached her hand across the table and grabbed Em’s hand. “Nobody knows how it happened. Nobody knows why.”
 
“Weren’t you upset? I mean, didn’t it make you mad at…at…”
 
“At God?” Jennifer nodded. “At the doctor?” Jennifer nodded again. “I blamed everyone. I blamed my husband and myself. I went through a very dark time, Em. I didn’t get out of bed. My husband…he recovered in time. He buried our son…Samuel Jr. He tried to help me, but I was too bitter. I…” Jennifer buried her head in her hands. “I couldn’t bear the thought of my baby being in the ground. After the funeral I just sat there without speaking. I waited for death to take me too. And it almost did.”
 
“You almost died?”
 
Jennifer nodded. “One day I decided I didn’t want to live anymore. I blamed myself for my baby’s death, and I didn’t feel I deserved to live. There were three people there who wouldn’t let me die. They never left my side – not for a minute.”
 
“Who?”
 
“My husband…and Jeremiah’s parents.” Jennifer squeezed Em’s hand. “I don’t want to talk about that…but you are headed down the same road, and I’m here to tell you, Em, that this is NOT your fault. This is not Jeremiah’s fault. This is not Jason’s fault. This is NOT God’s fault.”
 
“I never blamed…” Em stared into Jennifer’s eyes. “I did…” She licked her lips. Her heart was still too hard to cry. Em spoke softly. “Everything was fine until that Wednesday. There was something different – I don’t know what, but I knew something was terribly wrong.” Em shook her head. “I didn’t feel him move. For three days, I felt nothing. I didn’t want to worry Jeremiah, and decided it was just my imagination. After all, Jason had just told me everything was fine.” Em lowered her head. “Then I woke up. I told Jeremiah it was time…to go for the doctor. He sent Tiffany up to stay with me. Everything seemed fine.”
 
Tears leaked from Em’s eyes as she still continued to hold on to her bitterness. “Everything was fine, so I thought. Then Jason arrived and checked the baby. His face grew pale…I remember it looked like all the blood had drained from his face. He laid his hands on my belly and kept feeling and pushing…He just kept pushing. I heard his gasps and I saw the fear in his eyes. ‘Push!’ he screamed. ‘You’ve got to push now!’”
 
Em jumped from the table and hurried to the kitchen. She pressed her hands on the counter and lowered her head as her body began shaking. “I did. I pushed. I pushed, and I laughed when I felt the baby come out. I was so happy…Our son…Our son was finally here!
 
“Then there was this silence. The silence was so…so silent. There was no cry. There was nothing. Jason had his back to me at the end of the bed. I saw his shoulders slumped, just staring down at my baby…’What’s wrong?’ I asked. I got no answer. ‘My baby!’ I cried. ‘My baby!’”
 
Em’s voice choked with sobs now. She could hardly stand to tell the story. “Oh, I can’t! It hurts too much!” Em pressed a hand to her chest and started breathing heavily. “I can’t…Oh, I just can’t!”
 
Jennifer jumped up from the table and hurried over to Em. She wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “You must! It’s the only way. You must tell me the rest!” Jennifer pleaded with her. Em shook her head. She couldn’t bear to speak the truth. Her chest tightened and ached from the pain. Jennifer grabbed Em by the shoulders and forced her to turn and look at her. “Go on! Tell me!” Jennifer ordered. “TELL ME!!!”
 
“Oh God…Oh God…” Em cried. “Help me, God…Help me!!!”
 
“TELL ME WHAT JASON SAID!!!” Jennifer cried. “TELL ME, EM!”
 
Em shook her head in despair. “’Your baby’s dead! I’m sorry!’”
 
Em fell to the floor and began sobbing harder. “He’s dead…He’s dead…Oh God, help me!”
 
Jennifer took Em in her arms. “That’s right! Let it all out, Em. Let it all out!”
 
“’No!” I cried. “’You’re lying to me!’ But Jason shook his head. “’I’m so sorry.’ That’s what he said. He said he was sorry. I heard the door open and close. My arms ached for my baby…Where’s my baby, I wondered. Where is he? Then I heard Jeremiah cry out. He came in and tried to tell me my baby was dead. ’NO!’ I screamed. Jeremiah took the baby and handed him to me. ‘See for yourself,’ he cried. ’Our son is DEAD!’ But I wouldn’t believe it…I couldn’t believe it…”
 
Em’s body shook with sobs. She couldn’t speak anymore. The pain in her chest grew worse. She heard Jennifer tell her to take deep, slow breaths. She tried, but she just couldn’t! “I don’t want to hurt anymore! Help me! Help me!”
 
Jennifer rocked her back and forth as she continued to cry. Jennifer sobbed with her. Their tears mixed together as they both grieved over their loss. For a long time, they just held each other and cried.
 
In time, Em lifted from Jennifer’s shoulder. She lifted her head and looked into the older woman’s eyes. “It’s gone…The pain is gone.”
 
“Mine too,” Jennifer whispered. “After all these years…it’s finally gone.”
 
Em stared into Jennifer’s eyes. “You named the baby.” Jennifer nodded. Em hung her head in shame. “I refused to give him a name. I couldn’t…I just…I couldn’t! I told Jeremiah to put no name on there. I refused to go to the funeral. I…” Em wiped her eyes and stood up. “Will you take me there now, Aunt Jenny? I want to bury my son.”
 
Jennifer helped Em walk to the grave that was under a tree a ways from their house. Em, still hurting from her recent delivery, leaned on Jennifer for support. Jennifer knew it was too soon for Em to make such a trip, but she knew her heart wouldn’t heal until she was able to do this. They stopped when they were still a ways from the grave. Em felt more tears spill from her eyes as she stared at the cross. She slowly made her way forward and fell face down at the small mound. She wept some more. “I give you to Jesus,” Em whispered. “I give you to Jesus.”
 
Em lifted her head and studied the cross. “Baby boy McCain, born and died March 3, 1867. May he rest forever in the arms of Jesus.” Em lifted a shaky hand and ran it across the words her husband had carved into the cross.
 
For the first time since the ordeal had happened, Em thought of someone other than herself. She thought of her husband as he dug the grave and buried their son. She tried to picture him lovingly making the cross, carving the tragic words into the wood as tears blinded his eyes. She tried to picture him telling their daughter…Her sweet, precious Abby…
 
Em cried out again. Abby must hate her for what Em put her through! Abby needed her Mama to comfort her, for she too had lost someone that day. Tears filled Em’s throat. She remembered her bitter words. She had blamed Jason, and cursed him…She demanded him to get out of her house and never come back. She had been so very mean to Jeremiah and Abby both. They had needed her support through the tragedy, but instead…she had added to their pain. They had lost as much as she had, yet she had been so blinded by grief.
 
And God…Em lifted her head toward Heaven. She swallowed hard. “Oh God…forgive me…Oh forgive me…” She cried out bitterly. “Please take care of our baby. God, I pray that you help me. I need Jeremiah and Abby so badly. Please help them forgive me.”
 
Em lowered her head. “I’m so ashamed, God. I don’t know if they can ever…ever…forgive me…” She started weeping again.
 
“Of course we do.” The strong, wet voice came from behind her. Em slowly lifted her head and turned around. She saw Jeremiah standing behind her, his face wet with tears. He quickly dropped down in front of her and took her face in his hands. “I understand, Sweetie. I’m sorry this had to happen. I forgive you.”
 
Nothing more needed saying. Em cried and threw her arms around Jeremiah. They clung to each other and cried long and hard. Together, they buried their son.
 
It was some time later that Jeremiah sat down and took Em in his arms. He leaned her back against his chest and kept a tight hold of her. They just sat in silence and stared at the cross. “I’ve so much to tell you,” Em finally said.
 
Jeremiah kissed the top of her head. “I figured as much. But not today.”
 
“We didn’t name our son.” Em turned and looked up at Jeremiah. “Should we give him a name?”
 
Jeremiah smiled a small, sad smile as he looked into her eyes. “I think God’s taken care of that. He’ll always be our son, but in Heaven, he has a name more beautiful than any name we could ever give him.”
 
Em turned back and looked at the cross. “Baby boy McCain.” She couldn’t smile. Her heart would not allow that, but she did manage to lift the corner of her lip up just a bit. “He’s our baby boy.”
 
Jeremiah bent down and lifted her face to his. Husband and wife shared a kiss, knowing in time their grief would heal.
 
***
Abby stood at the window and watched. Tiffany ached for the little girl who worried so much about her parents. “G’ma, when?” Abby questioned again.
 
“They’ll be here. I told you Pa’s helping your Ma get all better.”
 
Tiffany turned from the stove and asked Abby if she would like to taste the batter, but Abby shook her head. Her red hair flew every which way as her little mouth held a sad face. She wasn’t going to leave…not until she saw her Ma and Pa.
 
Tiffany was just about ready to coax the child to take a nap when Abby let out a gasp. “Ma! Pa!” She ran to the door and started hitting it, begging for someone to open it for her. Tiffany hurried across the room and opened the door. Abby ran out into the yard. “Mama!”
 
Abby paused when she was half way to them. She remembered her Ma’s yelling that morning. She remembered how sad her folks were.
 
Em remembered too. She dropped to her knees and held out her arms for her little girl. Abby slowly walked toward her mother. “Oh baby…I’m so…sorry!” Em cried, her eyes filling with tears again. “Please forgive me.”
 
Abby looked to her mother as she walked toward her parents. Then she pulled on her father’s pants leg. Jeremiah dropped to his knees and lifted his eyebrows, waiting for Abby to speak. “Papa, is Mama’s heart still sick?”
 
“It’s getting better, sweetie,” Jeremiah answered as a lump formed in his throat.
 
“Mama, can I kiss it and make it better?” Tears slid down Em’s cheeks. “Did Papa tell you that Brother is in Heaven with Jesus? He’s happy now, huh?”
 
“Oh Abby…” Em threw her arms around the little girl and squeezed her close. “Will you forgive me?” Em pulled away from the little girl. Abby looked up at her father. She wasn’t exactly sure what her Mother was asking, but at the nod of her father’s head, she answered.
 
“Yes.”
 
Em cried as she clung to her daughter again. Abby pulled away from her Ma and looked into her face. “Your heart all better now, Mama?”
 
Abby’s words caused Em to smile. “It’s getting there. You just give me lots of hugs and kisses and it’ll be all better soon.” She kissed Abby on the cheek. “How’s your heart? Is it sick?” Abby shook her head. “Why not?”
 
“Papa told me that Brother’s in Heaven with Jesus. He gets to play with all the angels. I think he likes that.”
 
Em looked up at her husband who grinned. He lifted Abby into his arms and stood. Then he reached out for Em’s hand. After Em stood, he put his arm around Em’s shoulders. “Let’s go home.”
 
***
Margaret sat at her desk and opened the drawer. Smiling, she lifted the journal from the drawer and opened it. After dipping the pin in the ink well, she wrote,
 
I can’t remember the last time I saw Pa and Ma looking at each other as they did in church today. Oh, I tried to concentrate on the sermon, but I just couldn’t. It was nice to see Pa smile down at Ma, and Ma look up at Pa. I saw the way Pa kept his arm around Ma, and then at dinner they held hands. Perhaps this tragedy wasn’t in vain. It seems to have brought Pa and Ma back together.
 
Luke’s already warned me not to get my hopes up. He said Pa would go back to his old ways again soon, but I pray he’s had a changed heart. Pa’s living with my mother again. He’s sleeping in the same bed as her and sharing in the chores again. I can only hope this tragedy has changed my father forever.
 
Em and Jeremiah were in church as well. They still looked sad, oh but Abby is doing such an excellent job in taking their pain away. I was able to talk to Em for a spell this afternoon as we gathered for Sunday dinner. Em told me that even if she never has another baby, she knows her family’s complete. She has a daughter who loves them both so much. She wouldn’t trade what she has for all the money in the world.
 
Em said she’d visit her baby boy’s grave every day. She’s even brought Abby down there to share in the healing. I see the sadness in her eyes, but I know that in time that will heal.
 
And God was right here…right here in the middle of this whole tragedy all the time. He never left us – not for a minute. Lucas has helped my own heart heal. I told him everything about Ma and Pa and the secret they carried.  He was sorry, and today I saw him shake Papa’s hand. He still holds a grudge, oh but for this one day they were like they used to be.
 
I’ll always treasure this in my heart.
 
Margaret wiped the tears as she closed her journal and slid it back in the desk drawer.
 
Little did she know that was the last time she would ever see her mother and father together in church.

The Margaret Years — The Family Feud

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

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