The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years
 
Chapter 17 - Margaret's Wrath
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret McCain stood at the window and watched the rain slide down the window in a wavy pattern. It was the second week of November already. The events of nearly two weeks ago still haunted her. Margaret bit her lip as she lifted a finger and traced a rivulet of rain as it slid slowly down the window pane. The rain drop had purpose as it fell from the sky – to give moisture to the earth, but it’s purpose was lost and the raindrop suddenly ceased to exist as it hit the window pane.
 
“Julie!” Margaret turned at the sound of Abe’s voice calling out for his wife. She forced herself to step toward the doorway with a heavy heart. The burden she carried was indeed a heavy one. Julie was struggling both mentally and physically. Jason checked her frequently and worried that she would not be able to carry the baby to term. At present, she was back at the farm, visiting with her children. Margaret prayed she would stay there for awhile. She knew Julie’s constant travel back and forth as she cared for both her husband and children wasn’t good for her or her unborn baby.
 
Abe…Poor Abe…He was feeling the pain, though it had lessoned considerably since he was shot. Every day he was getting stronger. Still, she saw the pain in his eyes when she brought him medicine or gave him something to eat. He longed to know how his children were…to see them, but Julie refused to allow such a thing. She didn’t think her children could understand.
 
Jason worried for Abe as well. Margaret watched Jason watch Julie intently when she was caring for Abe. She saw how he wrinkled his brow and shook his head. He was worried about something, and she knew it, but about what…that was something Margaret wasn’t sure of. She suspected he was worried more about Julie then about Abe. Jason would open his mouth to speak to Julie, but quickly close it, as if deciding to remain silent would be better
 
And Lucas…Margaret saw the worry all over her husband’s face. She knew he wasn’t sleeping at night. She knew he was worried about so many things. At present, he was out in the rain checking the cattle. Margaret suggested he wait until the cold, dreary rain cleared up, but Lucas kissed her softly and assured her he’d be back as soon as he could. The cattle needed checked, and the rain couldn’t stop that chore from being done.
 
Lucas worried. Margaret didn’t know what all his worries were about, for there were so many times Lucas liked to worry alone and silently. She saw how he clutched the Bible at night as he sat at the kitchen table. She saw how he clasped his hands and prayed while smoking his cigar on the porch at night. He was too worried to really talk to her. She watched him talk quietly to his brothers, or other men who stopped by. Sometimes he would come back with more worry on his face. Other times he would show a bit of relief.
 
Margaret knew her husband well enough to know he would tell her his concerns in good time. In the mean time, she continued to pray for him and take care of him the best she knew how. Each day, she assured him she was there, suffering with him, if he ever needed her. Lucas would pause in his task, look up at her, and give her a small smile. Margaret knew that smile was a thanks for understanding.
 
Presently, Margaret opened the door to the bedroom and slowly walked up to the bed. Abe pressed his head back in the pillow and rubbed his chest where Jason had removed the bullet. “Margaret…” Abe swallowed hard, trying to force the pain deeper inside him. “Where’s my wife?”
 
“She’s with the children,” Margaret answered as she pressed a hand on his arm.
 
“How is she?”
 
Margaret lowered her head and nodded, but she stayed silent. She mustn’t lie to him.
 
“Margaret, how’s Julie?” Margaret didn’t answer at first. Abe cleared his throat. “The baby… is Julie okay?”
 
Margaret shot her head up and stared at him. A silent question was in her eyes – ‘what?’. “She doesn’t think I know, but I see her hold her middle as if in pain. Is she in pain?” Margaret looked away. “I know…I’ve…asked her to stay away…not because I want her to but…It’s too much for her, Margaret.”
 
Margaret lifted her head and tried to smile as she nodded in agreement. “I know. But she’s worried about you. She’s concerned for the children.”
 
“The children?” Abe’s voice took on a tone of concern. “Why? What’s wrong?”
 
Margaret knew Julie didn’t want to worry him. Laura was misbehaving  in school and at home. She was almost impossible to control these days. Peter and Jeremiah both had tried to give her a stern talking to, but everyone knew she needed her Papa Abe to talk to. The others thought she felt she had lost another father.  Her world was turned upside down. Charlie was acting out as well. He needed the attention of his mother and father, but they were rarely there. And the other children…they cried at night for their folks. Ma and Pa had always tucked them in at night, and now they weren’t there.
 
Of course, Margaret couldn’t tell any of these things to Abe. “Don’t you worry…the children are fine!” Margaret assured him as she sat down on the side of the bed. “Julie’s spending some extra time with them.”
 
“Why, Margaret?” Margaret lifted her head in question. “Why won’t she bring the children here?”
 
Margaret had heard Abe’s pleas. She had pleaded with Julie herself, but to no avail. “I don’t know…She’s afraid that…that it’ll scare the children, I suppose.”
 
“Even Laura?”
 
“Laura?” Margaret felt tears coming. She quickly stood, unable to tell him Laura had been given the choice to come visit, but was choosing to stay away. She was afraid of what she would see. “Abe, I’ll get you some soup. I have it warmed on the stove for when you woke up.” Quickly, she left the room before Abe could say anything.
 
The door opened as she dipped the soup. She heard the sound of a rifle going into the holder beside the door. Then a deep sigh heaved from her husband’s lips as he shrugged from his coat. “I’ve some stew on the stove for our lunch,” she stated without turning around. “Sit yourself down at the table and I’ll bring it to you.” She turned to see the weariness in her husband’s eyes. Slowly, she walked to the table and sat the stew down in front of him. “You know I’m here if you want to talk.”
 
Lucas surprised her by sitting back in his chair and motioning for her to sit down. “I do. I do want to talk.” The worry in his eyes seemed to deepen. Slowly, he moved his eyes down and looked at the second bowl of soup in her hands. “Oh…but you should tend to Abe first.”
 
“He just woke up. He could wait if…” Margaret started, but Lucas shook her head and told her to tend to Abe. “As you wish, Luke.” Slowly, Margaret went to the bedroom. Her burden deepened as she fed Abe. At times, he struggled to swallow. He coughed a bit as he patiently waited for the soup to go down his throat. Jason said it would take time. Even his throat had been impacted by the bullet that pierced his chest that Halloween day. Margaret knew she had patience, but she saw the weariness and worry in Julie’s eyes and knew Julie’s patience was running very thin. How much more would she and Abe be able to take before they reached a breaking point?
 
Abe finally shook his head that he couldn’t stand to eat any more. Margaret declared that he was getting too skinny, but Abe pushed the bowl away. Margaret stood from the bed, knowing she wouldn’t be able to get too much further with him. “Julie… She’s staying home with the children…I hope…” Abe mumbled as he rested his head back on the pillow.
 
Margaret turned from the door and watched him close his eyes. She knew Abe was worried about her. Julie was wearing herself thin. Abe pleaded with her not to do so much. Nobody missed those times when she pressed a hand to her belly and breathed through another pain that overcame her. Nobody missed the tiredness and worry in her eyes. Margaret knew the best place for Julie was at home with the children. She was too far along in her pregnancy to care for Abe night and day. Something would have to give soon. Margaret bit her lip and slowly closed the door. She checked her tears before hurrying to deposit the bowl in the kitchen. Then she went to sit back down beside Lucas.
 
Lucas slowly took a few more bites of his stew. After wiping his mouth on the napkin, he sat back in his chair and spoke. His voice was full of burden, but she knew the McCain family was always close. When one hurt, they all hurt. “Peter and Jeremiah are feeling the strain of marshalling and trying to hold down the farm. They’ve had to break up too many fights and mischief lately. Word…it gets out pretty fast that there’s no ‘real’ Marshal here. I wish I could do more to help them, but you and Julie need me here.”
 
Margaret heard the deep weariness in his voice. She knew he was very worried for his family. “Their wives are having to care for all the children…all of them. They’ve asked Julie to stay, but she spends a few hours with the children then hurries back here. They don’t mind caring for the children but…Peter told me Tiffany’s been short with Julie the last few days. Can’t say that I blame her…Having six extra children underfoot is quite a task…especially with the men gone so much. “Everyone seems to be angry at everyone else, Margaret.”
 
“Laura…” Lucas heaved a deep sigh. “Peter stopped by when I returned from checking the cattle. He told me Laura got sent home from school for fighting. She acts out constantly in class. When she’s asked to do something, she refuses. Even the family can’t tolerate her anymore. She’s become so defiant.”
 
“Poor child…she’s been through so much, Luke. First she lost you…then her father…then her mother. I’m sure she’s afraid of losing Abe. Julie’s not there anymore. Her whole world’s been turned upside down.”
 
Lucas patted her hand. “You are so understanding.” But the burden returned to his face almost immediately. “I just…wish there was more I can do.” Lucas stood and walked to the window. “I wish I knew how to put my family back together.”
 
“I’m sorry, Luke.” Margaret stood and walked to stand beside her husband. She laid her hand at the small of his back and began rubbing it. “I…wish there was something I could do too.”
 
“That’s not all…” Lucas lowered his head and turned to look at Margaret. “It’s…Julie.”
 
Margaret heard the sorrow in Lucas’ voice. His voice broke as he said Julie’s name. “Julie?”
 
Lucas turned and looked toward their bedroom door. He lowered his voice as if Abe may be straining to hear their conversation. “Peter also was to tell me they couldn’t stop Julie from returning to the ranch in a few hours.”
 
“What…” Margaret started.
 
“She said Abe needs her. She needs to be here to take care of Abe. Peter and Tiffany talked to her until they were blue. Everyone sees she’s so tired…isn’t sleeping at all. Her children were crying for her to stay, but she told them “Papa needs me.”
 
Margaret sucked in her breath. Her eyes grew angry. Lucas was quite surprised at her reaction and straightened a bit. “Oh, is that so?” Margaret folded her arms and raised her head. Lucas could tell she was about to explode. He remembered seeing the anger in her eyes before and the firm set of her chin. He took her arm and led her to the door. Grabbing her coat, he quickly ushered her out onto the porch.
 
“Perhaps the barn is a better place for this discussion,” he quickly said.
 
But Margaret didn’t wait until she got to the barn. She stopped half-way there and turned to glare at Lucas in the pouring rain. “That woman is in no condition to take care of all those children and her husband! She’s risking the health of her unborn child!”
 
Lucas raised an eyebrow as her chin set even firmer than before. She folded her arms and pressed her lips together. Her eyes narrowed into small slits. He could see the wheels turning in her head as she tried to decide what to do about this latest event. Lucas raised his other eyebrow, knowing anything he tried to say to stop her would be in vain. He would give her his opinion when she shared her decision with him, but when she got in this sort of state, his opinion mattered little to her.
 
Lucas took her arm and started her back in motion toward the barn. “I talked to the City Council in town earlier,” Lucas said as he cleared his throat and hurried her inside. “They said Oklahoma City is sending an interim marshal. He’s done a lot to clean up their city. He’s raised up some good deputies who can handle almost any situation that comes up.” Lucas turned to look at his wife. She didn’t even seem to be listening, but maybe some of what he was saying was getting through. “His name is Tom King.”
 
“What about him?” Margaret mumbled as she folded her arms and went to pet Bullet. He could see her mentally writing out her plan.
 
Lucas sat back down on a crate. He tried to hide his amusement because there was really nothing to be laughing about, but he remembered when he was on the other end of Margaret’s wrath, and he knew it was not a fun place to be. “He’ll be coming as Marshal of Enid.”
 
Margaret slowly turned around and looked at her husband. “I thought we usually held an election and voted a marshal in.”
 
Lucas grinned at her in spite of the situation as he leaned back. “My dear wife, if you had been listening, you would know that he’s temporary until we can find a permanent marshal. This will give Jeremiah and Peter time at home to tend to the family and all those children.”
 
“Oh, you forgot!” Margaret declared as she took a few steps toward him. “Our dear sister-in-law has decided she can do it all!” She threw up her hands. “And God forbid she should think of her own health…and that of her unborn child…at a time like this!”  Lucas slowly stood up.
 
“No Margaret, her children…”
 
“Oh Luke…OPEN YOUR EYES!” Margaret planted her hands on her hips as she stood in front of him. “That woman is doing too much! She cannot go on…She mustn’t! Can’t you see that she’s killing herself coming all the way here, then going to the farm to see her children and rushing back here! She cooks his meals…bathes him…sits with him…worries…I can see in her eyes, she’s not sleeping at all. There’s nothing she’s doing that we can’t do! She needs to be at home loving on her children and taking it easy! She needs to think about herself and her unborn child!”
 
“She’s doing what she thinks she needs to do, Margaret. She just feels Abe needs her more right now.”
 
“Her children need her as well!”
 
Lucas sighed as watched Margaret angrily turn from him and hurry toward the door. “Peter just doesn’t know what she’s going to do with Laura. Laura’s acting out more and more. She told Peter it’s getting worse.” Margaret paused and looked up at Lucas. “Pa’s sickness and death…She’s sure that…”
 
“She’s going to take it easy, and that’s final! I’m going to personally see that she does!” Margaret swung the barn door open and stared out into the rain. “I’m going try to talk to some sense into that woman, and she better listen or she’ll have something coming to her!”
 
Lucas’ eyes grew wide. He stood and hurried to stand beside her. His mouth slowly gaped open, and he pointed a finger at his wife. “Yes, Lucas McCain! If a punch in the nose is what she needs, then I’ll gladly give it to her! That woman will stay home to take care of her children, or my name isn’t Margaret McCain!”
 
Lucas’ mouth and eyes remained wide as he watched her  hurry out into the rain and across the yard to the house. He heard the door slam shut and jumped a bit. “Hm…I wonder what her name is then…” he mumbled as he saddled his horse to head to town..
 
***
 
Jason smiled as he laid his hand against Emily’s belly and felt the baby kick again. Emily giggled, happy to feel the life inside her. Husband and wife were enjoying the quiet in the office…an intimate moment…
 
But the moment ended quickly when a door opened and shut loudly. Jason stood and hurried to the front room. Lucas stood there. He was turning his hat in his hand and mumbling under his breath. “Luke? Is something wrong?”
 
“I’ll say there is!” Lucas nodded. “Doc, you got anything for a woman on the rampage?”
 
Jason folded his arms and grinned. He turned and looked at Emily who put a hand to her mouth. “What…uh…did you do this time?”
 
“Well…I’m very happy to report that it’s not me this time!”
 
“Oh…” Emily giggled. “Who is experiencing the wrath of Margaret McCain?”
 
“Nobody…yet. But Julie will be experiencing it very quickly.”
 
“Julie?” Emily and Jason looked at each other in question. “Why Julie?”
 
Lucas raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, Jason. I have strict orders to get you out to the ranch quickly. Margaret has a few things to say to you.”
 
“Me???” Jason jabbed a finger at his own chest. “I thought you said Julie’s the recipient of her wrath!”
 
“The only one…for now…But if you don’t get there soon, there will be hell to pay!” Lucas declared.
 
***
 
Margaret poured coffee in the cups then sat down at the table. She hadn’t said more than five words since Jason and Emily had returnd with Lucas, but her actions sure told them that she was on a rampage about something. Jason took a few sips from his cup, then bravely asked, “So, is there a reason I’m to be involved in this uh…”
 
“I need your help,” Margaret quietly stated as she tried to keep her voice calm, so Abe would not hear..
 
Jason leaned forward. “My professional help?”
 
“Oh yeah!” Margaret nodded. “It’s Julie.”
 
Jason scratched his chin as he nodded slightly. Lucas had told him that much. “Something wrong with her?”
 
“She’s pregnant.”
 
“I see…” Jason lifted an eyebrow. “That…really comes as no surprise to me, Margaret. I’ve known that fact for over five months.”
 
“Now, don’t you get smart with me!” Margaret shook a finger at him. “I want to know how she is.”
 
“How…she is?”
 
“The baby…Her health…”
 
“Well, I told her that if she takes it easy she’ll be okay. I did have her on bed rest after the shooting, but the baby’s seemed to calm down some and…” Jason stopped when Margaret abruptly stood from the chair. She tapped her fingers together as she started pacing the floor. “Am I missing something?”
 
“Yes!” Margaret declared. “Jason Livingston, I am surprised at you! And you a doctor!” Margaret continued pacing as she tapped her fingers together more rapidly. “Of course, maybe it’s your being a man that you can’t see it…Maybe that’s it…Why, if your own wife behaved in such a manner you’d be sure to notice it!”
 
“What is she talking about?” Jason asked Lucas as he waved a hand toward Margaret. Lucas shook his head. “Am I in some sort of trouble?”
 
“Jason…Julie’s about 7 ½ months pregnant, right?” Jason nodded. “Then she shouldn’t be experiencing pain. I mean…I’ve never had a baby, but I’ve been around enough pregnant women to know that…”
 
Jason held up a hand. “Right. Is Julie feeling pain?”
 
“I think so.” Margaret folded her arms and began pacing again. “She’s here every day. She sits with him all night and tends to his every need. She feeds him three meals a day, even insists on cooking the meals for him…She’s always cleaning up after him…Then she rushes home every other day and spends a few hours with her children before she rushes back here. I’ve asked her to slow down…Abe’s asked her to stay with the children…She refuses! And now Lucas told me she’ll be coming back shortly…Coming back in the rain, no doubt!”
 
Jason listened silently. Finally, he stood and walked over to the window. “I see…” He turned and folded his arms. “I was afraid of this…I AM concerned about the heath of her and the baby. I’d like her to rest as much as possible…But I think at this point her children need her more than Abe does.” Margaret nodded her agreement. Jason tapped a finger against his chin as he thought. “Do you think the women would be willing to help Julie out…Maybe one stay with her a day and make sure she doesn’t overdo it?”
 
“I’m sure!” Margaret declared. “Why, I’m sure my family would help out as well! As a matter of fact…Beth is due home from her teaching school tomorrow. I’ll see if she can stay with Julie after she sees Mama.”
 
“I hate her to be away from your family after being gone so long,” Emily started to argue.
 
“She’ll be returning permanently after Christmas…Won’t be any trouble!” Margaret assured Jason.
 
“If I must, I’ll threaten to put Julie on full bed rest, but for now…I just want her home with the children. I see no reason for her being here all the time.” Jason came back to the table and sat down. He motioned for Margaret to sit down as well. Lucas put an arm around her trying to calm her agitation. “As a matter of fact, her being here isn’t good for Abe.” Jason spoke in a low voice, not wanting Abe to overhear this part of the conversation.
 
Margaret and Lucas looked at each other. “Doc?”
 
“You see…as long as she’s doing everything for him, Lucas, Abe’s not trying to do for himself. I’ve been watching and trying to decide on how to broach this subject with you. I would like to see Abe sitting up more. He’ll be dizzy at first and may think he can’t do it. It’ll be hard with Julie here…He won’t want to upset her. I think that’s why he’s still in the state he’s in. She’s protecting him, and right now he needs to be pushed.”
 
“Then she must go home so we can tend to him!”
 
They heard the wagon approaching. Lucas stood and went to the window. “Well…you just have to convince HER of that!” Lucas hurried to put his coat on. Then he grabbed his rifle. I think I have some chores to tend to in the barn.” He bent down to kiss her.
 
“Coward…” Margaret mumbled just before their lips met.
 
“Yes ma’am!” Lucas answered with a grin.
 
***
 
Julie was surprised to see Jason and Emily there when she returned. She suddenly felt alarmed, feeling something was wrong with Abe. It took some time for Jason to convince her Abe was just fine. He’d checked Abe’s wound after arriving and it was healing nicely. Jason led Julie to the bedroom so she could check on her husband. He was sleeping peacefully. Jason quickly ushered her from the room and closed the door. “Now, to see how you are doing.” Jason motioned to the other bedroom. Julie tried to argue that she was fine, but Jason sternly lifted his eyebrows and ordered her inside. Emily followed him in.
 
Margaret paced the floor of the room. She clinched her hands together, nervous that Jason would emerge from the bedroom with bad news. Lucas came in at some point and took her arm. Sternly, he led her to the table and poured her another cup of coffee. “Oh Luke…I’ve had so many cups that I can’t sit still!” Margaret exclaimed. “I hope he can convince her that…”
 
The door opened. Julie hurried out, followed by Jason. “Now, you listen to me, Julie…” Jason started again.
 
“You are asking me to abandon my husband when he needs me the most!” Julie spat out angrily. She stopped abruptly and turned to glare at him. “I WILL NOT LEAVE HIM!”
 
Margaret jumped up from the table and hurried over to Julie. “We don’t want you to leave him! We just…”
 
Margaret stopped when Julie turned and flashed an angry look at her. “And YOU of all people…YOU are in on this too?”
 
“Julie, we are just concerned that…”
 
“So am I!” Julie folded her arms. “I’m concerned that my husband is worse than you let on! Maybe there’s something you don’t want to tell me! You want to get me out of here so I don’t find out…”
 
“You aren’t even making sense!” Margaret declared as she grabbed Julie by the shoulders and shook her a bit.
 
“What if it were Lucas in that bed? Would you leave him? Would you???”
 
Margaret had enough of Julie’s yelling and accusations. She suddenly straightened up and spoke, surprising everyone in the room with her sharpness, including her husband. “Now, you just close your mouth, sit down, and listen to what I have to say!” Margaret suddenly declared in a very loud and stern voice. “If you don’t, I may just give you a good punch in the nose!” Margaret held up her fists. “And if you don’t think I can, you just TRY me!”
 
Julie’s eyes grew wide. Never had they heard such threats uttered from Margaret’s lips. “Now…” Margaret lifted her head high as she pointed to a chair. “Sit…down!”
 
Slowly, Julie lowered herself to the chair. The anger that flashed in Margaret’s eyes put a bit of fear in her. It was enough to keep her quiet so Margaret could speak. Margaret ordered everyone else to sit down as well, but she remained standing in front of Julie. “Now then…I have a few things to say to you, Julie McCain. And you will stay silent until I’m finished. At that point, I will listen to RATIONAL arguments only! If you proceed to argue with me before I’m done talking, you will GET that punch in the nose…and I’m NOT joking!”
 
Jason bent close to Lucas’ ear. “You were right…She is angry!”
 
“Angry isn’t quite the word I would use,” Lucas stated. “This reminds me of the time I stood in front of her after returning from…” His voice froze in mid-sentence when he heard Margaret clear her throat. He straightened, knowing he would be next if he didn’t stay silent.
 
“Now then…I am not seven and a half months pregnant, you are! Your body is not your own at the moment. It is home to another living, growing human being…as little as it is…You must think about that unborn child in everything you do, and you haven’t been…” Margaret paused and turned toward Jason. “Has she, Jason?”
 
“No.” Jason cleared his throat, suddenly feeling like that wasn’t a sufficient answer. “No ma’am…” Jason looked at Margaret who gave him a slight nod to continue. “As I told you before, Julie…or tried to anyhow…I felt some tightening of your stomach muscles, which leads me to believe you are experiencing some pain and perhaps some premature contractions. You must rest, because if you go into labor now, your baby will most likely die. I don’t want to put you on full bed rest because you will do nothing but worry. I want you home with your children. I also want somebody else there helping you so you don’t have to do too much work. If you don’t do these things, I WILL put you on full bed rest at home.”
 
“Thank you, Jason.” Margaret turned her attention back to Julie. “Now then…I understand that you love Abe very much. But I want YOU to understand that he is worried sick about you. He may be in bed, but he’s not so out of it that he can’t see the pain you are experiencing.  Jason told me earlier that it would help his healing if you would go home and take care of yourself. He loves you and knows the strain your coming back and forth is putting on you and your unborn child. He wants you well.”
 
“There’s more…Something you aren’t telling me…” Julie declared.
 
Margaret struggled. She wasn’t sure if she should tell Julie the truth or not. She knew, though, that if it were Lucas in that bed she would want to know. Margaret bent down in front of Julie’s chair. “Oh honey, sometimes…when we are really close to someone…we think we’re helping them…” Margaret grasped Julie’s hands. “You asked me what if were Luke…I would want to do what’s best for Luke, and though it may be difficult, I would do it.” Margaret chose her words carefully. “Your being here…Oh honey…You WANT to help Abe! We all know that! But Jason feels that your being here is holding him back. You take care of him and do everything for him. He doesn’t need that!”
 
“Oh, but…”
 
“No…Let me finish first, please.” Margaret licked her lips as she lowered her eyes toward Julie’s middle. “Let’s suppose you wanted Rachel to continue to crawl on the floor instead of walking. There are many dangers out there…They fall and hurt themselves. They can climb on the table…burn their fingers on the stove…Are you helping her or hurting her?”
 
“I’m hurting her,” Julie answered quietly. Tears filled her eyes.
 
“It’s sort of like that with Abe. Sitting up in bed and learning to eat regular foods again…Learning to walk…Those are all really hard things. They are going to cause him a lot of pain, and yes…he just may fall a few times. But is keeping him flat on his back with medication inside him to make him sleep so he doesn’t feel pain really helping him?”
 
Tears began falling down Julie’s cheeks. “I didn’t mean to…”
 
“Your children need you, Julie. Your unborn child needs you. Abe…He needs you, but he wants you for the wrong reasons. He wants you to do for him..”
 
Julie suddenly burst into tears. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed long and hard. Emily jumped from her seat and ran over to Julie. Margaret took Julie in her arms as Emily rubbed her back. Both women spoke softly to her and allowed her to cry. In time, Julie lifted from Margaret’s shoulder. “I don’t know if I can…can…”
 
“What is it, honey? What?”
 
“The boys…they ask for their father all the time. They don’t understand what’s going on. Charlie’s getting into trouble…I can take control of those things and help them but…” Julie’s lips quivered. “It’s Laura…She’s so…so bitter and resentful… She doesn’t want to come here. She’s afraid of what she’ll find and she…she…” Julie again collapsed against Margaret and sobbed.
 
Lucas stood and came to kneel beside Julie. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “Is she really that bad?”
 
“She’s being hateful and…She’s been expelled from school, Luke…I didn’t tell Peter the truth earlier. I told him she was sent home, but I feel this is my fault…I feel so ashamed that she was expelled…She feels everyone’s leaving her. She said Abe’s never coming back, that he’s going to die. And she won’t help me at all! I…I…” Julie sniffed. “I slapped her hard today because of her mouth. Now she hates me.” Julie broke into sobs.
 
Lucas lifted his head and looked at Margaret. He motioned for Margaret to follow him outside. Once they were out there, Lucas folded his arms. “I think it’s best we bring Laura here so I can straighten her out.”
 
“The poor child, Luke…She’s been through so much.”
 
“I know.” Lucas nodded. “But she’s got to understand that she can’t treat people like that. The world is full of heartache. It’s tough, but she’s almost twelve years old. That’s old enough to…”
 
Margaret reached out and touched his arm. “Be gentle with her, Luke. With Abe here and Julie back and forth so much…Peter and Jeremiah having to stay in town most of the time…”
 
Lucas nodded. “I know. That’s why I think its best she comes here and stays until things are better. I’m hoping that interim Marshal will arrive soon, then that’ll free them to put their families back together. “
 
“What if she won’t come?”
 
Lucas hurried back inside and grabbed his rifle and hat. “I don’t plan on giving her a choice.”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Julie. “Can I stay for just awhile before I leave?” Julie asked. “I want to…explain things to Abe…why I won’t be here so much.”
 
Lucas nodded. “That’ll give me time to talk to the family… get everything arranged. I’m bringing Laura here.”
 
Julie stared at him for only a moment. She saw an urge to help in Lucas’ eyes. Finally, she nodded. “I know it’s best. She needs…” Julie swallowed and lowered her head. “Luke…I’m sorry.”
 
Lucas shook his head. His face softened as he hurried over to Julie and gave her a hug. “This isn’t your fault. There’s no reason to feel ashamed. You have done everything you can.” Lucas turned to Margaret. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Margaret nodded then watched him hurry out into the rain.
 
***
 
When Lucas arrived at the farm, he was surprised at how quiet things were. When he stepped inside, Tiffany pressed a finger to her lips and pointed to the floor where the children were all asleep on cots. Tiffany stepped out onto the porch. “How are you?” Lucas asked as he smiled into her eyes.
 
“Tired.”
 
“I know…I wish there was more I could do, but I don’t feel it’s a good idea to leave Margaret and Julie alone with Abe for too long.”
 
“Oh, I understand.” They grew quiet. “Peter’s out in the barn. He has to go relieve Jeremiah at the jail after while.”
 
“How are things?” Tiffany knew what ‘things’ he was talking about. “That bad?” He asked the question when Tiffany just looked away. “They’ll get better.”
 
“I know,” Tiffany said quickly.
 
“Actually, that’s one reason I’m here. Margaret went into a sort of a rage this afternoon and set Julie straight on a few things. She’ll be coming home…for good.” Lucas didn’t miss the relief in her eyes. “But…Jason doesn’t want her caring for the children on her own. She needs to rest and take it easy…says she’s having some contractions and he’s worried about that. Now, Beth will be home from school for Thanksgiving tomorrow, and Margaret’s going to see about her staying with Julie until…” Lucas stopped. How long would this arrangement have to last?
 
“I’ll talk to Em. We can take turns in staying with Julie.” There was more relief in her voice. Tears filled her eyes. “I’m sorry, Luke. I’m just not used to…”
 
“I know.” Lucas laid a hand on her shoulder. “The other reason I’m here is to…talk to Laura.” Emily’s head lifted. A look of surprise was on her face. “Is something wrong?”
 
“Luke…It’s pretty bad…Peter took her to the barn while ago. We just couldn’t handle her anymore. She feels we’re all out to get her.”
 
“Where is she?”
 
“Still in the barn. Peter told her to stay in the hayloft the afternoon.” Tiffany bit her lip. “Oh Luke…She’s been through so much! We just don’t know…”
 
Lucas nodded. “I know. I’m taking her back to the ranch with me.”
 
“But she doesn’t want to go there!” Tiffany shook her head. “She’ll never agree.”
 
Lucas nodded. “I know. I don’t plan on giving her a choice. She’s going and that’s final.”
 
Lucas turned and walked towards the barn. Peter looked up from where he was tending to a horse. He was tired, Lucas could see that right off. His eyes held a weariness and worry. “I’ve come to talk to our sister. I think your wife has some good news for you.” Peter raised an eyebrow at Lucas. “Go talk to her. The children are all down right now. Spend some time with her.”
 
“I’ve chores.”
 
Lucas grabbed his arm. “This is more important. She needs you…to hold her.”
 
This time, both of Peter’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Since when did you become such an expert on women?”
 
“Since I married one.” Lucas nudged his head toward the hayloft. “Trust me.”
 
Peter got his meaning and left the barn. Lucas looked toward the ladder that led to the hayloft. He put his hands on his hips and allowed his eyes to slowly make their way up the ladder. After saying a silent prayer for assistance, Lucas started up the ladder.
 
He found Laura sitting in the corner looking out the window. Lucas crawled over to her and sat down beside her. After lifting his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around his legs, he turned and looked sideways at her. “Hi.”
 
“Hi,” Laura answered in a grumble.
 
“I’ve…heard things have been pretty rough here.” Laura nodded. “Want to talk about it?” She merely shrugged her shoulders. “Well…I want to talk about it.”
 
“You come out here to talk to me?”
 
“Uh huh.”
 
Laura lifted her head and looked at Lucas. “Did you come to talk to me like we used to talk…like a brother?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“You came to talk to me like an adult?”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Not you too…”
 
Lucas lifted his eyebrows and studied her face. He slowly lowered his legs flat on the ground. “You…haven’t sat on my lap in a long time.” Laura took the invitation and scooted up onto his lap. Lucas hugged her to him. “You know you’re my Rosebud.” Laura nodded. “You know you will ALWAYS be my Rosebud…no matter what…” Laura nodded again. “Remember how we used to talk about everything?”
 
“Did Julie tell you I’ve been bad?” Lucas nodded. “Really bad?”
 
“I’d like to know why so I can help you.”
 
Laura suddenly lowered her face. She didn’t want Lucas to see her tears. She had tried to hide all the emotions – fear and sadness – by acting angry, but with Lucas it was different. They were so much alike. He could read her like an open book.
 
Lucas put his hand under her chin and lifted her face. “You don’t have to hide your tears from me, Sis.” But Laura was a McCain, and she was tough to break. Tears spilled from her eyes. She bit her lip to keep it from quivering. “Rosebud….you’ve hurt a lot of people…People who love you very much.”
 
Laura allowed more tears to fall down her face. “It’s happening…all over again!” Laura cried. “All of it! Papa Abe’s sick…then Julie will die…I just hurt those around me! I kill them!”
 
“Laura!” Lucas was surprised at her words. He snapped her name, but caught himself and softened his voice. “Now, Laura….You know that’s not true.”
 
“It’s is true!” Laura cried. “Papa died…He was sick for a long time! Oh Luke, it was just awful! I couldn’t stand to see it…”
 
“Papa died because he had a bad heart. We all knew it was only a matter of time.”
 
“Then Mama died…I killed her, Luke…I was so bad and she worried about me all the time…I’m doing the same to my new Mama and Papa! Papa’s sick and he’s going to die. Mama’s worried about me and…”
 
“She’s worried about you, honey, because you are misbehaving!” Lucas reminded her.
 
“I can’t help it! I just can’t…”
 
“Now Laura…You don’t really believe that, do you? You KNOW you don’t have to be bad. You’ve been so good since Abe took you in.”
 
“And it made no difference! Even though I’m good…I still killed him!”
 
“No, he’s not going to die, Laura Rose! He’s going to live! He’s going to live for a long, long time!”
 
“No!” Laura put her hands over her ears. “It’s not true! I KNOW it’s not true!” Laura burst into tears. “Mama Julie said he’s in bed…Papa was in bed and then he died! I’m killing him too!”
 
“Now listen, Laura…” Laura tried to turn away from him. Lucas grabbed her shoulders and whirled her around to face him. “Stop this! Stop this right now!” He shook her. Laura froze at Lucas’ reaction and stared into his face. “Now, you listen to me, young lady…and you listen good! Papa had a bad heart. It was bad before you were even born. He got that bad heart from working so hard and suffering so many losses in his life. He lived a hard life…so we could have a better one, and it is!
 
“Mama died because she had a disease inside her body. It ate her up, and it would have happened rather she worried about you or not…”
 
“But if she hadn’t had me…maybe she would have had more strength to…”
 
“No, Rosebud…NO! Ma’s dying had absolutely nothing to do with that!” Lucas looked firmly into Laura’s eyes as he spoke. “Now, you had nothing to do with Abe’s state. He was shot trying to protect me and Margaret. And Julie…She’s going to be okay! She’s going to come home and she’s going to take care of the children.”
 
“I don’t want her home! I don’t want to see her!” Laura screamed suddenly.
 
Lucas’ face hardened. “Now, you listen to me…You aren’t going to be home. You’re coming home with me, and me and Margaret are going to help you straighten out your thinking. Abe needs somebody to take care of him…somebody he loves very, very much!”
 
Laura bolted from Lucas. “NO! I can’t!”
 
Lucas quickly bolted forward and grabbed her again. “You WILL, Laura! You are going to come to the ranch and you are going to see that he is okay! You are going to do it, and that’s an order!”
 
“I can’t! Oh, I just can’t!” Laura cried. Her lips were quivering in fear. “Please don’t make me, Luke…Oh PLEASE!”
 
The pleading was breaking Lucas’ heart. He hated having to be so firm when she was hurting so deeply. “Let’s go get your things ready.”
 
“But Luke…”
 
Lucas had started down the ladder. He paused and looked back up at her. “I said let’s go.” Laura paused and turned her face away from him. “Laura…Tiffany told me Peter gave you whipping earlier. Don’t make me do that…You know I don’t want to.”
 
Something in Lucas’ voice made her face soften just a bit. Laura slowly nodded her head then came down the ladder behind him. Lucas lifted her down and motioned for her to walk toward the house. When they walked inside, Peter stood from the table where he and Tiffany had been enjoying a cup of coffee. “She’s gathering the things she needs,” Lucas said quietly as Laura walked to the back bedroom where she had been staying. Emily stood and hurried after her.
 
Peter walked to the stove, took down a coffee cup, and filled it. After handing it to Lucas, he asked, “Are you sure this is the right thing?”
 
“I think so,” Lucas answered. He looked toward the back bedroom. “Oh Peter…She’s just so sure she is the reason Ma and Pa died…And she thinks the same thing’s going to happen to Abe and Julie.”
 
“She’s doesn’t seem too willing to go prove you right.”
 
“She’s angry with me. I think she’s angry with everyone.” Lucas leaned his hand against the mantle and leaned into it. “Oh Peter…how did things get into such a mess?”
 
Peter smiled. “You know what Ma would say if she were here.” Lucas lifted his head and looked at his brother. “She’d say the McCain’s were born in a mess. She said we just can’t stay out of each other’s business.”
 
“I suppose she’s right too.” Lucas smiled. “Pa always said they must be doing something right then…Because we are one…When one hurts, we all feel the pain.”
 
They heard shuffling behind them. Both men turned to see Tiffany and Laura standing at the edge of the room. Laura kept her head turned away. Tiffany bent down in front of Laura. “You know we love you.”
 
“Then don’t make me go,” Laura cried.
 
Tiffany and Laura looked long into each other’s eyes. Tiffany finally stood up and took her hands off of Laura’s shoulders. “Come back soon.” Tiffany turned away and busied herself with lifting the baby from the cradle.
 
Laura slowly walked toward Lucas. Peter put a hand on her shoulder. “You know I love you.” Laura said nothing. “Laura, I can’t apologize for earlier. I didn’t want to, but I had no…”
 
“Let’s go,” Laura said as she hurried out of the house. Lucas nodded to Peter. Peter assured Lucas he’d have Jeremiah come by for Julie and ride her home. Tiffany would stay with Julie that evening so Em and Jeremiah could have some time together with their family.
 
After one more wave, Lucas climbed onto the seat of the wagon and clucked to the horses. He knew they would ride in silence.
 
***
 
Lucas stopped the wagon in front of the house. Laura hadn’t said one word all the way there, but now he spoke as she started to climb down. “Wait a minute, Laura.” Laura sat still on the seat. “Now…Julie told me she slapped you this morning.” Laura said nothing. She wouldn’t even look at him. “I know adults are hard to understand, but…we do things because we love you.” Laura turned her head to look at him. “Now, I’m not saying her slapping you was right or wrong. That’s for God to decide, but I will tell you that Julie is very, very hurt by the way you have been treating her.” Lucas paused so she would hear what he had to say next clearly. “You have no right to be angry.”
 
Laura quietly spoke. “You used to be fun. You used to always be on my side. What happened?”
 
Lucas slapped the reins down. “I guess I did a lot of growing up when I was in the war, Laura.” He paused again. Then he spoke sternly. “I want you to apologize to her.”
 
“No!”
 
“You will do as I say,” Lucas stated. “As long as you are living under my roof, you will obey everything Margaret and I have to tell you. If you don’t, you will be punished.” Laura started to climb down. “Do I make myself clear?” Laura nodded her head. “Laura?”
 
“Yes sir.” Laura paused as she turned to look at him. “You never made me sir you before.”
 
“You chose to sir me. And I’m afraid you’ll find me making you do a lot of things I’ve never made you do before, Laura. It’s all part of growing up.” He motioned toward the house. “Let’s go.”
 
Laura paused on the porch. Lucas leaned forward and opened the door. Keeping a firm hand on her shoulder as a reminder that she was to obey him, he gave her a gentle push forward. Laura stepped inside.
 
Julie slowly stood from the chair. She lifted a hand to her middle. “Hi, Laura.”
 
Laura looked away. Lucas sharply cleared his throat and squeezed her shoulder with his hand. “I’m sorry.” Lucas again cleared his throat. Laura spoke louder. “I’m sorry for misbehaving and for talking to you the way I did.”
 
Julie bent down in front of her. “And I’m sorry I slapped you. I was angry, and I took it out on you. I’m sorry.” Laura looked away from her. Julie slowly stood back up and looked at Lucas.
 
“Jeremiah will pick you up when he gets off work.” Julie nodded.
 
Julie turned back to Laura. “Laura…would you like to see Abe?” Laura shook her head and walked into the kitchen to get away from the adults.
 
“Laura…” Lucas started.
 
Margaret touched Lucas and shook her head. “Giver her time, Luke. Don’t push her.” Lucas nodded.
 
There was tension in the air as they waited for Jeremiah to come for Julie. Laura sat at the table and acted as if she was very interested in the book she was reading, but everyone knew she was merely ignoring those around her. Margaret glanced at her every now and then, and she could tell how much her silence was hurting Julie. For now, though, they would have to give her room.
 
Jeremiah soon arrived to pick up Julie. Julie tearfully kissed Abe goodbye. He mentioned that he was happy she was going home. “Give them each a kiss for me,” Abe said as he held her a moment longer. Then Julie lifted from the bed, turned, and hurried from the room.
 
Her goodbye to Laura didn’t go well. She didn’t understand why Laura was pushing her away. She walked up behind Laura and pressed her hands on her shoulders. Laura stiffened. When she heard Lucas clear his throat, she turned and looked at Julie. “Now, you be good. Mind Luke and Margaret and…take care of your Papa Abe.”
 
Laura looked away. Julie bit her lip and straightened. She slowly walked to the door then turned back to Laura. “Please take care of Abe, Laura…He really needs you.”
 
Laura lowered her head and stared at the table. Julie left with a heavy heart. Lucas went out to say goodbye.
 
Margaret had watched the whole entire thing from the kitchen. She couldn’t believe what she had seen, and she was still feeling anger from earlier. Margaret folded her arms and slowly walked over to the table. “Well now…you are being selfish, young lady!”
 
The tone of Margaret’s voice was enough to lift Laura’s head. Slowly, she stood from the table. “I am NOT!”
 
Margaret pressed her hands on the table and leaned into Laura. Lucas came back inside just in time to see the interchange. “Abe is in that room trying to recover from a bullet that almost killed him…should have killed him in all rights! Julie is carrying a child inside her. She is up with Abe more than she’s not, then she goes home to see you children. Your Ma is doing everything she can to keep her family together. She is suffering…if she keeps going as she has been, she could very well lose the baby. Then there’s you…”
 
Margaret folded her arms and stood to her full height. She lifted her head and looked down at Laura. “Your Mama could really use your help right now, but all you can do is sit there and feel sorry for yourself! Well, as long as you are here, you will not have time to feel sorry for yourself. You will help me out with the chores, and you will take care of Abe as needed. Do I make myself clear?”
 
Laura swallowed hard as she stared at Margaret. Her eyes filled with tears as she slowly turned her head toward the bedroom Abe was laying in. “I’ll do all the chores you ask me to do but…I won’t go in there! I can’t watch that again…I just can’t!”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Lucas. Lucas lifted an eyebrow and shook his head slightly. “Very well.” Margaret turned toward the kitchen. “We’ll have beef steaks and baked potatoes for supper. Laura, would you go get the meat?”
 
Laura turned and looked at Lucas. She opened her mouth to argue. Oh, how she wanted to argue! But Lucas narrowed his eyes at her with a stern warning on his face. Laura gave Margaret one more up and down look before she started toward the door. “Laura Rose…” Lucas warned.
 
Laura stopped at the door. “Yes ma’am.”
 
Lucas smiled as the door closed. He walked up behind Margaret and wrapped his arms around her. “I think you will make a wonderful mother, Mrs. McCain.”
 
“Thank you,” Margaret smiled. She turned in his arms and looked into his eyes. “Luke…she’s so bitter…What’s the matter?”
 
“I think Abe’s near death scared her pretty bad. Facing the death of her parents was so hard on her. I remember you and Abe telling me in the letters you wrote. She loves Abe and Julie so much…”
 
“They’re her mother and father. She loves them. Oh, but she’s so afraid!”
 
“Mm…” Lucas nodded. “She’s convinced that Abe is…” Lucas stopped when the door opened. He took a step away from Margaret and watched Laura hand her the steaks. Margaret put her to work on readying the potatoes to bake.
 
After supper, they heard Abe calling for them. Margaret looked toward Laura who suddenly shivered from hearing his voice. “He’s probably ready for his soup. Would you…” Margaret stopped when Laura gasped. “Alright. You clean up the dishes. I’ll take it to him.”
 
Margaret sat on the bed and helped him eat. His hands shook, but she encouraged him to eat as much as he could. He choked terribly a few times, but he remained patient knowing it could be several months before he got used to eating real food again. “I heard Laura out there. Why hasn’t she come to see me?”
 
Margaret lowered her head and stared into the half-empty bowl. “She’s scared. She’ll come around.”
 
“I wish she’d talk to me.”
 
“She’s frightened, Abe. You almost died. That scared her pretty badly. Memories…you know?” Abe nodded. “I think her caring for you will be the best thing for her. It’s getting her in here so she can see you’re okay…”
 
Abe turned his head to look toward the door. “I love her, Margaret. She’s as much my daughter as Baby Rachel is.”
 
“I know.” Margaret smiled. “She’ll come around.”
 
But when Margaret left the room, she found Laura as far away from the bedroom as she could get. She was cuddled up in Margaret’s sewing chair fast asleep.
 
***
 
The next day, Lucas and Margaret started the healing process. After a long talk with Jason the day before about the hazards of morphine, Abe decided he would no longer take the medicine. He knew the pain would be bad, but in time it would lesson and eventually go away.
 
Lucas and Margaret worked together at helping Abe sit up. He could only sit up for so long before he began vomiting. They assured him it would get easier each day. Now that Abe would be awake throughout the day and in a lot of pain, Margaret told Laura as kindly as she could that he would need her to keep him company. The days would be long in the bed and Lucas had a lot of work now that winter was there. He had to keep the cattle well fed and check on them often.
 
Laura refused. In fact, she begged Margaret to give her chores outside the house. Lucas gave her a few chores in the barn, but sternly informed her that a young lady helped inside the house. Laura knew that was the rule at home but she wished they wouldn’t make her. She was so afraid of hearing Abe’s cries. She remembered listening to her father’s as he lay dying.
 
The first day was long. Margaret held Abe’s hand as he cried silently through his pain. He didn’t want Laura to hear his cries anymore than Laura wanted to hear them. At some points, he’d bite on the blankets to keep from crying out.
 
Lucas insisted Laura keep up with her studies while she was out of school. Abe and Lucas talked, and it was decided Laura wouldn’t return to school until the family was reunited and Laura’s behavior was under control. She didn’t give Margaret and Lucas too much trouble. It only took one punishment from Lucas to learn that neither he nor Margaret would tolerate any disrespect in their house. One scrubbing of the floors throughout the house was enough to learn her about that.
 
This was the routine for the next several days. Abe was able to sit up more and more each day. As were the instructions of Jason, Lucas worked at rotating his legs and arms to help the stiffness go away. The process was very painful, and Lucas could hardly bare the pain in Abe’s face. At these times, Abe insisted Laura be allowed to leave the house because he couldn’t keep from crying out.
 
Margaret held Lucas after each session and allowed him to cry. She knew watching his big, strong brother struggling so much was hard. Margaret ached for them all. She ached for Abe and the pain he and suffering he was in. She ached for Lucas as he watched his brother suffer. But most of all, she ached for Laura who seemed to be fighting against something none of them could understand.
 
***
 
Laura awoke to the sound of soft, quiet groans coming from the bedroom. She slowly sat up in bed and stared at the door. Her mind was transported back to the time when her father was sick in bed. Mama had just told her his pain would ease soon – that soon he’d be at peace, and in the end, he was at peace.
 
Laura pushed the blanket back from the cot she slept on in the front room. She had insisted Lucas set the cot up as far away from the bedroom as she could get, but no matter how far away it was she could now hear his muffled groans of pain.
 
Laura stood from the cot and started across the room. She stopped in the middle, unable to close the distance between her and her Papa. The groan sounded louder this time. Laura could feel her heart beating inside her. She felt something else…something deep inside her. Tears filled her eyes as she listened to Abe’s groans coming from the bedroom, then she slowly walked toward the door.
 
She wasn’t frightened like she thought she would be. She was just curious. What would she find on the other side of the door?
 
Laura lifted her hand and grasped the door knob. He was crying. She could tell that plainly now. Her heart broke as she listened to his cries. Her hand shook as she began turning the doorknob.  The door slowly opened, then she could see his outline on the bed. He was grasping the blankets as he lay on his side. His face was buried in the pillow.
 
Laura slowly walked toward the bed. She stopped beside it and held out her hand. When she had seen her father, he had lain so still, but Abe was moving back and forth as he tried to work through the pain he was feeling. Laura bit her lip. Something inside her snapped. She realized in that moment that she still had her Papa Abe. He wasn’t going to die! His cries of pain told her as much.
 
Laura raised her shaky hand and smoothed the back of his head. Abe stopped his groaning and turned to look at her. There Laura saw it. His eyes held surprise. They quickly turned to question as he searched her face to understand what she was thinking. Then relief came into his eyes. “Does it hurt bad, Papa Abe?”
 
Abe licked his lips and nodded slightly. “It does, Rosebud. But I think it’ll get a lot better…now that you’re here.”
 
Laura stood beside the bed. She still felt some uncertainty. “You’re…not gonna die…are you?”
 
Tears filled Abe’s eyes as he stared at her. “Is that really what you thought? That I was going to…” Laura’s lips started quivering. “Oh Laura…”
 
“They said you would feel better soon…that your pain would go away!” Laura began sobbing. “That’s what Mama told me before…before…Oh Papa!” Laura threw herself onto the bed. She and Abe embraced as they shared tears. “You’re not gonna die! You’re not!” Laura cried. “Oh, I was so scared! I thought…thought…that I was gonna lose another Papa…I thought…” Laura cried even harder.
 
The pain Abe was feeling was very great, but there was someone whose pain was so much greater at the moment. She needed him to help her through her pain. Abe forced himself to shift in the bed. “Come on in,” Abe said softly as he lifted the covers.
 
Laura crawled into the bed and cuddled up next to him. Abe kissed the top of her head and hugged her close. She cried for a long time and Abe shed many tears without shame. He knew Laura needed his tears to heal her.
 
In time, they both laid quietly in the bed. Laura laid a hand on his bandaged chest. “Does it hurt?” Abe nodded. “Will you always have a hole there?”
 
“No sweetie,” Abe answered as he gave her another kiss. “It’ll heal good as new. I’ll come home and we’ll be a family again.”
 
Laura lifted her head to look at Abe. “We never stopped being a family…I just got lost, I guess.”
 
Abe smiled as he pushed her head down in the crook of his arm. “Well, the important thing is that you found your way back, little one. Now you go to sleep.”
 
***
 
Margaret woke up as the sun shone through the frost on the window. She turned to see Lucas still fast asleep on the cot. He had stayed up with Abe a long time until he fell to sleep, and Margaret knew he needed his sleep.
 
After dressing, she walked out into the main room and went to wake Laura up to do the chores, but she stopped when she realized Laura was not there. Margaret hurried to the front door and stepped out onto the porch. She called Laura’s name but got no answer.
 
Margaret hurried back into the house. She saw Lucas standing in the door of their bedroom. “Luke, Laura’s…” Lucas turned and pressed a finger to his lips, then he motioned for her to come to him. Margaret quietly walked toward him and looked in. Tears filled her eyes at the sight she saw.
 
Abe was fast asleep. He seemed more peaceful than he had been in quite some time. Curled up under the covers right next to him was Laura. Her head lay in the cook of his arm and a hand over the bandage on his chest. Both Abe and Laura were sleeping peacefully. Lucas put an arm around Margaret’s shoulders. Margaret lifted her eyes to smile at Luke. “What do you think happened?”
 
“I don’t know.” Lucas turned his head back toward the bed. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words.”
 
Margaret smiled. “I’d say, Luke…That in this case, the picture’s worth a million.”
 
Quietly they stepped out and closed the door to leave father and daughter alone.
 
***
 
Margaret was just putting the last of breakfast on the table when the door to their bedroom opened. Laura stepped out, her head low, and stood in the doorway. Lucas and Margaret paused in their tasks to look up at her. Nobody said a word. Finally, after several moments Margaret said softly, “Well, it’s about time you two were getting up.”
 
Relief shone in Laura’s eyes. She had hoped nobody would ask her about last night. She would tell them in time, but for now she wanted to keep it just between the two of them. “Papa said he’s hungrier than a grizzly. He wants pancakes!”
 
“Pancakes?” Margaret turned and looked at Lucas. “Can he have pancakes?” She wasn’t exactly asking him, but there was no one else to ask.
 
“Darn right I can!” Abe declared. “I told that daughter of mine to hurry before I starve! Lordy, how do you expect a man to live on soup?”
 
Margaret raised an eyebrow at Lucas. Lucas shrugged. “You heard the man. Give him pancakes.”
 
“But what if he chokes?”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas walked up to her and laid his hands on her shoulders. “When we have a baby, if you want him to grow, you’ll have to let him walk even though he may fall and hurt himself.”
 
Margaret gave him a disapproving look. “Lucas McCain…” She shook her head. “You are using my words against me! That’s not fair!”
 
Lucas smiled as he bent down and kissed her. “All’s fair in love and war!”
 
They kissed again, then shared an embrace, forgetting Laura was in the room. “Hey, what’s going on out there?” Abe called.
 
Laura turned. “They’re kissing!”
 
“Will you two love birds cut it out? I’m starving in here!” Abe boomed out this time. Laura turned and looked at Lucas and Margaret. All three of them burst out laughing.

The Margaret Years — A Delayed Thanksgiving

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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