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The Next Step…
Chapter 37 – Anticipation
Written by Deanne Bertram

It was a couple days before New Year’s Day when Lucas rode to town and stopped by Sweeney’s, after hearing Micah was there. He was trying to recover from his unexpected Christmas presents and trying to set his sights on celebrating his daughter’s upcoming second birthday. Everything had seemed unreal to Lucas, ever since Christmas.

“So LucasBoy, how are you feeling?” Micah asked.

“Lost,” Lucas answered after he ordered a beer.

“Lost, well, let me tell you where you are, you’re in North Fork, New Mexico Territory, at Sweeney’s Saloon,” Micah stated has he slapped Lucas on the back and laughed.

Seeing his friend not respond to him, Micah continued, “Guess I can kind of understand how you’re feeling. A son who’s turned twenty and daughter getting ready to turn two in a couple of days, then finding out you’re going to be a father again AND a grandfather at the same time. Proud to know you still have it boy!” Then grinning, Micah added, “So you thinking the two McCain women conspired against you?”

“Micah, you’re not helping matters.”

“Nope, but I’m having fun. LucasBoy, you should be happy about the upcoming births,” Micah stated as he took a drink from his beer mug.

“I am happy, it’s just that I know Mark and Hope are going to want to start building a home of their own, for their family.”

“Oh, I see. Separation anxiety.” There was a twinkle of understanding in Micah’s eye. “Lucas you knew this day would come. I mean, you couldn’t expect Mark to live under your roof for his entire life.” There was sympathy in Micah’s voice, he realized now was not the time to tease his best friend.

“Lucas, you’ve experienced something I’ll never get to. You and Margaret created a life and you’ve guided him through his growing up years and he’s become a well respected man in this community. Lucas, you raised the boy right. You had to know that someday, he’d leave the nest, they all do eventually.”

“I know, just doesn’t seem possible that he’s old enough.”

“Drown your sorrows, LucasBoy. Many a man never gets to experience what you have. Many long to have a good woman waiting for them. A son they can be proud of AND a son who’s just as proud of their father. If they do choose to build their own home, I’m sure it will be close by. Can’t see Mark having it any other way. Go home to your family and count your blessings. I think you’ll live.”

*****

Lucas’ mood seemed to improve as they celebrated Myra’s birthday. Her laughter was more infectious than Mark’s had been at that age, at least from what Lucas remembered. The family enjoyed watching Myra grab her piece of cake in her hands and squeeze it as she brought it to her mouth.

*****

Later that night, after Milly had bathed Myra and put her to bed, Milly came to sit next to Lucas.

“Well, Lucas, I must say, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that look on your face,” Milly stated as Mark and Hope looked up from their books. “I’m more used to seeing that on Mark’s face when he would sit around and daydream.” Milly reached over and put a hand on Lucas’ arm, slightly startling him. “Lucas?”

“I’m sorry Milly, you were saying?”

“I guess you were lost in your memories.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” Lucas stated as he looked to the window. Everyone else thought Lucas was looking outside, but he was really looking at Mark’s reflection. Remembering back, twenty years worth of memories.

*****

Milly and Hope excused themselves for the night and went to their bedrooms. Mark set his book down and came to sit next to his father. “Pa, you care to talk?”

“Just remembering Mark.”

“Back home to Enid?”

“No son, remembering our home. I can’t believe it’s been ten years that we’ve settled in North Fork. I still want to see you as that small boy, throwing your hat up in the air and yelling when we decided North Fork would be our home. It just doesn’t seem possible that you’re… grown.”

“Pa, I guess this is another one of those times when you’ll tell me I’ll understand when I’m older?” Mark asked, curious.

“Mark, I meant it when I said I didn’t want you and Hope to move out. Even though this family is set to really expand, we can build on to the house. I guess what I’m trying to say is… I’ve gotten used to you and Hope here and this house would seem rather empty without the two of you.”

“I think I understand. We’ll talk about this some other time, when you’re not so melancholy. Goodnight Pa.”

*****

Spring was arriving and in between shifts in town as a deputy and still helping out at the school, Mark spent a lot of time working the ranch. Even though it had been a mild winter, the fence posts that in previous years had been sound, needed replaced. The cattle decided this year would be a bumper year for calves. Lucas and Mark had to locate cows from their birthing locations and move them back to the main herd on a daily basis. The hog even gave birth to her largest litter to date.

Between the livestock and planting, teaching, and working as a deputy, Mark barely had time to think on a home for him and Hope.

*****

One night, mid-May, after Mark and Hope retired to their bed, he marveled at the new life growing within his wife. He placed his hand on her side and quickly pulled it back when he felt the baby kick. “Seems our son is quite active tonight, my love.”

“And why couldn’t this child be a daughter?” Hope queried.

“As active has he is, the baby could only be a boy.”

“Well, your son has been active all day. I just wish he’d settle down some before he’s born, I want to be able to sleep the night through, some day.”

“Hope, he’s a McCain, and if he’s anything like I was…” Mark quieted as he placed his hand back to Hope’s growing belly and then leaned over and whispered, “Son, your Ma would like to get some sleep tonight. Tell you what, why don’t you settle down for the night. Hope, would you like for me to ask Doc Burrage for something to help you sleep?” he whispered.

“I don’t think I should,” Hope rolled over to her side, with her back to Mark. Mark took the time to rub her back, focusing a lot on the small of her back. As he rubbed his hands across her back, Hope sighed in appreciation. He continued to work Hope’s back, even after he realized she had fallen asleep.

Mark was concerned, this child, his child, appeared it was going to be a large baby. Mark worried whether Hope would be able to carry their son to term. The strain this baby was already putting on Hope’s body was more than what Milly was experiencing. To begin with, Hope was smaller than Milly; was that why the morning sickness she experienced lasted so much longer? Even though she tried to take it easy, Hope tired so much easier than Milly. Mark worried; maybe Hope was too young to be pregnant. He hid his thoughts from Hope during the day, but at night he couldn’t hide his worries from himself.

Mark was thankful when Miss Hattie offered to take over watching the children at the day care, a few weeks before. As Hope progressed in her pregnancy, Mark had grown more concerned about her traveling to and from town, even traveling with Milly, Mark worried. Besides, Hattie was enjoying all her new grandchildren and Micah was spending more and more afternoons at the day care. Mark knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before Micah retired, he’d overheard Micah and Johnny talking a week before. This gave him and Hattie something to do, to still feel needed.

*****

School was fast approaching summer break. One night, after Milly and Lucas retired to bed, Milly discussed with Lucas, that once this school year was over, the town council should really think about hiring another teacher. With two children, plus a grandchild, Milly didn’t think that she could continue to devote full time as a teacher. She’d hoped that she could continue as a tutor, if there were a need.

Lucas was pleased his wife came to the conclusion on her own. A he laid beside her, he rubbed his hand over her very pregnant belly. “Two more months to go my love, unless this one decides to be like Myra and make an early appearance,” Lucas stated.

“So, are you happy?” Milly asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve you and soon, you’re going to give birth to another child.”

“Lucas, have you talked with Mark lately?” Milly asked as she turned on her side to look at Lucas.

“We talk each day. Why do you ask?” Lucas asked, concerned.

“Lucas, this is his first child. I can see worry in his face when he thinks no one is watching -- when he’s walking from the barn to the house or out chopping wood. I know Hope is having difficulty with her pregnancy, but as someone who’s also expecting a child, maybe you should talk with Mark. He’s probably not said anything because he doesn’t want to worry you.”

“Are you concerned about Hope too?”

“I am Lucas. That’s why I asked Hattie if she wouldn’t mind taking over watching the children at the day care. Trying to make things easier for Hope. I guess that’s also the reason why I’ve decided to give up teaching full time.”

“When is Hope’s next appointment with Doc Burrage?” Lucas asked.

We both have an appointment on Thursday.” Milly replied.

“Tell you what, why don’t Mark and I go with you.”

“I’d like that Lucas.”

Soon they were asleep.

*****

Lucas, Mark, and Hope waited in the front of Doc Burrage’s office, while Milly was in a back room. Doc pronounced Milly quite healthy and everything was progressing nicely.

“So, before I let you go, do you have any questions for me?” Thadd asked.

“Not about me Doc, but Hope…” Milly started. “Doc, she’s having a real tough time of it this past month. She tires so easily and the baby seems to be taking so much out of her... I mean I had difficulty with Myra, but it passed by the beginning of my fifth month, we’re both seven months into our pregnancies and she’s still having difficulties.”

“Okay, I thought it would have passed by now too. Let me check her out, next. When you’re ready, head on out front and send Hope back here.”

*****

As Hope’s exam started, Doc asked her how she was doing. When she answered fine, Doc stated, “You and I both know you’re lying. Hope, I’m your doctor. I can see it in your face. Truthfully now.” He smiled as he patted her arm and removed his stethoscope from around his neck.

“Doc, I’m just so tired. I don’t get much sleep from the baby being so active. Each night Mark rubs my back to help me feel better, but it doesn’t last. When I get up in the morning, I still feel sick to my stomach.”

Doc placed his hand on Hope’s belly when he saw her flinch, he felt just how active the baby was, but then concern grew on his face.

“Hope, just lie down. I want to listen for the baby’s heartbeat.”

“Doc?” Hope asked, scared.

“It’s okay Hope. Just lie back.” Doc supported Hope as she laid down, Abigail came into the room at that time.

After listening for several minutes and repositioning his stethoscope several times, he ‘Hmmm’d” to himself.

“Doc?”

“Hope I think I just found out why you’re so tired and still experiencing morning sickness symptoms.”

“Abigail, would you bring Mark back here?”

“Should I bring Lucas and Milly, too?”

“Yes, go ahead and bring them all.”

Doc helped Hope sit up on the examination table.

“Doc? What’s wrong with our baby?”

“Hope, nothing’s wrong.”

Shortly Abigail returned with Mark, Lucas, and Milly. Mark walked to Hope’s side and picked up her hand and kissed it.

“Doc? Are Hope and the baby okay?” Mark asked, not taking his eyes off Hope.

“Hope’s doing fine, but I’ve news about the baby.”

“He’s going to be okay, isn’t he?” Panic could be heard in Mark’s voice. Lucas and Milly held tight to each other.

“The baby is quite active, but… Mark I think you should sit down. Please sit down next to Hope.”

Once Mark was seated and had an arm around his wife, Doc looked over his shoulder to Milly and Lucas, smiled and gave a slight laugh.

“Mark, Hope told me about the difficulties she’s still experiencing. Now, it’s not too common with young, first time mothers for their symptoms to last longer than normal, but... Well, I listened hard to the baby’s heartbeat. I found something more than I expected.” Placing a hand on Mark’s shoulder, “There was more than one baby’s heartbeat that I heard.”

“I don’t understand, Doc.”

“Mark, I’m pretty sure Hope is carrying twins.”

“Twins?”

“It would explain all her symptoms, two babies are developing and pulling their nourishment from Hope. I think if Hope starts eating a little bit larger meals and then more frequently throughout the day, that will stop the queasiness, but she’s still going to need to take it easy. Carrying two for someone of her size, we just need to be careful.” Then turning to Hope, “Hope, you only have two more months to go, so from here on, I want to see you every week. Then during your last month, I’ll want you to stay here in town. Medical literature indicates that twins generally arrive a little premature, so if they do come early, you’ll be close by and I can get to you quickly.”

Doc turned back to look at Mark, who was still gaping his mouth open and stating “twins”.

Lucas and Milly stood to the side, grinning and trying to keep from laughing as they watched the expression on Mark’s face.

“Twins,” Mark stated as Lucas place a hand under Mark’s arm to get him to his feet.

“Come on boy. Let’s get lunch at the hotel before we all head on home,” Lucas stated as they left Doc’s office.

*****

Abigail looked to her husband, “So just when do we make our next house call to the McCain Ranch? Do you think Mark will need something a little stronger than brandy we offered to Lucas?”

Doc pulled his wife into an embrace, “I wasn’t sure who was going to take it harder, Lucas or Mark. Mrs. Burrage, maybe we should think about starting our own family.”

“Well, Mr. Burrage, I have some news for you. I think we already have.”

Thadd looked to Abigail in askance. “Yes, I think I’m pregnant,” she stated as she gave her husband a kiss.

*****

The McCain’s enjoyed a very slow evening at the Summer Social. Father and son were happy to just sit down next to their wives and enjoy the food, the conversation with various citizens of the town, and just enjoy the evening. Mark knew that soon it would be time for Hope to start living in town, until their babies were born. Hattie had offered them Hope’s old room.

The McCain’s and the Drako’s watched as Myra was dancing with young Connor. More often than not, Connor ended up on his fanny, still unsure of his legs. Though he would clap and smile at those around him watching.

Before the social officially came to an end, the McCain family headed for home.

The Next Step — Father and Son, Side by Side

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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