The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 8 - Birthdays
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lucas finally allowed Mark outside to help with a few chores in the barn. Lucas made sure he was bundled up well against the chill. It grieved Mark when he saw Blue Boy’s haunches. “Pa? I didn’t know Blue Boy got hurt. Is he lame? Is he going to be okay?”

“Mark, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but the vet said he was going to make a quicker recovery than you. All he has to do now is grow back the hair.” Lucas watched as Mark leaned his head against Blue Boy’s and then offered him a sugar cube. He laughed as Blue Boy continued to nudge Mark, looking for more.

The McCain’s worked on their chores, Lucas keeping a watchful eye over Mark to make sure he didn’t overdo it.

“Pa?”

“Yes Mark?”

“Did you and Miss Milly set a date?” Mark asked.

“We talked about setting the date.”

“Well?”

“Mark, we had talked about Christmas Eve, but that was before your accident.”

“Pa, you can still get married then. I’m getting stronger each day and Doctor Burrage said I’d eventually get a clean bill of health.”

“Come on Mark, let’s get you, those eggs, and the milk back to the house,” Lucas replied.

“Pa, please. Don’t put off marrying Miss Milly just because of me.”

“Mark, it’s pretty short notice.”

Mark started to chastise his Pa, “Pa, it’s a little more than two weeks away. Pa, please…”

Lucas nodded his head and said, “I’ll ask Milly when I see her this afternoon.”

*****

Lucas went into town that afternoon to pick up a few supplies. Milly and Hope met him coming out of the store. “Lucas? How is Mark doing today?”

“Up to mischief.” Lucas declared with a smile on his face.

“Mischief, oh Lucas, what did he do now?”

“He asked me this morning if we had set a date. I told him we had but decided to postpone it until he was fully recovered. He told me that I better keep to our original date.” Lucas pulled Milly into an embrace and gave her a playful kiss.

“Now hold on there,” could be heard from behind as Micah walked up.

“Mister, seeing as how Miss Scott is a fine, respectable woman, I’ll throw you in jail for manhandling her,” Micah called.

Lucas and Milly looked at each other and laughed.

“Marshal, they’re going to be married,” Hope said.

“LucasBoy,” was all Micah could say. “When?”

“Well, we had thought about a Christmas Eve ceremony, but that was before Mark’s accident.” Lucas answered.

“And I bet that boy of yours is pushing you to keep your date,” Micah stated.

Milly blushed as she nodded.

“Just wait ‘till I spread the news,” Micah stated. “So, who’s going to give away the bride?” he proudly asked.

“What bride?” Lou asked as she and Johnny came up behind. “Milly?! Cowboy, it’s about time.” Lou stood up on her tip toes, grabbed Lucas’ head and pulled it to her as she gave him a big kiss on the lips.

“Now Lou, I’m spoken for,” Lucas declared as a blush crossed his cheeks.

“But the ring’s not there yet,” Lou stated with an Irish lilt to her voice.

Milly, Lou, and Hope left Lucas, Johnny and Micah standing on the boardwalk.

“So, Lucas, when’s the big day?” Johnny asked.

Micah answered, “If Mark has his way, Christmas Eve.”

“Speaking of Mark, Lucas. Are we still invited out Saturday for their birthdays?”

“Their birthdays?” Lucas asked.

“Lou told me that Mark received a wire from Hope’s family. Seems she and Mark share the exact same birthday.”

“Thanks Johnny. I’ll see you two tomorrow. You too Micah.”

*****

First thing Saturday morning, Lucas harnessed up the team and hitched them to the buckboard for him and Mark to ride to town. Doctor Burrage wanted to take one more look at Mark’s injuries. As they left Doc’s, Hope and Milly were waiting.

“Hope, don’t you fret none. Doc said Mark was on the road to a full recovery. Another week and those marks across his back will be fully healed,” Lucas stated as he put an arm around Milly and Hope and walked them to the livery and saw them to their buggy.

“Mr. McCain, would it be okay if you and Miss Milly rode in the buggy and Mark and I returned in the buckboard?”

Lucas smiled and nodded. Hope ran back to the buckboard and jumped in the seat. Lucas and Milly laughed as they watched the ‘kids’ drive away. Hope driving the team as Mark sat back, smiling.

“Glad for some alone time with you, Milly,” Lucas said as he gave her a kiss, then lifted her to the buggy.

*****

It was the small group of friends that gathered at the McCain Ranch – his Pa, Miss Milly, Hope, Johnny and Lou, Micah, and Miss Hattie.

Mark was pleased to surprise Hope with the news that they shared the exact same birthday, when Lucas brought two cakes out, both with seventeen candles. Mark insisted that Hope sit on his lap.

“Hope, it’s your birthday too. I know Lou wanted a big celebration for me, but I wanted it to be with just family and a few friends. It means more to me just to share our birthdays.” Mark took his finger and stuck it in the icing and then plopped it on the end of Hope’s nose as she tried swatting at his hand. The small group laughed at the two of them.

Mark explained the tradition of making a wish and blowing out the candles. Milly was just starting to cut the cake when the sound of riders approaching could be heard. Lucas stepped to the porch, everyone could hear him exclaim, “Oh my, everyone’s inside. Come on in out of the cold!”

Lucas opened the door wide and in stepped two cavalry officers, as they removed their hats.

“Father! Ethan!” Hope yelled. “My wish, it came true!” Both men pulled Hope into a big hug.

“Lucas, sorry we didn’t send word, but we thought we’d surprise Hope. We got a wire from Mark inquiring about Hope’s birthday, and we decided we should come,” Seth stated.

“I’m glad you did,” Lucas answered. “We were just about to cut the cakes.”

“Cakes?” Ethan asked.

“Ethan, Mark and I share the same birthday, today.”

Seth walked behind Mark and gave him a congratulatory slap on the back. Mark winced deeply and uncontrollably let out a cry. Everyone else present gasped.

“Mark?” Lucas asked as he approached and placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder.

“Lucas, I…” Seth stated. Concerned about what was wrong.

“It’s okay, Major. You didn’t know. I just thought my back was healed more than it is.” Mark said as he let out a long, deep breath.

Ethan and Seth looked to each other and then to Hope. She had knelt down in front of Mark, hand on his face, as she looked over her shoulder to speak.

“Pa, Mark was mauled by a cougar a few weeks ago. His wounds still aren’t healed. ”

“Hope, Mark, I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” Seth asked.

“Sir there’s nothing to forgive. I’m thankful that you’re here. It makes Hope’s birthday all the more special.” Mark finally looked up, the pain from the slap having subsided.

Milly finished cutting the cakes and serving to their guests. Conversation lasted well into the night.

Hope had left with her father and brother. Their other guests had left and Milly was finishing in the kitchen, standing next to Lucas when she pointed over towards Mark, sleeping in his chair.

“Lucas, he must have been so precious as a small boy growing up.”

“Yes, he was and still is. He’s my whole world, and if you’ll agree, Christmas Evening you’ll make my world that much better.”

“Lucas, are you sure?”

“Milly, if I had my way I’d say Reverend McCafferty would marry us tomorrow.” Lucas stood behind Milly, pulled her pony tail to the side, then wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her neck.

“Lucas, we do have a problem,” Milly stated.

“It can wait.”

“Lucas, once we’re married. I presume you intend to have us live here?”

“Of course… Oh, what do we do with your home in town?”

“Lucas I’ve already talked with Hattie and she’s agreed to stay on in North Fork. While she was away, tending to her sister, she told me she could never get North Fork out of her mind. Besides, that’s NOT the problem I was referring to,” as she again pointed to the bedroom door.

“Oh,… we do have a problem. Mark.”

“What did I do this time?” they heard a sleepy Mark ask.

Lucas stepped from Milly and laughed.

“Stayed up past your bedtime, get to bed. Goodnight son.” Lucas said.

“Goodnight Mark.” Milly offered.

“Goodnight…” Mark stopped at the doorway to his bedroom. “Miss Milly, once you and Pa are married, guess I can stop calling you Miss Milly, but what should I call you.”

“Mark, we can talk about that the closer we get to Christmas Eve.”

*****

Lucas tied Razor to the back of the buggy and drove Milly to town.

*****

Mark woke the next morning as his Pa was rising. He stretched his arms and gave a small cry.

“Mark, turn around and let me see your back,” as he reached for the ointment. “I’m sorry son, I forgot we needed to put this on before you went to bed last night.”

As they were eating breakfast, Lucas decided to broach the ‘problem’ with Mark.

“Mark, Milly brought to my attention a little problem we’re going to have once we’re married.”

“Pa, I don’t think it’s a little problem. Right now, your problem is about five foot, eight,” Mark laughed. “Seems we need to do a little bit of construction. I guess I’m a little too big to sleep in the same room as my parents, especially with you going to be newlyweds and all.”

“Oh, you!” Lucas declared as he threw a towel at Mark. “I’ll hitch the team and we can head into town, once you get dishes done.”

Once in town, and after Toomey and Nils got over their ‘coughing fits’, they agreed to help. Over the course of the next two weeks, they worked on building an addition to the McCain Ranch. Mark would keep his current bedroom, while the new edition would belong to Lucas and Milly.

The Next Step — Mrs. Lucas McCain

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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