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The Next Step…
Chapter 100 – Distracted
Written by Deanne Bertram

“Papa just got back… Can’t we stay up a little later?” Zach pleaded after Hope had informed them it was time for bed.

“You have school tomorrow,” Hope answered, feeling her son’s disappointment.

Mark took pleasure in tucking his sons into bed after he arrived home. As he tucked Josh in, Mark asked, “Just what’s got you into the giggles tonight?”

“Nothing,” Josh replied.

“Nothing, then I think the tickle monster needs to give you a reason for giggling.”

Mark laughed as he tickled his eldest.

“No, Papa, No!” Josh laughed and tried pushing his Papa’s hands away.

“Then are you going to tell me what was so funny?”

“Papa? You know how much fun we have, riding our ponies?” Josh asked.


“And Mama likes riding her horse?”

“Yes, I know she does.”

“Did you know that Rainmaker likes riding Two-Bits too?”

“What?!” gulped Mark.

“He broke through the corral fence yesterday morning. Uncle Lariat and me heard the noise, and it was so funny watching Rainmaker trying to ride Mama’s horse.”

From under his covers, Zach stated, “I don’t think Two-Bits liked it, he kept biting her on the neck, and she kept trying to kick him.”

Mark shook his head as he tried to decide if it was okay to let his boys believe his horse was trying to ride their Mama’s horse or if he should to explain, it was springtime and his stallion was trying to breed. He’d have a talk with Lariat the next time he saw him…


Mark finally crawled into bed and kissed Hope goodnight, but even with Hope so close and in his arms, sleep wouldn’t come. He lay awake in his bed on his back, resting his head on his arm, remembering how close he had come to Enid, again; curiously wondering about his family still living there… The clock displayed well after midnight the last time he looked at it before he fell asleep.


Lariat’s reply, “Well, if you’d returned when you said, it wouldn’t a happened.”

“Come on Lariat, you know how trains can get delayed…”

“You’re right. Sorry. I should have been more careful and put the ponies in the corral between them two.”

“Well, I do remember thinking on what their offspring would look like. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see if she’s pregnant,” commented Mark.

“Who’s pregnant?” asked Hope as she joined them outside the General Store.

“Your mare, Ma’am,” replied Lariat, tipping his hat. “I wasn’t exactly thinking the other day and Rainmaker broke through the fence and… It is spring.”

“So that’s what all the noise was about,” Hope stated.

“Yes ma’am. Good day Miss Hope,” bid Lariat as he put his hat back on his head and walked away.


The second day back from Cambridge, Mark stood his shift in town and that night, he threw Trumble into jail while Seth helped his wife pick up her packages before he helped her to the clinic.

“Trumble, there’s no call for you to treat your wife as you did. You’re going to spend a few days in jail until you’re good and sober. If she doesn’t press charges against you… So help me, I wish I could do it for her.”

“They’re mine! You got no cause to put me in here!”

“They might be your family, but you don’t deserve them!”

“Who says? I raise them as I was raised. They want to live under my roof and eat my food; they got to work for it! They’ll do as I say.”

“And you’ll do as I say!” a frustrated and angered Mark yelled as he slammed the door shut and turned the key.


Seth returned to the office after seeing Mrs. Trumble home from the clinic, upon entering he heard Mark ask, “How is she?

“Just shaken up and bruised.”

“Let me out of here!” Trumble yelled as he grabbed hold of the bars to the door and tried to shake it.

“Not until you cool off and sober up,” replied Mark.

“How long do you think you can keep him in there?” asked Seth.

“Not as long as I’d like to. I’d really like to see this family get some help, but with Trumble’s drinking and treating them like he does…”

“Mark, there’s not whole a lot we can do…”

“I know. Just ain’t right,” Mark stated as he leaned back in his chair, upset he couldn’t do anything more than what he was.


May fifth dawned bright as Mark helped Hope wake their children for the morning.

“Rise and shine, sleepy heads,” Hoped called as she opened the curtains to the window in the boys’ room.

“Ah, Ma, it too early,” one of the twins called.

“Yes, it is early, but two of you still have to go to school today. Friday is your last day and then you can sleep in as late as you want to Saturday.”

“We help Papa on Saturday, we can’t sleep in…” Eli called from under the covers.

“Well, if you three don’t get up, then someone is just going to miss his birthday,” Hope teased as she ruffled the hair of her youngest son.

“Mama, is today really my birthday?” asked Eli.

“Yes. My little man is turning four today. Now you two, get out from those beds before I send your Papa in to pull you from under those covers.”

“Yes Mama,” the boys called as they slipped from their beds.


“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” stated Mark as he stepped into the stirrup.

“Mama? Are you going to make a chocolate cake today?” asked Zach.

“It’s your brother’s birthday, so it’s whatever kind of cake Eli would like. Now, behave yourself for the final few days of school.”

“We will Mama,” the twins called as Mark turned to ride with his sons and his siblings to school


Throughout the evening, Hope became concerned when she kept having to draw Mark into the conversations or bring it to his attention that Eli was going to open his presents or the candles needed lit on the cake.


Mark bid their guests, Micah and Hattie, Johnny and Colleen, Seth and Lilah goodbye, before he held the door open for Lucas and his family to leave. Once the door was closed, Mark turned to see Hope exiting the boys’ bedroom. Mark started to help clean up the house before turning in for the night.

“Did something happen in town today?” Hope asked. “You seemed distracted tonight.”

“I’m sorry, just a little pre-occupied,” answered Mark, he shrugged his shoulders when Hope gave him a questioning look.

“Care to talk about it?”

“Just the three of us still dealing with Trumble…” replied Mark.

Hope allowed his explanation to suffice.


Lucas and Milly planned a quiet celebration for Mark and Hope’s eighth wedding anniversary, by preparing a surprise family supper.

“SURPRISE!” the children called as Mark and Hope entered the home to gather their children.

“What’s this all about?” asked Hope.

“A little matter of your wedding anniversary. Don’t’ tell me you forgot?” asked Milly in reply.

“No, just didn’t expect to see our children so cleaned up and it’s not a Sunday,” replied a smiling Hope.

“This wasn’t necessary,” commented Mark when he heard the explanation. Upon seeing his children so clean and dressed up Mark stated, “These can’t be our children.”

Throughout supper, Mark allowed the children to do most of the talking. However, when one would ask him a question, he hadn’t paid close enough attention and the child would have to ask again. Mark gave brief answers that ultimately led to more questions being asked. In the past, he would have answered with more detail or his answer would have been in the form of a lesson, so much like how Lucas had answered his questions while growing up… But again, Mark’s thoughts weren’t at home with this part of his family.


Their children we tucked into their beds and asleep. It didn’t surprise Hope when Mark didn’t reply to her asking if he was coming to bed.

“Mark, there is something wrong. You’ve been pensive ever since you returned from Cambridge.”

“Huh? No, nothing’s wrong.”

“Mark, I know you better than this. Please don’t lie to me. Tonight’s not the first time you’ve been so distracted; there was the weekend after you came home, and at Eli’s birthday party.”

“Hope, I’m just having trouble dealing with Trumble… The way he treats his family,” Mark answered without much thought.

“I know, Ma has told me some of the tales Robby has told her. He seems to thrive in having someone he can talk to. And little Eloise, she seems to enjoy Pa paying attention to her when he comes home for lunch. But Mark, trouble in town has never…”

“Hope, please…” stated a tired Mark.

“Okay, happy anniversary,” offered Hope before she kissed her husband goodnight and turned for their bedroom. It didn’t take much for her to realize there was more to Mark’s story than what he was telling her. Unsure what would happen if she really pushed him, she was willing to wait for him to figure out what was really bothering him


Two days later, at Oat’s wedding, everyone had a brief laugh when Reverend McCaffery asked, “Do you Mary Walters, take Otis Alma Jackford to be your lawfully wedded husband…” Those present cut their laughter short when Oat glared their way. During the ceremony, Mark looked on while young Corbin quietly stood and watched as his Ma married Oat. Without realizing it, Mark started wondering what it would have been like, had his Pa found someone to re-marry, before...before they left Enid. He relived some of his memories from the four long years of traveling from one place to the next before it was decided North Fork would become their home. Home, just the two of them; pot-luck stews, smoked hams, flapjacks, sandwiches, sometimes just beans and cornmeal bread, and the rare occasional steak in town… His thoughts drifted to how lucky Corbin was to have two parents at such a young age.

As the wedding reception wound down, Mark sat off to the side, again his thoughts having taken him back;

“You have to stop crying, Mark.”

“But I want Ma. Why can’t she come with us?” a young Mark asked as tears streaked his face.

“She can’t. She’s in heaven,” a younger Lucas replied as he carried the last of their belongings to the wagon.

“Then I want to be in heaven with her.”

The younger Lucas dropped the box of clothes upon hearing his six-year old son. Kneeling down, “Mark, you have to stop this. God called your Ma home. It’s just the two of us. We have to move on. We can’t look back, it can’t be undone.”

After picking up and placing the box of clothes in the back of the wagon and tying the tarp down, Lucas lifted his young son to the seat on the wagon before he set his rifle on against the seat, climbed up the wagon wheel, sat down, picked up the reins, and slapped the horses to move.

He couldn’t look at those on the street watching as they left Enid; he looked straight forward… lest they see how hard he was trying to keep his tears from falling.

“Turn around Mark,” Lucas stated as he spied his young son looking past the back of the wagon as they left the outskirts of Enid.

Slowly Mark turned around and sat facing forward on the bench seat, looking at his hands folded in his lap, his tears falling on his hands, he didn’t bother wiping them from his face.

“Why do we have to leave? Why can’t we stay with Ma?” asked the young Mark.

“There’s nothing left for us.”


“Mark, do as I say. Why don’t you pull out your reader and work on your studies.”

“But Ma always helps…”

“You’ll have to study on your own. I’ll help you of an evening, after we’ve stopped, but you need to understand, your Ma isn’t with us anymore.”

“I don’t …”

“Mark, I’ve tried to explain it to you the best I can. There’s nothing that we can do to change what happened; you have to stop living in the past. Now, dry your tears and start with your reader.”


After several days of traveling, father and son were stopped for the night. Lucas was doing his best to cook their supper over the open campfire.

“Pa, can I put my reader away?” a young Mark asked.

“Have you finished your chapter?”

“My brains is full up and can’t remember anymore that I read,” answered Mark.

“You can put your reader away. Why don’t you see if you can find some more firewood to keep the fire going through the night?”

Mark returned to their camp carrying an armful of small branches to find his Pa wiping off his face with the heel of his right hand.

“Pa? You crying?” asked Mark.

“The wind changed direction and blew some smoke in my eyes. I’ll be fine,” answered Lucas. “Set those there and pick up your plate.”

In time, Mark would fall asleep in his bedroll, either on the ground next to the fire, or under the wagon, or sometimes in the wagon.


The sixth day found them traveling again, “Pa, aren’t we going to town?” Mark asked as Lucas turned the team from the sign pointing the way to Drummond.

“Not today son,” answered Lucas.

“Where are we going?”

Lucas heard the disappointment in his son’s voice.

“To find a fine piece of land we can call home. Mark, are you itching?”

“No, Pa. Just scratching.”

“Let me see!” Lucas tried to keep the fear from his voice after seeing his son scratching his shoulder.

“It’s just that bug bite from the other day,” whispered Mark as he tried to push away his Pa’s hand.

“You will let me see!” Lucas demanded.

After allowing his Pa to see, Mark watched as Lucas picked the reins back up and urged the team to move on.

The days blurred together as the young Mark grieved for his Ma and tried his best not to upset his Pa. To him, it didn’t seem like they were going anywhere in particular, just always on the move.


“Mark?” Hope asked for a third time before she got his attention.

“I’m sorry,” answered Mark. “What were you saying?”

“Oat and Mary are ready to leave, are you coming?”

“Sure, I’ll be right there.”

Friends of the happy couple lined both sides of the walk leading away from the church and threw rice at them as they ran to their carriage to begin their new lives together. Oat took the young Corbin from Johnny Drako and set his new stepson between him and his wife.

The Next Step — The Divide

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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