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The Next Step…
Chapter 18 - Thanksgiving, Again
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lou had insisted that in Milly’s condition, she should not be cooking for Thanksgiving at the McCain Ranch. Lou stated adamantly that the McCain’s, Hope, Micah, and Hattie, would be expected at the hotel for dinner with her and Johnny.

Milly had insisted on baking her apple pie. Hattie and Hope worked with Lou in the kitchen, while Milly was relegated to either supervising from a chair or upstairs to take a nap.

Mark would frequently come into the kitchen to ask one of the women to come out and check on how the men were organizing the dining room, sampling a finger full of food each time and sneaking a kiss from Hope.

“Mark McCain, you come in here one more time and sneak food,” Lou’s Irish temper was up. She was pointing at him with a wooden spoon, threatening him. “And so help me….”

“Okay Lou, I get the point. But I’m being worked harder than any of the men out front and my frail body can’t help it if everything smells so good.”

“I don’t think foods all you’re hankering for, young man. You better keep your distance from here on out or I just might take that wooden spoon to your backside. This young lady whose cheeks you so callously peck on is my ward. And I’ll not have you man-handle her in such a manner,” Hattie stated, unable to keep a straight face.

“Miss Hattie, I’ll keep my distance, but you better talk to her about those eyes of her’s. She should keep them off of me, as well.” Mark left the room, but not before sneaking another finger full of pumpkin pie filling. And Lou throwing the wooden spoon after him.

The women laughed and shook their heads.

“Hope, that young man sure does care something fiercely for you. You realize how special he is to me?” Hattie asked.

“Yes ma’am. He’s special to me too.” Hope replied.

“Hope, it’s not just Mark who considers you special, we all do. What you’ve gone through prior to coming to live in North Fork and then how well you’ve adjusted to life here. One would never know,” Lou stated.

“Hope, I never knew why it was that you’re living in North Fork. Now child, I understand your father and brother are in the cavalry and living on an army post is nowhere to raise a daughter, but how is it that you were living with Milly? She only showed up a month or so before I did. And that young man was sorely in love with you before I arrived.”

Hope wiped her hands on her apron and walked to sit down on the steps leading from the kitchen.

“Child, I don’t mean to pry. You don’t have to say anything, it was wrong of me to ask.”

“No, Miss Hattie,” Hope started. “I’m just surprised that you’d not heard my story from anyone else.”

Hattie sat down next to Hope on the stairs and placed her arm around Hope’s shoulders.

“I mean, it’s been over a year and no one ever told you?” Hattie shook her head. “Miss Hattie, for six years I lived with the Kiowa. My mother had passed and my father sent me to live with his sister and her family. As you said, raising a daughter at a fort is hard. I had been there for about four months when men attacked and killed everyone. I had been playing by myself and they didn’t know I was there.

“I was found by a Kiowa Indian chief, he backtracked to the burned homestead and found the family dead. He then took me to live as his daughter. For six years, I lived as Kiowa. Then strangers came to our camp. During the night, they stole me away. They were going to kill me to force my Indian father to start a war against the white man. I got away one day, but they caught me again. Then a stranger came to my rescue. He chased the men away. His voice was so kind, his eyes so gentle, his hands so soft as he tended to the lash mark on my back, from those men. He took me to his home. They welcomed me and offered me safety. He and his father, they no longer felt like strangers.

“Those men came again and took me from him. He and his father and the others, they came and rescued me again. As he stood in front of that man, he offered to give his life so that I wouldn’t be harmed anymore. I saw sorrow in his eyes, but it wasn’t sorrow for him to lose his life. It was sorrow for how those men treated me. Behind the sorrow, I heard his voice strong and defiant, he was there to protect me and would do anything to see that those men…”

Hope stopped speaking as she remembered the look on his face. All she could say was, “Mark.”

All three women were quiet, Lou and Milly had known Hope lived as Kiowa, but they didn’t know the whole story. Each one pulled Hope into a precious hug.

“Hope,” Milly said. “When the day comes that Mark does take you as a wife, I will be honored and proud to have you as my daughter. I feel that way now and I know our bond will only grow stronger once that day arrives.”

Hope used her apron to wipe the tears from her face.

“Hope, you don’t have anything to worry about. Now I know why Mark said he wanted me to know you for who you are, not your past. I’ve grown to love you and now that I know, I can’t imagine loving you any more than I already do. And if that young man EVER treats you differently, then you just come to Grandma Hattie and I’ll see he makes a trip to the woodshed. And it won’t be to get no kindling.” Hattie nodded her head as she finished speaking.

*****

Milly excused herself from the group, said she wanted to go lie down for a while. As she entered the lobby, Lucas saw her head to the stairs. He walked over and escorted her to a room Lou had set aside for the day.

As they entered the room, Lucas saw tears streaming down Milly’s face.

“Milly, what’s wrong? Should I get the doctor?”

“No Lucas, I’m alright. Hope just told us her story. Lucas, I declare, Mark has loved her since he first laid eyes on her. Did you know he offered to give his life to save her’s?”

“He told me.”

“Lucas, I know Hope is special to Mark, I just didn’t realize the depth or exactly why. He feels towards her as I do towards you.”

“I know. Now, why don’t you lie down and sleep. I’ll come to wake you before we’re ready to sit down to eat.”

Lucas gently kissed Milly on the forehead as he pulled a cover up over her. He turned to walk to the door and heard, “Lucas, I love you.”

Lucas smiled and replied, “I love you too. Now, get some sleep.”

Lucas pulled the door too, behind him.

*****

The feast was everything that Thanksgiving was all about. The women out did themselves with all the trimmings. As they gathered around the table, they reached for the hand of the person standing next to them. Lucas offered grace, thanking God for the bountiful harvest, and the blessings of family and friends. A squeeze of the hand progressed around the circle of family and friends. They sat down and enjoyed.

The Next Step — Turning 18

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

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