The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before

Chapter 23 - A Time to Live
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
He staggered into the saloon, drunk as usual. Now days, nobody paid him no mind. He was a common face in the Circle Q – about as common as the clock that always ran ten minutes fast on the wall behind him. Besides that, he always sat way back at a corner table where he could be left alone.
 
But tonight, his drunkenness only served to make his already sour mood worse. The memories that plagued him on this night were so great inside him. Things were so different from a year ago, and he couldn’t help but remember back to happier times…the times when he was proud and had everything to live for. But tonight he could only think of what happened that evening a year ago. That was the evening when his innocence and memories came crashing down around him.
 
The man continued to pour drink after drink in his whisky glass, hoping to drown the memories, but each drink only served to intensify the memory.
 
A stranger walked through the doors. He wore double guns and carried the gun belt way down on his hips. The man walked with a bad limp. Men sitting at tables all turned to stare at him. They wondered what had happened to this man. “Brandy!” The man pulled his hat further down on his head and turned around to see who was staring at him. He propped his elbows on the bar and narrowed his eyes. “Suppose none of you have ever seen an ex-Rebel soldier before, huh?”
 
Men suddenly averted their eyes at this announcement. But the stranger turned and drank his brandy down. Then he slowly stood up and placed his hands on his guns. “Yes sir! I was a damn good soldier, if I do say so! Every battle I fought in, I shot at least five or so Yankees! Yes sirree!” He laughed. “Then one day a Union soldier shot me in the leg. Yeah, but I got him back! Sure enough! I blew that boys’ head off!”
 
From the back, the sound of a glass hitting the table hard echoed through the saloon. The stranger turned to see the drunk stand from the table and slowly walk over to him. “You say you killed a lot of Union Solders?” The stranger nodded proudly. “Were you in Virginia?”
 
“I sure was, mister!”
 
“Could be you killed my son.” The drunk stood in front of the stranger. “You proud of that?”
 
“It’s unfortunate your son chose to fight on the wrong side!” The man declared as he tapped his gun. “Why don’t you go on back over to that table and sit down?”
 
The drunk was angry now. He grabbed the man by his collar and flung him up against the bar. “YOU could have killed my SON and yet you laugh about it?”
 
“Samuel!” Ike, the bartender, warned.
 
“You stay out of this, Ike! It’s no concern of yours.” Samuel pushed a finger in the stranger’s face. “Now, tell me the truth. How many men did you kill in the war?”
 
The stranger laughed. Samuel grew angry and reared back to punch him. But the young man had strength and kicked Samuel hard across the room. Samuel stood and drew his gun, but the other man was faster. The shot fired. He felt a pain in his chest then he crumpled to the floor.
 
Marshal Williams hurried through the door. He bent down beside Samuel and looked him over. He lifted his head. “This man’s in a bad way! Get him to the doctor! Quick!” Marshal Williams slowly stood up and walked toward the stranger. “I’ll have your gun.”
 
“No sir!” The stranger declared. “I shot in self defense!”
 
“No way!” Marshal Williams declared.
 
Ike cleared his throat. “I’m afraid he’s right, Marshal. Sam drew first.”
 
Marshal Williams narrowed his eyes in disbelief. It didn’t seem possible…but it was.
 
***
 
The banging on the door sounded in the middle of the night. Margaret slowly sat up in bed wondering where the noise was coming from. Bang Bang Bang! Someone was knocking on the door. “What is that?” Beth asked tiredly as she slowly sat up in bed.
 
“Someone’s at the door,” Margaret answered as she stood from the bed and grabbed her robe. The knock sounded again. “Come on! Wake up already!” A man’s voice sounded from the other side.
 
Margaret and Beth hurried from the bedroom. “Alright! I’m coming!” Scott declared as he opened the door to his bedroom and snapped his pants on the way to the door.
 
The whole Gibbs’ house was awake now. When Scott opened the door, Ike, the bartender from the Circle Q, was standing there. “Ike?” Scott buttoned his shirt. “What are you doing here, man? It’s one in the morning!”
 
“I know. Can I come in?” Scott stood back to allow Ike inside while Amanda went to light the lantern on the table. Ike looked nervous and agitated as he shrugged out of his coat and stood in front of the Gibbs family. “Scott…Mrs. Gibbs…I’m afraid I…I have some bad news.”
 
Margaret’s heart started beating fast. “Pa? Is it Pa?”
 
Ike nodded.
 
“What’s wrong?” Beth suddenly cried out. “What’s happened?”
 
“There’s been an…accident,” Ike answered as he cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. “I’m afraid he got into some trouble tonight.”
 
“Just spill it!” Scott angrily demanded. “What did he do this time?”
 
“He’s hurt…bad.” Ike turned and looked at each family member. “I tried to stop him! I assure you I did, but…he was so stubborn and…”
 
“Drunk!” Scott declared.
 
“A man…he came in tonight claiming he’s a rebel soldier and he started talking about the men he killed. Your father…he was pretty wasted as usual.” Ike sighed. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
 
Jennifer slowly sat down at the table while Amanda went to put the coffee on. Johnny and Scott slowly sat down while Margaret and Beth continued standing, staring at Ike. “Sam…he drew his gun against the man, but the man was faster. He rode out of town after the shooting.”
 
“Pa…” Margaret felt her knees grow weak. “Pa…he’s…he’s shot?”
 
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
 
“Bad?” Jennifer asked. “I mean…is he going to…”
 
“Dr. Stevens is with him now. He told me you should come. He’s not sure if…”
 
“Ike…please…” Scott swallowed hard. “Just tell us…how bad is it?”
 
“He was shot in the chest,” Ike answered. “The doctor’s working on him now.”
 
“We’ll be there,” Jennifer stated as she hurried toward the bedroom. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
 
The Gibbs all hurried to their rooms to get dressed. Margaret anxiously waited for the others as she clung to her Bible and dropped to her knees to pray. Scott rushed inside to announce the team was hitched up. The Gibbs all climbed into the wagon.
 
Margaret held her Bible to her chest and prayed the whole entire way to town.
 
***
The town was dark. Long ago had the last drunk staggered from the swinging doors of the saloon. The only lights shining in town was a dim light in the doctor’s office and a light at the Marshal’s. The sound of the wagon pulling into town echoed up and down the now vacant street. Scott’s call for the horses to stop sounded loud in the silence.
 
Slowly, the family walked toward the doctor’s office. They didn’t want to know what the outcome would be, yet they had to know. Scott held up a hand for everyone to wait outside while he stepped inside and closed the door. “Doc?” he called in a nervous voice.
 
Doctor Stevens stood from where he had slumped over at his desk and hurried toward Scott. “He’s asleep. I did the best I could.”
 
“Is he going to live?”
 
Dr. Stevens sighed. “Scott…I just don’t know. The next 48 hours or so will be critical.”
 
“Can we see him?” Scott wasn’t sure if he felt better or worse with the news he just received.
 
“He’s asleep. He’ll be asleep for several hours.” Dr. Stevens nodded. “But you can look in on him. Perhaps your mother could sit with him.”
 
Scott nodded and hurried to the door. He escorted his family inside. They silently made their way to their room where Samuel lay. They looked down at him. He was covered in a white sheet and a black blanket. Only his face and one part of a bare shoulder could be seen. His face was ashen and his lips pressed tightly together.
 
“He looks so pale,” Beth commented tearfully.
 
Margaret threw a hand to her mouth upon seeing the state her father was in. “Oh Papa…” she cried. “Papa…why?”
 
Scott stood over his father. He felt mixed emotions as his wife took his hand in hers and squeezed. He shook his head silently. He was angry, worried, sad, and grateful all at the same time. He didn’t allow any expression to lay on his face, but kept it neutral. “Let’s go out,” Scott mumbled as he led his family out. Margaret picked up her father’s hand and held it to her cheek. Scott put his hands on her shoulders. “Come on, Sis.”
 
The family made their way back into the waiting room. “How bad is he, doctor?” Jennifer asked in a tearful voice as she pressed a hand to her chest. “I mean…what are his chances?”
 
“They aren’t good,” Doctor Stevens answered honestly. “Your husband’s injuries should have killed him but…the truth is that being drunk probably saved his life.” Dr. Stevens ran a hand through his graying hair.  “There’s something in alcohol that slows the body down. I don’t really understand much about it but…”
 
The door opened. Marshal Williams came inside and looked grimly at the family. “Scott…Mrs. Gibbs…” he nodded as he took off his hat. “I’m…sorry for what’s happened.”
 
“Is it true what Ike said? Pa drew first?” Scott asked suddenly.
 
“Scott!” Amanda warned.
 
“No.” Jennifer held up her hand. “I don’t understand. Marshal, my husband isn’t a violent man. It couldn’t have happened that way. There must be some mistake!”
 
“It breaks my heart to say this.” Marshal Williams looked down at the floor. “I’d give anything to say it wasn’t true but…it is. He’s usually just a lousy drunk…” Marshal Williams gasped. “Oh, forgive me!” He lowered his head again. “Tonight…he was different. From what I gathered, this stranger came in there looking for a fight…bragging about all the rebel soldiers he’s killed and Samuel started thinking that maybe Andy was one of them.” Marshal Williams saw the deep burden of grief that came over the family upon hearing the words. He toyed with the hat in his hands. “Uh…the clerk at the hotel has some rooms ready for you. I think you should all go get some sleep. I’m sure the doctor will wake you if there’s any change.”
 
Without saying a word, they slowly walked out. But Jennifer turned and looked back into the room where her sleeping husband was laying so pale and still. “Mother…” Scott took her shoulders to lead her out.
 
“No. I’m staying right here,” Jennifer whispered.
 
“Oh mother….” Beth started.
 
“Let her stay,” Margaret spoke softly from behind them. “This is where a wife belongs…at her husband’s side. Just let her stay.”
 
Scott shook his head but allowed her to go into his father. Her children watched her sit down and take his hand. Then she bowed her head and prayed. They walked out and across the street. Margaret saw her brother’s jaw clinching and didn’t pretend to not know why. He was angry with their father. But Margaret was sorry for him. She always was. But for the first time…she was trying to keep her own anger at bay. How could he do this to his family? Part of her told her he was being selfish. But the other part of her…She couldn’t imagine the pain and sorrow…the guilt…her father had carried around all this time. It had been…
 
Margaret suddenly gasped and threw a hand to her mouth as they walked into the hotel. Scott and Amanda had gone into their room already, but Beth turned and looked at her. “Beth…Today is…is…”
 
“What?” Beth asked, suddenly taking her hand and staring into her eyes.
 
“A year ago today…”
 
Beth gasped and closed her eyes. “A year ago today we got the telegram.”
 
An eerie silence fell over the sisters as they remembered back. Margaret watched her sister go into the room, then turned around and walked back out the door and across the street.
 
She opened the door to Dr. Steven’s office and went inside where her mother and father were. Margaret got a chair and sat down next to her mother. “Mother…I think I know what happened. One year ago today, we…”
 
Jennifer gasped as her eyes filled with tears. She turned and put a hand on her husband’s bearded cheek. “Did you hear that, husband? Now we know why you got so angry tonight. Oh…can’t you find it within yourself to forgive yourself?” Jennifer stared at her husband. “I’ve never loved another as much as your father, Margaret. This year…it’s been so hard on me…It’s almost like he…he…”
 
“I know, Mama. I heard you cry at night. I saw your downcast face. But…I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how it would feel to have the man you’ve loved for so long to just up and leave.”
 
“You go on to bed now, Margaret. I’ll just stay here with your father.”
 
“Mama, I…I want to stay. I…I believe in him even if the others don’t.”
 
“No, honey.” Jennifer shook her head. “I need…need to be alone with him. Please understand.” Jennifer turned and looked into her daughter’s eyes.
 
Margaret nodded. “I do, Mama. I understand.” She stood and walked to the door. “G’night, Mama. G’night, Papa.”
 
***
 
Scott paced the length of the floor in his hotel room. Amanda sat down on the bed. “Scott, come to bed! We need to rest before the morning comes. We don’t know what it will hold.”
 
“Rest…” Scott sneered angrily. “How can he do this, Amanda? HOW?” Scott shook his head. “He’s put our family through HELL this past year! He’s upset Mother again and…Damn it! Why is he doing this to us?”
 
“Scott, your father may be dying. I don’t think you should…”
 
“Should what? Be angry with Pa for running from his problems…hiding behind a bottle when things get rough? What did I do when Andy died? I picked myself up and went back to work while Pa…” Scott stopped.
 
“Scott, there are other people in this hotel, so stop yelling!” Amanda demanded harshly. She got  up from where she sat and stood in front of him. “And when did this become all about YOU?”
 
“It’s not!” Scott declared in a quieter voice. “This is about Mother and Margaret…Beth and Johnny…They are suffering so much because of what our father did! Why did we all go on while Pa just…”
 
“I don’t know, Scott. I don’t know. Perhaps…Perhaps this will turn it around.”
 
Scott paced the floor some more. “If only he hadn’t pushed Andy. If only…” Scott stopped and suddenly turned. His eyes grew wide as he stared at his wife. “What’s today?”
 
“It’s November 26.”
 
“November…” Scott suddenly sank to the bed. In silence, he took his boots off and laid down, pulling Amanda into his arms. “Just hold me, honey.”
 
Amanda wrapped her arms around him. “What’s wrong? What is it?” Amanda asked worriedly.
 
“Today…is one year since we got the news of…of…”
 
“Oh Scott…” Amanda breathed in a whisper. She held her husband close, and he was soon asleep in her arms.
 
***
The next morning, Margaret had convinced her mother to go eat breakfast while she sat with her father. Margaret kept her head bowed in prayer, begging God to save her father. Though he had seemed dead to the family this last year, he was still very much alive to her. She wanted him to come home…to try to put things back the way they were before they received the news.
 
Margaret felt a hand brush hers and lifted her head. Her father’s eyes were opened and he stared into her face, but he was still too weak to speak. Margaret leaned forward and grasped her father’s hand in both of hers. She kissed his cheek. “Oh Papa…I love you…” She smiled through her tears. Samuel opened his mouth, trying to form words to speak to her, but still he couldn’t quite talk. “No…” Margaret whispered softly as she shook her head. “Don’t try to talk. You just rest.”
 
The door opened. Margaret turned her head and smiled at Dr. Stevens. “He’s awake. Get Ma!”
 
Dr. Stevens rushed out. Margaret turned back to her father. She saw question in his eyes. “You were shot last night. It doesn’t matter how. Oh Papa…I prayed so hard and God’s brought you back. I love you so much!”
 
No other words could be said. The door soon opened and the whole family hurried in. “He’s awake!” Margaret declared. She tried to release her father’s hand, but he squeezed it tighter. She sat back down, but moved over so her mother could come closer. Jennifer put her hands on his cheeks and kissed him. “Oh Samuel…You fool…I love you so much!” Jennifer’s eyes filled with tears. “Come back to us. Please…come back.”
 
Scott and Amanda stood at a distance. Beth came to stand behind Margaret, but she couldn’t say a word. Johnny stood beside Beth. He too remained silent. “Papa…we all love you so very much.” Margaret turned and looked at Scott. “Don’t we, Scott?”
 
Scott allowed his eyes to focus on hers. “Y…yes! Of course we do.” He stepped forward. “Yesterday was the…the anniversary of the news. We’ve all suffered so much, Pa. I…” Scott’s voice broke. He turned away.
 
Margaret couldn’t take her eyes from her father’s face. The beard was the only thing different about him then before. Color was slowly returning and Samuel continued to try to form the words. Finally, he took every ounce of strength he had. “I…I…sorry!” Then his eyes closed and he fell asleep.
 
“Papa? Papa???” Margaret shook him gently.
 
“Doctor!” Scott yelled. Dr. Stevens hurried in and checked Samuel.
 
He shook his head. “He’s so weak. He needs rest. It may take weeks of recovery, but I say his chances of pulling through are good.”
 
“When…” Jennifer’s voice cracked. She stood up to face the doctor. “When can we take him home?”
 
“Mother!” Scott shot out angrily. “Mother, no!”
 
“YES!” Jennifer declared. “He’s my husband and your father!”
 
“Mother, I can’t allow…”
 
“Scott!” Margaret jumped up and hurried to her brother.
 
“You don’t have to allow…I’m your MOTHER, young man; and you will listen to me!” Jennifer held her head high. “Now…when can we take him home?”
 
“As soon as he regains some of his strength. In a few days,” Dr. Stevens answered.
 
“Fine.” She turned to Scott. “We need to get the house ready for his return.”
 
But Scott turned and hurried out. Amanda started to go after him, but Jennifer grabbed her arm. “No. Let him go. He has to work this out on his own.”
 
***
Peter stopped in the doorway of the Circle Q and pushed his hat way back on his head. He heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head as he looked in at Scott, who was sitting at a table in the back with a fresh beer. Slowly, he walked inside and stepped up to the bar. “A beer please, Ike.”
 
Ike filled the glass from the tap and slid it down to him. Peter took it then made his way over to the table. “I don’t care for any company right now,” Scott muttered.
 
“Yeah.” Peter nodded. “Had to come into town for some supplies and I heard about your father.”
 
“He almost got himself killed last night, the fool.” Scott shook his head. He looked up at his friend. “I can’t believe my father…the man who always taught me that violence is bad…forced a gunfight.”
 
“I’m sorry.” Peter looked into his beer as he thought on it. “I heard he’s coming home though.”
 
“Humph,” Peter breathed. “My mother wants him to come home.” Peter lifted his head. “Nothing’s changed as far as I’m concerned. He’s going to drink and curse and run away again like a coward.”
 
“Aren’t you being a little hard on him?” Peter accused gently.
 
“Hard on him???” Scott smacked his half-empty glass down on the table. “Peter, I’ve given my father a lot of chances! I hired him to work his ranch and he couldn’t even do that! He showed up drunk at Andy’s Memorial Service. He put a big damper on our wedding…showing up drunk…And let’s not forget that he drank himself loco while my sister was out in the blizzard!”
 
“I’m not saying he hasn’t done some stupid things, but drinking makes you do stupid things. You and I both know that, Scott.” Peter looked down into his glass. “Look…Your father is obviously really struggling with Andy’s death still. He feels responsible but…” Peter reached over and put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Scott, he’s your father. This is Uncle Sam we’re talking about. He’s always been like a second father to me and I cannot sit here and believe there’s no good left in him. Just give him a chance.”
 
Scott continued to stare into his glass. Peter didn’t miss the tears that moistened his eyes, but Scott fought them off so well that he wondered if they were really there. “You want to know what’s really bothering me?”
 
Peter nodded. “I know. You wonder if it had been you…would your death have affected him as badly.”
 
Scott put a hand to his face in shame. “Oh, what I’m thinking is so wrong but…I can’t…for the life of me…keep from thinking it. We all know that Andy was the strong one. He’s the one that was expected to take over the ranch someday. My lame leg keeps me from doing a lot of the things I need to do and…Pa just always expected Andy to…He always favored…”
 
“You’re wrong.” Scott looked up at Peter. “Your father always talked about you, Scott. You were the strong one…not physically, but in so many other ways. You could always get the family through the hard times. When you had your accident and went lame, you, Scott…You fought like hell when the doctor said you’d never walk again. And you were only a very young boy. You never let your suffering show in anything you do. Your father was proud of you.”
 
Scott lifted his head and looked into Peter’s eyes. A small smile played at the corner’s of his mouth. “I knew we were best friends for a reason. You know me better than I know myself.”
 
“It’s a best friend’s job,” Peter declared with a nod. He finished his beer off then stood up. “Uh…but as my best friend, you have to come back to the farm with me and explain to my wife why I smell like I have beer on my breath.”
 
“Oh.” Scott smiled. “And my wife is going to give me hell too.”
 
They slowly left the saloon together. “So…what are you going to do?”
 
Scott stopped and looked towards the doctor’s office. “Well…I’m still not convinced things are going to be better but…I’m going to give Mother my blessing. After all…he IS my father.”
 
***
 
Last night I had a scare. A man knocked on our door in the wee hours of the morning to inform my family that, exactly a year after my precious brother, Andy,was killed; my father was possibly dying in the doctor’s office from a gunshot wound to the chest. I was so worried that I dropped to my knees and prayed right then and there. Oh, I’ve always been taught that the power of prayer is amazing, and I think I’ve experienced it.
 
My father woke up this morning, but he only stayed conscience for a few moments before drifting off to sleep. Mother wants to bring him home. Oh, that’s what I want so badly only…my heart is torn. I can’t stand to see my father drinking like he is. I don’t want him around my family if he’s like that; and it’s tearing me up inside. I’m not sure what to do. I’m not even sure what I want. I…Well, I guess I just want my father back. But is that possible? Does the father I knew and loved all those years still exist somewhere? I don’t know.
 
One thing I do know, though, is that there is still life inside my father. God hasn’t called him home yet so there must still be some reason…some purpose…for him to be alive. Will I see it? Or perhaps he’s staying alive for someone else in the family.
 
I thank God Papa’s going to live. And I pray that my family has the strength to face what tomorrow has…
 
Margaret heard her father moan. She closed her journal and sat it on the chair as she stood and bent over him. “Papa?” Samuel opened his eyes and looked into Margaret’s. “Papa, I…I’m here.”
 
“Mar…Mar…garet…” Samuel mumbled painfully. “Dau…ghter…I’m sor…ry…”
 
“Sorry? Do you remember?”
 
Samuel nodded. “The blizzard…I’m sorry I…” Samuel swallowed hard.
 
Margaret reached onto the table next to his cot and poured a glass of water. She held his head up and helped him take a drink. “Ma? Where’s Ma?”
 
“Mama is at home getting the place ready for you. She’s setting up a cot in the bedroom so she can be close to you and…” Samuel started crying. “Papa…Oh Papa…What’s wrong?”
 
“She…She’s taking me back just like that?” Samuel pressed a hand to his forehead. “Oh no, I don’t deserve that.”
 
“Maybe not Papa, but we love you. We want you to come home. Now is the time to live. God’s made His decision.”
 
Samuel turned his head away from his daughter as he continued crying softly. Just then, the door opened. Scott stepped inside. “Is he awake?” Margaret nodded her head. “Pa?”
 
Samuel turned his head toward Scott. “Pa, we have your bed all ready for you at home. You’re welcome to come home to get better.”
 
“And after that?” Samuel asked.
 
“After that…” Scott lowered his head. “Pa, we’ll have to see.” Samuel nodded, knowing that was the best answer he was going to get.
 
***
 
By the next day, Samuel’s hand was shaking badly. He groaned, stating he needed a drink badly, but no one who sat with him that day would even allow such an unspeakable thing. Samuel cried and begged, but nobody would give in. Scott clinched his jaw, unhappy with his father’s behavior; but Margaret and Amanda softly put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.
 
Later that day, on the 28th of November, Dr. Stevens announced that Samuel was well enough to travel home. Dr. Stevens would have to ride out and check on him, but he was in good hands.
 
As Margaret watched Abraham and Peter load the big man in the back of the wagon, Ann Pritchard came to stand beside her. “Can we talk?” Margaret nodded as she wiped her tears. She shivered as the icy wind blew through her coat, and hurried inside the hotel. Ann cleared her throat. “I…I know you have a lot on your mind, what with your father and all but…I have to talk to you about something.”
 
“The wedding?” Margaret asked.
 
Ann nodded. “We’ve chosen December 19 for the wedding. It’s just before Christmas and the church will be all decorated. I…want you to be my maid of honor.”
 
“Oh Ann…” Margaret shook her head. “I just don’t know if…”
 
“Margaret, you have been my best friend for…well, forever. I can’t imagine anyone else standing up for me; and I cannot ask Hal to postpone the wedding again. We’ve already postponed it twice. Please, Margaret! Oh PLEASE!”
 
Margaret smiled. “Of course I’ll do it. I…Oh, I don’t have much time to get everything ready.”
 
“I have the utmost confidence that you will have everything perfected by our wedding day!” Ann declared with a gleam in her eye. “Oh Margaret, I’ll stand up for you at your wedding when you and Luke marry!”
 
“Alright.” Margaret smiled. “But I’ve got to get home!”
 
Margaret turned to see Jeremiah standing beside his wagon, waiting to escort her home.
 
***
 
“It’s too much for you to handle alone!” Abe declared when Scott told him he could go. “You’re loco if you think…” Abe shook his head. “Have you ever dealt with someone coming off of a long bout with booze? It ain’t pretty. It’s going to get bad, and I mean really bad, Scott. You need our help.”
 
“I said I’ll handle it!” Scott declared. “And it may be best if Margaret and Beth aren’t here. I can’t convince Mother to leave. She wants to be at his side. And Amanda…well, she’s being stubborn as well.  But the other girls…I want them out.”
 
Abe shook his head. “Scott, you need us here as well! Let me talk to Julie. I’m sure she wouldn’t object to…”
 
“NO!” Scott shouted suddenly. “You take care of your family, Abe!” Scott stopped yelling when he saw the hurt in Abe’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I didn’t mean…”
 
Abe nodded. “Scott, sit down. I want to tell you something.” They sat down at his table. Abe cleared his throat. “Now, over the past two years or so, I’ve had to learn what pride does to a person. My father was always proud and you know that. Your father…well, he was always proud too. I think he still is and that’s why he’s in so much trouble now.” Abe put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Listen man, my pride has hurt those closest to me. Julie and I have had a few pretty nasty fights because of my pride. I hurt my sister badly because of my pride. At one time or other…I’ve hurt everyone because of it.
 
“Now, I’m not saying that I’m not still proud because I am. I’m very proud, but my wife is a loving and wonderful wife, and she doesn’t stand by quietly while I ruin other people’s lives. It’s because of her that I’ve learned I have to lean on people. When my father died, my whole world changed. When my mother died, I felt like dying myself. We’ve been through so many hardships…so many really HARD things lately, and I cannot go at it alone.
 
“You can’t go at it alone now, Scott. You need us. We’re all one big family. It’s always been that way, so don’t let your pride stop that now. Your problems are our problems. Just like you would be there for us if we needed you, we want to be there for you.”
 
Scott lowered his head and shook it sadly. “I wish I had your strength.” He lifted his head to look at Abe through his moist eyes. “I see the things you have been through and wonder…how do you survive?”
 
Abe stood up and crossed the room. He picked up the Bible that sat on the stand beside the chair, then walked back over to the table. “This.”
 
“Yeah. I remember when I was little, Mama would gather all us kids around her and read from it. It’s funny, but it was the highlight of our day. I guess that sometimes we forget about those things that got us through our daily problems. Ma always told us that if anything happens to take away our smile, we can find our smile in these pages.” Scott lifted his head. “I guess I lost sight of that.”
 
“We all do. Julie reads the Bible to me sometimes after we’re in bed. Sometimes I fall asleep just listening to her read the words of hope.  It’s more comforting than anything a doctor can deliver.”
 
Scott opened the Bible and thumbed through the pages. “So…what do I…” Scott stopped and smiled as he looked at Abe. “…WE do about father?”
 
“Well, first of all we can’t go into this believing he’s changed. We may not be able to bring him back to who he was before…stuff happened…But we can give it our best shot.” They heard Samuel as he started shouting from the bedroom. He was again begging for a drink. “And just because we get him over this hump doesn’t mean he’ll never drink again. If he does, Scott, you’ll have to pick him up again and start all over. That’s the way a drunk is. You’ve heard the expression, ‘Once a drunk, always a drunk?’” Scott nodded. “Well, there’s a lot of truth in that. I remember having an uncle when I was a kid who was a drunk. He’d sober up and stuff, but the next time he took one sip of whisky or beer, he was wasted all over again. It was a vicious cycle that nobody understands. Maybe someday…”
 
“SOMEBODY HELP ME!” Samuel shouted.
 
Scott started to get up, but Abe held up his hand and hurried into the bedroom. “What is it, Uncle Sam?”
 
“Abe boy…” Samuel forced a smile on his drenched face. “I need some medicine…just a little whisky or…brandy! Please! The pain is bad…really bad.”
 
“The doctor left some medicine for you. I’ll get it.”
 
“NO!” Samuel shook his head. “It’s not my chest that’s hurting. It’s…it’s…”
 
“Sorry. There’s only one thing that will make that pain go away, and that’s time.” Abe turned to leave, but he saw Margaret standing in the doorway. Her eyes were wide and her face white. She locked eyes with Abe and slowly shook her head. “Margaret…there’s nothing you can…”
 
“Margaret…Daughter!” Samuel held out her hand. “Come…”
 
Margaret brushed past Abe and hurried to her father. “Oh Pa…” Her eyes filled with tears as he grasped her hand.
 
“Margaret, I love you so much. You don’t know what it means to me to be here with you again.” Samuel swallowed hard as he lifted a hand and wiped her tears. “Honey…Papa’s hurting so bad and I need a little drink…just a…a little…”
 
Margaret stared into his eyes. Suddenly, she did something that surprised everyone watching. She bolted straight up and glared down at him. Her face was red with anger. “How DARE you! How can you lay there and USE me to feed your dirty habit? Why can’t you just stop?” Margaret’s voice was shaking from grief and hurt now. “You’ve always treated me like a daughter, but now you are trying to USE me to feed your habit and I won’t do it! I won’t!”
 
Margaret turned and hurried to the door. “Just STOP! STOP IT!” Then she ran out the door.
 
***
 
Margaret was upset. She tolerated a lot of stuff from a lot of people, but what her father had just done was inexcusable. She still couldn’t believe he had behaved that way with her. Margaret busied herself in the General Store by working on plans for Ann’s wedding. Ann left a running account in the store and informed Margaret her parents were willing to pay for it all. She wanted the wedding of the Century! Margaret again wiped her eyes as she fingered the lace material.
 
“There you are!” She heard from behind her. She turned to see Abe standing in the doorway with his fist on his hip. “What are you doing in town without telling anyone where you are going?” he accused.
 
Margaret turned back to thumb the material. “I’m an adult. I suppose I know how to find my way back.”
 
She heard Abe’s footsteps behind her. “Yes. I know you are an adult.” Abe laid a hand on her shoulder and forced her to turn and look at him. “But you are also a beautiful 19 year old woman, and coming to town on a Saturday evening  without a male chaperone isn’t a smart idea.” Abe smiled into her eyes. “Besides, I have to watch out for my future sister-in-law.”
 
Margaret wanted to relieve the tension she was feeling, so with as much gumption as she could, she shot back, “I thought I was already your sister!”
 
“Well…of course!” Abe shook his head at her attempt. “Let’s talk.”
 
“Well, I’m a little busy right now. Ann’s asked me to be her Maid of Honor and as such, I have…”
 
But Abe shook his head and took her arm. “Let’s go.”
 
Margaret sat down the lace material and followed him out of the store. He led her to the church where they could talk quietly. After they were seated, Abe folded his hands in front of him and spoke. “Guess this is an appropriate place since I feel like a parson these days. Seems I’ve been giving lots of advice. This is ruining my reputation as a hard man!”
 
Margaret smiled. “I’ve never seen you as a hard man, Abe. I remember when I was little I thought you were the biggest man I ever saw, and when you hugged me it was like being hugged by a great big bear only…it was comforting.”
 
“Hm…” Abe smiled down at her. “Your family was growing worried about you when you didn’t come back after you…ran out.”
 
“I exploded.” Margaret shook her head. “That’s not like me. I don’t know what came over me.”
 
“Wait until you’re married and Luke does those impulsive things like I used to do…”
 
“Use to?” Margaret raised an eyebrow at him.
 
“Okay. Maybe Julie does still raise her voice to me every now and then.”
 
“I could never yell at Lucas! He’s so…” Margaret started.
 
“I think you two have been apart for too long! You’re forgetting, SIS, about all those arguments you two had and the ‘lessons’ you’ve tried to teach him over the years. No…I think you’ve got your work cut out for you!”
 
Margaret smiled. “Well, I suppose it’s a task I’m willing to take. I can tame him.”
 
Abe chuckled. “You know, I think you can at that!” he declared. Then he sobered. “Now…about your father…”
 
“I love my father, Abe. But what he said was…it was inexcusable! How can my own father do such a…a…wretched thing?”
 
“Margaret…alcohol is powerful stuff. My mother always called it the Devil’s drink, and I NEVER saw my father drink so much as a beer because he knew how much my mother hated it. It DOES seem to bring trouble when it’s around. I’ve heard some people say that a drunk going off of spirits is like a man dying for a drink of water in the middle of a desert. He’d do anything to get that drop of water…ANYTHING.”
 
“So you’re excusing him for what he did to me?”
 
“Oh no.” Abe shook his head. “I had some words with him earlier, and I told him that he was to NEVER speak to you that way again. Honey, I know it’s hard to understand…but he really DOES feel awful for what he did.”
 
“Then why, Abe?” Margaret cried. “Why did he say those things to me? Why did he USE me?”
 
“Because he needs a drink. I mean he really NEEDS it.” Abe shook his head. “I don’t have all the answers, but I know that your father is a very sick man right now. He’s recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound to the chest, but is hurting even worse while getting the poison out of his system. It’s really hard for a man like Uncle Sam. He’s always been so prideful and now we see his weaknesses.”
 
“What should we do?”
 
“What we are doing. Honey, I think you should go stay at my house for a few days.  I’ll be with your brother and father and Julie will need your help.”
 
Margaret lifted her head to protest, but she saw the finality in Abe’s eyes. “I don’t have a choice…do I?”
 
“No. Margaret, my wife really COULD use your help. With five children underfoot…”
 
“I know. Maybe she, Emily, and Tiffany can help me with Ann’s wedding plans.”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “Julie’s had experience. She planned her own wedding.” Abe grinned mischievously. “Besides, you need the experience. You’ll be planning your own very soon.”
 
“I don’t know. Sometimes Luke seems so far away.”
 
“There’s just a lot going on right now.” Abe stood and helped Margaret up. He helped her up onto his horse then climbed on behind her to escort her back home.
 
***
December 1, 1863
 
My Dearest Lucas,
 
I was just telling Abe the other day that sometimes you feel so far away. But as I held little David tonight and listened to Laura recite her portion of Paul Revere’s Ride, I suddenly felt so close to you. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered you standing in front of class that day with your shoulders straight up and your chest puffed out. You did this funny voice as you quoted your version of the poem, and it was so funny – at least until the teacher ordered you to stop, then you had to stay inside at recess and get a licking.
 
I wish you were here right now, Luke. I need you so badly. I need to feel your arms around me and for you to assure me Papa’s going to be all right. You see, Luke, Papa had an accident last week. Guess you really can’t call it an accident, he was drunk and a Rebel soldier entered the saloon, bragging. Anyway, from what I heard, Papa got mad and drew his gun first… He was shot in the chest and almost died. He’s at home recovering now. I’m staying at Julie and Abe’s because Scott and Abe won’t let me stay there. Mama’s with Pa, but I can tell it’s really hard on her. When I saw her in church Sunday, her eyes were red and puffy from crying. Oh, I wish I knew what to do…to tell my heart how to feel.
 
Is it wrong of me to want things the way they used to be? Yet, is it wrong that I feel a bit…apprehensive about Pa’s return home? Oh, I can’t help but question myself – will he stay sober once Abe and Scott get him that way, or will he go back to drinking once he’s healed? I’d do anything to help him, Luke. I pray, yet sometimes my prayers feel so empty. I’ve never felt this way before and it’s so hard!
 
I’m sorry to be burdening you with this when you are so far away and I’m sure you have your own set of problem.. Yet,  I hope things are going well for you. I was so happy to hear that you got to meet the President. I think he’s the finest President this country has ever had, and I hope he will stay for a long time.
 
I best go for now, Abe just stopped by home for a visit with his family. I’ll write another letter in a few days when I know more.
 
I love you, Lucas.
 
Margaret
 
Margaret stood from the table as Abe and Julie embraced. She turned from them, blushing a bit when they shared an intimate kiss. “How are things?” Abe murmured as he stared into his wife’s eyes.
 
“Okay,” Julie nodded. “Margaret’s a big help. I…just wish that I could have my husband back.” Julie turned and hurried into the kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?”
 
“No. I can’t stay long.” Abe turned toward Margaret. “How are you holding up?” Margaret nodded, but couldn’t speak. “Your father’s recovering. He’s over the cursing and yelling now, but he still has the shakes mighty bad.” Abe took the cup of coffee Julie handed to him anyway. He took a sip of it. “I’ll only be staying there a few more days. I’m helping Scott get some of his winter chores done. His leg…bothers him a lot this time of year.”
 
“I know.” Margaret bit her lip. “Abe…you think he’s changed?”
 
Abe turned away from her and went to the window. “No.” Abe sighed. “At least…I think it’s going to be hard for him. He still blames himself for your brother’s death and thinks he’s a burden.” Abe turned. “You know what I mean.”
 
“Papa  Abe!” Abe turned to see Laura hurry from the bedroom and run to him. “Papa Abe, you’re back!”
 
“No, Rosebud. I just came by to check on my family.” Abe hugged her then pulled her away and lifted his eyebrows. “What are you doing up, young lady?”
 
“I heard ya talking!” Laura shook her head. “I wasn’t asleep. Julie made me go to bed early on account...” Laura swallowed and quickly changed the subject. “What I mean is…I went to bed early but couldn’t sleep. I was counting the stars.”
 
“You can’t see the stars too well from your bed.”
 
“No sir.” Laura lowered her head. “But then I saw you coming and I…” Laura lifted her head back up. “Will you tuck me in? Oh please, Papa Abe?”
 
Abe chuckled as he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. He ordered her to stay in bed, then kissed her and closed the door. “I have to get back.” Abe turned to Julie and took her in his arms. Margaret turned away to give them this moment. “I miss you,” Abe whispered in her ear. Then they shared a kiss. Abe turned and hurried out the door.
 
***
 
On December 3, 1863, Samuel Gibbs was allowed out of bed. Scott and Abe both held onto him as he slowly walked out to the table and sat down. Ironically, they sat him in his own seat at the head of the table. Amanda hurried from the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee. As Abe and Scott sat on each side of Samuel, Amanda poured the coffee then left the men in the room alone.
 
Johnny came home right after school, which surprised Scott just a bit. He knew there was an important family meeting that evening, and he wanted to make sure his father had proper representation.
 
Amanda and Jennifer worked at getting the roast and vegetables in the oven as they talked lightly. They were both nervous, wondering how tonight’s meeting would go. By the time they had supper almost ready, a wagon pulled up outside carrying Jeremiah, Em, Baby Abby, and Beth. The moment Beth entered and saw her father sitting in his usual chair, she dropped beside him and hugged him. “Papa…” Beth whispered. “You really are home!”
 
But Samuel said nothing. Everyone wondered what it all meant.
 
Soon after, Peter pulled up with Emily, Tiffany, and little Rosie. Julie and Margaret pulled up in a wagon just behind them with the children in tow.
 
The house soon filled with noises of children as the ladies tried to finish preparing the meal for that Thursday evening. Finally, Abe stood and clapped his hands. Sternly looking at his children, he pointed to the rug in front of the fire, and even the triplets knew that they were to sit immediately. They did so without complaining. But Laura, who felt she should be treated more as an adult than a little child took another stern look before she finally sat down.
 
Only when Jennifer nodded as she took her place beside her husband did Abe clear his throat and hold out his hands. Even the smallest child there, with the exception of Baby Abby, held a hand in a circle as Abe prayed, asking God for wisdom as the family discussed in a calm manner the next steps to take. Finally, Abe lifted his head and smiled as the women filled their children’s plates then their own. As was the custom, the men went last.
 
In time, the children were sent to the parlor to play under the watchful eyes of Laura while the rest of the family gathered to discuss Samuel. They all sat and looked at the Gibbs’ Patriarch as they waited in anticipation to see what he had to say; for it was Samuel Gibbs himself who had called this special meeting. After clearing his throat one last time, Samuel lifted his head and spoke to the members.
 
“Losing Andy is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and I’m still going through it. This past year, I haven’t been sober for more than 48 hours. I must admit that I am overwhelmed by the love and forgiveness my family has shown me. In spite of all the grief I’ve caused, you were still willing to bring me home and sober me up. I know I have a wonderful family and should appreciate the love each and every one of you has shown me these last few days.
 
“I wish to stay here for the time being. I know the ranch is in good hands with Scott and the men he’s hired to run it; and I know it’s unfortunate that I had to give my land to him early but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. By no means am I ready to come back to being the head of this household. I have a long recovery before me and must take it one day at a time. I promise you that I will try.
 
“Now…Scott asked me a question a while ago. He asked me if I still want to drink, and the answer is yes. Every second of every day I want a drink. If there was whisky or any sort of spirit in this house right now, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up and drink it because I still feel an urge.
 
“I do owe all of you an apology. Margaret, I don’t know why I left you out in that blizzard and went off to drink while everyone else was looking for you. I feel just horrible about that time now. Honey, I hope I would never…ever do anything to put your life in danger. I’m also sorry for the things I did the other night. Using you to try and get my fix was very wrong of me. All I can do is ask you for forgiveness.
 
“Well, I reckon that’s all I have to say. I’ll be sleeping on a cot here in the living room for now, Jenny.” Samuel’s eyes met his wife’s. “I’m sure you aren’t ready to accept me back into your bed; and I’m not ready to make that step.” He turned to Scott. “I will pull my weight around here. I’ll tend to this ranch like I used to, only now I’ll take orders from you.”
 
No words were said as Samuel stopped talking and allowed his words to penetrate the clouded brains of those around him. He had been as honest as he could, yet everyone heard the doubt in his voice. Some – those who were willing to admit it – knew he was only home for a matter of time. Others – those who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt – hoped that from this day forward, Samuel Gibbs was back.
 
Jennifer slowly stood and moved toward her husband. “But until you’re healed, you will take the bed. You need it more than I do. I don’t mind sleeping on a cot.” Samuel didn’t argue as Abe and Scott stood to help him back to bed.
 
There was an uneasy silence as the families gathered their children and prepared to leave. The words they heard weren’t exactly the words they had hoped for, but they were what they were. Margaret herself didn’t say a word as she silently helped Amanda and Jennifer finish cleaning up the kitchen. Then she silently slipped into her bedroom, lit the lantern at her desk, and sat down.
 
My heart is breaking again tonight because I heard it in my father’s voice. He was trying to give us hope that he would be better; but there was no sincerity in his words. I feel like my father is dying. Maybe the father I knew is already dead. How ever can I go on knowing my father is so lost? What can I do?
 
But I will stay strong. I will fight this fight with everything I have. The Lord never gives us more than we can handle, and I will give my father all the love I can for as long as he will allow me.
 
There was more that she wanted to write, but the tears blinded her eyes from seeing the pages of her journal. The ink blurred the words written on the page. She wondered if she’d even be able to read the words later. With a heavy heart, Margaret blew out the lamp and went to bed.
 
***
 
The following Sunday, Ann Pritchard stopped Margaret as she was leaving the church with her family. “Next Friday, I’m having the ladies out at the ranch,” Ann announced. Then she smiled as she coyly declared, “OUR ranch!”
 
“You’re not married yet!” Emily McCain declared with a smile.
 
“No. But it’s just a matter of time!” Ann smiled. “We’re a ways from town, but then I don’t reckon we’ll need to come to town too often. Hal’s already got close to a hundred head of cattle! Said that come spring, we should have several calves as well.” Ann gasped. “Oh, you ladies must come! I want us to have a small house-warming party there! We have to get the ranch ready for my homecoming on Saturday after the wedding.”
 
Margaret squealed at the smile on her best friend’s face. “I have the dress almost ready! Oh Ann, why didn’t you travel to Oklahoma City and buy an already made dress? I heard they have some beautiful dresses there!”
 
“Because,” Ann answered with a nod of her head. “I’m only getting married once…” Ann put a finger to her chin and lifted her eyes skyward. “…I hope…So, I want it to be PERFECT and only my best friend can make a dress that is perfect for me! Oh, I cannot wait to see it!”
 
“Well, you must come over this evening for a fitting!” Margaret declared. “I’ll need plenty of time to take it out…er…put it in.” Margaret winked at the other ladies that gathered around her.
 
“I think it will be fun!” Julie commented. She winked at Em and Tiffany. “You think the men could handle the children for awhile?”
 
“ALL of them?” Tiffany asked as she lifted an eyebrow.
 
“Oh posh!” Emily waved her hand. “I’ll make a great big pot of Ma’s vegetable stew for the men! They can all gather together and work together. Surely between the three brothers and seven children, they can…”
 
“They’ll be outnumbered!” Ann declared with a giggle. “Are you sure they’ll allow you back in your home when you get back?”
 
“Laura can keep them in line,” Julie declared with a nod of her head. “If they go astray on their duties, I guarantee you that sharp-tongued Laura Rose will set them straight.”
 
So it was decided as the husbands pulled their wives from the huddle the women had made, that they would meet at Hal Dodd’s ranch at 3:00 pm on Friday to get the home ready for the new bride and groom. But when the news would be broken to the fathers was a delicate matter and had to be handled in the most delicate way!
 
On Tuesday, Em broke the news to her husband. He didn’t take the news as well as she had hoped. “You’re going to do what???” Jeremiah suddenly asked in a loud voice as Em sat in her rocking chair nursing Baby Abby.
 
“Honey, be quiet! I’m trying to get the baby to sleep now!” Em smiled as she watched the baby suckle from her breast. “Ann’s having a party on Friday afternoon at the ranch and…”
 
“Does Hal know about this?”
 
Em rolled her eyes. “What do you mean does Hal know about this? Of course he…”
 
“I mean, he knows that a bunch of…of…females are going to be in his house decorating it like a…a…”
 
Em stood up abruptly and laid her sleeping daughter in the cradle. As she buttoned her shirt back up she stared into her husband’s eyes. “Like a WHAT?” She shook her head at him. “Jeremiah McCain, must I remind you WHO decorated THIS house?”
 
“No, honey. I reckon I can manage Baby Abby for a bit…as long as I don’t have to change her diapers while you’re gone.”
 
Em laughed. “Oh, I hate to disappoint you, hon, but the possibility is pretty great on that one.”
 
“Oh now, honey! Let’s talk about this!”
 
“Now look…The women in this family usually stay at home while you men go off and…do whatever it is you do all day.” Em sat down to fold the freshly laundered diapers up.
 
“It’s called WORK!” Jeremiah declared as he put his hands on his hips.
 
“Ah yes.” Em nodded sarcastically. “’Work!’ Well then, just think of us as working together to get Ann’s home ready for her and Hal when they come home to it on Saturday.” Jeremiah groaned.
 
***
Tiffany untied her apron and hung it on the hook as she turned and looked at her husband sitting at the table reading the paper. She walked up behind him and drew her arms down his shoulders and to his front. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder. “Where’s Emily?”
 
“She went to bed,” Peter mumbled. “She said something about being tired.”
 
“Oh.” Tiffany straightened up and took the paper from her husband’s hands.
 
“Hey!” Peter declared in an annoyed voice.
 
Tiffany slid onto his lap and kissed him passionately. “Why don’t you pay attention to your wife as much as that paper?”
 
“Oh.” Peter grinned as he returned her kiss and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close against him. “I can give you plenty of attention.”
 
“Peter…” Tiffany cooed into his ear. “Do you remember our wedding?”
 
“Wedding? Humph! We went to the Justice of the Peace and were married in five minutes!”
 
“Exactly.” Tiffany kissed his cheek. “Don’t you think that a big wedding is important for a couple?”
 
“Of course,” Peter answered as he trailed kisses down her cheek and rested his lips against her neck.
 
“Don’t you think Ann and Hal deserve all the happiness they can get?”
 
“Mm hm…”
 
“Well then…Friday, all the ladies are going over to the Dodd ranch to get it ready.”
 
Peter suddenly straightened up and narrowed his eyes at his wife. “Oh? What are you buttering me up for? Am I going to have to come along and move furniture or something?”
 
“No…” Tiffany kissed him again. “But you do have to stay here with your brothers and babysit.” Her kiss lingered on his lips this time.
 
Peter suddenly pulled away. “WHAT???”
 
“Only for a few hours, my love.” She put her finger against his lips. “Well…she’s your daughter too!”
 
“Yes.” Peter nodded. “She IS my daughter but…”
 
“But what?”
 
Peter suddenly stood, forcing Tiffany to stand in front of him. He took her hand and led her to the bedroom. “But I don’t want to spoil the moment so I’ll just say two words before I take you to bed and make love to you.” Peter kissed her, then when he was close to her ear, he whispered softly, “Yes dear.”
 
***
 
If Julie thought her husband would take the news any better, she was badly mistaken. The fact that she waited until the family was eating supper Wednesday evening didn’t help matters any either. Her announcement did not go over well at all, and she knew it as soon as the words left her mouth.   And mentioning that Laura would be a good helper to the men folk only riled up both Laura and Abe.
 
Part of Julie’s smile died as Laura and Abe sat down their forks and turned to stare at her. She wondered who would speak first. “You’re going to what????” Abe finally asked.
 
“We’re all going to Ann’s and are leaving the children in the capable hands of their fathers for a spell,” Julie answered again.
 
“Now Julie, see here…” Abe started.
 
“Why can’t I come with you?” Laura suddenly asked.
 
Julie held up her hand and shook her head. “Now listen…these children are partly your responsibility, Abraham McCain! I’ve left them in your hands before!”
 
“Not for THAT long! Look, I don’t mind watching my own children for a few hours, but I’m thinking of Jeremiah who probably doesn’t know which end of a baby to change and PETER who is only going to talk about how in love he is with his wife while I change his daughter’s diapers!”
 
“Oh?” Julie planted her fists on her hips. “And uh…you don’t stand around and talk about how in love you are with your wife?”
 
“Well…” Abe suddenly found himself in a sticky situation, and from experience he knew that treading carefully was a very, very important concept at the moment. “You see…”
 
Julie shook her head at her husband. “Never mind, dear. I’ll let you out gracefully.” She turned and looked at Laura. “I’d say Laura Rose is capable of changing diapers. In fact,” Julie winked at her. “I’d rather you leave the diaper changing to Laura. It’s less messy that way.”
 
“Are you saying I can’t change a diaper?”
 
“From experience, yes!” Julie declared with a short nod of her head.
 
“And another thing…Charlie’s in the middle of toilet training and I…”
 
Julie rolled her eyes. “Oh Abe…you’ve seen Charlie announce when he has to go. He makes his needs loud and clear now.” Julie shook her head as she calmly took another bite of food. “What would happen if I just up and died? You need to learn these things!”
 
“You’re not going to up and die and leave me with five children to take care of!” Abe declared suddenly.
 
“Four. I’M NOT a child!” Laura declared.
 
“Laura Rose…” Abe warned.
 
Julie wiped Sammy’s hands off as she spoke. “Now Abe, we’ll only be gone a couple hours and I…”
 
“A couple hours my…” Abe stopped himself and looked at Laura. “This thing starts at three, right?” Julie nodded. “Yeah. So she’ll probably feed you some sort of fancy dish at five’ish, then you’ll sit around and giggle for a few hours. It’ll probably be seven or eight o’clock before you come home. And what if a blizzard comes up? We could be stuck with these children for….” Abe stopped when Julie raised her eyebrows. “I mean er…trapped in the house with these children for days! How would we survive?”
 
Laura giggled. Abe and Julie both turned and glared at her. “I think I’ll start doing the dishes.”
 
Julie folded her arms on the table and leaned in to her husband. “Look, Abe, you’ve been left with the children before and…”
 
“Not for very long!” Abe argued. “And you always have Margaret here to help me.”
 
“Not always, dear.”
 
“Well…most of the time! And what’s worse, you are making me help Peter and Jeremiah!”
 
“I’m not MAKING you help them! You will just be together for support. It’s their wives’ responsibilities to teach them how to properly care for a baby.”
 
“Ask me to clean up after a cow or pig and I’ll do it…but to clean up…”
 
“Oh Abe!” Julie stood as she handed Laura some dirty dishes. “I swear, you are worse than the children!”
 
Charlie lifted his hands to his father and grunted, wanting his father to pick him up. Abe raised his eyebrows at his son. “Up please?” Charlie asked politely.
 
Abe lifted him up. “Papa take good care of Charlie!” Charlie declared with a smile.
 
Abe laughed. “Of course I’ll take good care of you.” Abe whispered in his son’s ear, “I just have to make your mother feel needed. I want her to know we can’t live without her.”
 
“I heard that!” Julie declared with a smile.
 
Laura turned from the sink. “Well, I still wish I could go with you, Mama Julie!”
 
“When you’re a little older, Laura Rose.” Julie patted her on top of the head. “I promise!”
 
***
 
Friday afternoon, Margaret untied her apron and went to finish getting ready to go. When she emerged from the bedroom, she saw her father sitting at the table. “Scott, are you sure he should be sitting up? He’s still hurting quite a bit.”
 
“Now don’t you worry, daughter. I’m feeling much stronger now.”
 
Margaret bit her lip, wondering if all the women should go away and leave Johnny and Scott to care for her father. She turned and looked at Amanda who only smiled. “They’ll be fine.”
 
“Oh, I’m sure only…” Margaret had a very uneasy feeling about her. She felt guilty, because part of her hoped her father would never heal to the point of being independent. Her heart told her what that would mean, and it hurt just thinking on it.
 
After she, Amanda, Beth, and Jennifer were on their way to the Dodd Ranch, Amanda spoke as she drove the team. “Margaret, I know what’s bothering you and I don’t blame you for how you’re feeling.”
 
Margaret sighed as she looked at her hands folded in her lap. “But I shouldn’t be thinking it. Oh, it’s just awful of me!”
 
“Your father will be fine,” Jennifer informed Margaret and the others. “Now that the poison is out of his system, he’s not going to turn back to it. Your father has a good head on his shoulders.”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Amanda. She couldn’t speak the words out loud, but she had seen the look in her father’s eyes. It was a desire to get better faster…a hunger for what had fed him for the past year. Margaret had talked to him and even read the Bible to him a couple nights. She begged him to forgive himself for what he had done, but Samuel wasn’t ready. He declared that he could NEVER forgive himself because he didn’t deserve forgiveness. Margaret fretted that someday Samuel’s unforgiveness would hurt someone that was close to them in a way that would bring him even more guilt; and turn those that loved him against him.
 
This thought process was very difficult for Margaret because she had always tried to see the good in everyone. Anyone who came along was given a big dose of Margaret, no matter what they had done. Now, for the first time, Margaret found herself struggling with trusting her father…believing he could do no wrong…and she didn’t know what to do with it.
 
“Which road do we take?” Margaret’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Amanda’s question. Margaret blinked herself back to the present and lifted her eyebrows, asking Amanda to repeat her question. “I said which road do we take?”
 
“Oh. We go East.” Margaret tried not to allow her thoughts to stray away again. Today and tomorrow were Ann’s day, and she deserved every moment.
 
Margaret had been to the Dodd Ranch several months ago, but she had forgotten just how beautiful the house was. Sitting back from the road, the house was painted yellow and had a white picket fence around it. It was two stories tall with French windows that opened up from the master bedroom onto a balcony. The porch wrapped around the house, and was an excellent one for all the children to play on. They were quite isolated out here. Traveling to town would take an hour at a fast pace. Hal Dodd had purchased this land and built the house himself a few years ago. He had almost 10,000 acres of ranch land with hills and crests. Trees lined the yard all around the house. Margaret stared at the house in wonderment, mesmerized at the beauty.
 
She turned and looked across the road at the empty hills and valleys that sat there. That’s the piece of land Luke had his eyes on. It was rich land, and the man that owned it was rather firm on his price. Nobody in these parts wanted to spend that much money on it, but it was 4200 acres of the best ranching land around Oklahoma. Hal Dodd had bought the only other good section of land, not wanting the land across the road; and he hoped that someday they would have a good neighbor to take over that land.
 
Margaret had never gone with Luke when he came to admire the land, but she heard his brothers talk about it. Abe told her once that Luke rode all the way out here on a Saturday and just sat in the middle of the field. He ran the dirt through his hands and imagined the wonderful ranch he could build up with his wife and children. Margaret smiled as she wondered if perhaps he pictured her on the land with him. She blushed at the prospect of her and Luke standing under that big oak kissing as two children ran around them chasing each other. She wondered if that image would ever become real.
 
“Margaret!” Margaret suddenly turned at the sound of her name. Ann laughed softly as she hugged her best friend. “My, but where did you go?”
 
“I’m right here,” Margaret declared, a bit embarrassed she had once again allowed her thoughts to stray.
 
Ann turned and looked out at the land across from her. “I know where your thoughts were.” Ann giggled. “Every time I look out across there, I see you and Luke living in a house in that little flat area over there. I picture the barn and the swing in the tree for you. It’s going to happen.”
 
“The land costs so dear.” Margaret shook her head. “Sometimes I get so impatient on waiting.” She turned to Ann. “I’m sorry. This day’s about you and Hal…not about Luke and me.”
 
“Well then…” Ann winked her eye. “Did you bring my lace curtains for the windows?”
 
“Certainly!” Margaret declared as they hurried toward the house.
 
For the next two hours, the women worked together decorating the house. Fresh curtains were hung and a list was made of things Ann wanted Hal to work on. She wanted more colorful walls and a bit of rearrangement of the furniture. Hal had given Ann permission to have a run of the place, but he had left strict orders for her to stay out of one room: The Master bedroom. Before leaving that morning to work out on the range, Hal had even nailed a sign to the door that declared, “KEEP OUT!”
 
Tiffany couldn’t help but stop and look at the sign. “I wonder what’s behind these closed doors?” She smiled mischievously.
 
“Nothing but a bedroom,” Ann declared. “But Hal told me the first time I see that bedroom, it’s going to be…” Suddenly, Ann stopped and blushed. Several of the women giggled. “Oh my…It’s getting warm in here!”
 
Margaret stood outside the group of giggling women and watched the excitement. She went into the spacious kitchen and began fixing them some dinner while the women continued to work together deciding what other things needed to be done. After eating a wonderful meal prepared by Margaret’s hands, the women worked together on getting the kitchen clean. They were just wrapping up when the door opened and Hal walked in.
 
“Well…” Hal stated as he crossed his arms in front of him. “Do your husbands allow you to stay out unchaperoned after dark?”
 
“Dark?” Julie hurried to the window and looked outside. “Oh my!” She quickly untied the apron from her waste. “Ladies, we must get going! Abe gave me strict orders to be back before dark! Oh dear…I may be getting a lecture when I get home!”
 
Margaret chuckled.  Scott had demanded the same thing of them. Ann blushed as Hal came to stand beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders and shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll have to follow them to their homes now, Ann. It’s the only thing we can do.”
 
And he did just that. The ladies drove their teams all the way home as they sang cheerful songs. Margaret and her family made it back to the ranch before the sun went down, but the McCain women weren’t so lucky. As they walked into the house, three very upset husbands stood from the table, turned, and crossed their arms as they looked accusingly at their wives.
 
“Hello,” they all said together as they tried to smile. But that night, the men were not in a good mood. Julie raised her eyebrow at Laura who merely shrugged. The four women stood still and listened to a long pointed lecture of why they were in trouble for being late.
 
***
 
She saw Lucas, a bit older, sitting on the top step of a porch. A boy sat beside him. They looked out across the land and laughed. She wasn’t sure who the boy was, but his hair was blond, and his face held the same shape as her brothers’. His eyes were brown like hers. She watched as Lucas put an arm around his shoulders and talked sternly. Their eyes locked on each other and she had a feeling the things said through their eyes said a lot more than that said by the lips.
 
She floated away a bit. There, she saw herself swinging in a swing. A little boy sat on her lap giggling as she held onto him with one arm. A man…Lucas…stood behind her and pushed her higher and higher as she and the boy laughed.
 
“Margaret…Margaret…” Margaret forced her eyes to open suddenly. Beth stared down at her. “Mama said to get up! The wedding’s in two hours!”
 
“Two…” Margaret jumped from bed. “It’s eight o’clock??? Why did Mama let me sleep so late?” Margaret started running around the room nervously, trying to find the things she needed.
 
“What were you dreaming about anyhow?” Beth suddenly asked
 
Margaret stopped her scurrying and turned to smile at her younger sister. “I’m not sure…but I think it was my family!” She declared with a firm nod of her head.
 
“Your…Your family?”
 
Margaret stuck her hair pin in her mouth and twirled her hair into a tight bun. “Yes. My family!” She stuck the pin in her hair then hurried out of the room. “Mother! Oh Mother, you must do my hair!”
 
The next hour was a flurry of activity in the Gibbs house. Scott and Johnny helped their father to the table as Margaret continued to rush around. “Oh Scott…You MUST get me to the church at once!”
 
“My, my, but I haven’t seen you this excited in quite some time, daughter!” Samuel Gibbs declared as he gave her a wink.
 
“If you ask me, she’s meeting Lucas McCain at that church and marrying him!” Beth retorted.
 
Margaret turned and shot her sister a look. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I’m Ann’s Maid of Honor! I have to look perfect!”
 
“She’s just practicing, Pa, for when she gets married!” Beth retorted.
 
“Oh?” Margaret hurried and took her coat down. Scott held it for her so she could put it on. “First of all, little sister, I assure you I will spend more than an hour getting ready to marry Luke! And second of all…I think you’re just jealous!”
 
Beth planted her hands on her hips. Samuel held up his hand and chuckled, enjoying seeing the bantering among his daughters again. There was more life in the house that morning than there had been in quite some time. “Now, now girls! Beth, you best get your own self ready!”
 
Amanda hurried forward, wagging her finger at Scott. “And you hurry back here yourself, Scott! I’ve your suit all laid out on the bed. We mustn’t be late for the wedding!”
 
Scott turned to leave, but something mischievous inside him made him turn around and ask, “Say…could you possibly faint and announce you’re pregnant or something as a lasting memory for the bride and groom!” Scott grinned as he thought back to his own wedding.
 
“Scott Gibbs!” Amanda hurried forward, but Scott hurried from the house.
 
Samuel watched his family with much pride. He enjoyed seeing life in his house. But there was a part inside him that wanted to cry because something was missing. It was something that could never be in this house again. And suddenly, he wanted a drink.
 
***
Margaret stood in front of the church surrounded by Christmas wreaths and mistletoe that hung from the ceiling. The organ played the wedding march softly as Hal waited nervously for his bride to come to the door. Margaret bit her lip, wondering what Ann would look like in the dress. Then as Ann came through the back door on her father’s arm, Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears because suddenly, she didn’t see her best friend in that wedding dress. She saw herself as she held the wreath of flowers and smiled nervously walking up the aisle to the wedding march. And not only that, but waiting at the front was Lucas McCain with his hair slicked back and a wonderful black suit on. The grin on his face matched the sparkle in his blue eyes.
 
The music stopped as Hal reached out and took Ann’s hand. He pulled her up onto the platform and stared lovingly into her eyes. Ann reached out to give Margaret the bouquet, but Ann was once again picturing Lucas holding her close to him up on that platform. Lucas was staring into her eyes. “Margaret!” Ann suddenly whispered impatiently.
 
Margaret grabbed the bouquet from Ann and held it nervously. Her hands suddenly started sweating as the preacher cleared his throat and spoke. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this man…and this woman…together in holy matrimony.”
 
Again, the words were lost to Margaret as she imagined Lucas standing there staring into her eyes. His voice spoke “I do” so confidently. There was no hesitation. Then when it was her time, she smiled into her eyes and with every ounce of confidence she had, she whispered, “I do.”
 
“You may kiss the bride.” Margaret blushed as she pictured Lucas lean into her and kiss her. She felt a tingle all the way from the tip of her toes to the top of her head.
 
Her thoughts were interrupted, once again, by applause from the wedding guest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I now introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Hal Dodd!” Margaret hurried forward and picked up the train of Ann’s dress as she and Hal made their way down the aisle. Ann’s eyes were filled with tears. Hal paused and turned to her. He wiped a tear from her cheek and again kissed her softly. Margaret heard Hal whisper “I love you” in her ear, then they continued walking.
 
A small reception followed the wedding. Those close to the bride and groom, which included the Gibbs and McCain family, were invited to the reception. Laura was allowed to attend only for a bit. Then she was sent to assist Mrs. Pritchard with the McCain children. Ann and Hal stood at the reception as Hal picked up his glass of wine and proposed a toast to his new bride. Ann batted her eyelashes as she took a drink from her own glass. Then they kissed one last time.
 
Everyone grew quiet as Hal sat down and Ann picked up her Bible. “I want to do something a bit irregular today. Margaret, you are my best friend. Ever since we started school at the age of six, we’ve been together. But I know there is one that is closer to you than I am, and I’m sorry he can’t be here today.” Ann opened her Bible to a marked page. “My best friend and her family have been through a lot this past year. And as I watched her go through trial after trial, I saw the strength she possessed. Knowing Margaret like I do, I don’t have to wonder where she gets her strength. She gets it from her family and from God.
 
“Recently, she faced another crisis in her life that took her to her knees. In fact, when I asked her what she did when she heard about her father, she told me she fell to her knees before her God.” Ann turned to her husband. “And that’s the way I want our marriage to start. As I was praying last night for this day, I came across something that’s always stood out to me. And today as I stand before you, my husband, I think this passage is appropriate to read to you as our first reading together; and to my best friend for the strength she has given me.
 
Ann cleared her throat and looked down at the Bible.
 
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born; and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
 
Ann slowly closed her Bible as Margaret wiped the tears from her own cheek. She mouthed a thank you to her friend. Then she smiled as Ann announced, “And I think it’s a time to dance.”
 
The rest of the reception was filled with dancing. Margaret watched from a distance, refusing to dance with any man. Even her brother offered to dance with her, but she made a vow to her heart that the next time she danced, it would be in the arms of Lucas McCain. “I’ll dance again,” she told Scott. “When it’s a time of peace.”
 
She watched as Scott swept his wife out onto the dance floor. Again, she wiped her eyes. She treasured all these things in her heart.

***
 
Today my best friend got married. I’m going to marry Luke someday very soon. And when that day comes, it will be a time to live.

The Years Before — Taken

 

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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