The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 15 - Broken
Written by Michelle Palmer

Margaret hummed as she hurried into the kitchen. Amanda looked up from the stove where she was icing a chocolate cake. “What’s got you in such a good mood this morning?”
 
“I don’t know.” Margaret continued to hum as she put the loaves of bread and preserves in the basket along with the other goodies she had made for the McCain family. “When I woke up this morning, I just knew it was going to be a good day.”
 
“You’ve been moping around here ever since we heard about Gettysburg. I’m just so surprised to see you suddenly happy.”
 
“I don’t know.” Margaret smiled. “I just feel good…as if I’m going to hear from him today or something. I just feel such…peace!”
 
“Going to the McCain’s again?” Margaret nodded. Amanda turned and looked at Margaret. “How’s Ruth? Is she doing any better?”
 
“Worse.” Margaret took off her apron and hung it on a hook. “She doesn’t have long, I’m afraid.”
 
“How’s the family?”
 
“Well…” Margaret sighed. “The brothers are all holding on. They’ve watched Aunt Ruth suffer for the last week and know she’ll be joining her husband when she goes. But…Emily…” Margaret paused in her task to look at Amanda. “Emily is so close to her mother. She’s taken care of her ever since she collapsed. And Laura…” Margaret shook her head.
 
“That bad?”
 
“She’s got it really rough. Abe and Julie let her come to the house every day, but the last couple of days when Abe or Julie bring her down, she just sits by her mother’s bed and cries. I think she knows the time left with her mother is very short.”
 
 “She’s eight years old and her mother is going to die. It has to be rough.”
 
“I know.” Margaret shook her head. “Julie was down at the house yesterday and said Laura’s behavior was pretty bad. She and Abe are beside themselves on what to do with her. She has her good moments, yet she has her not-so-good moments. Julie said they are trying to be patient with her. It’s so sad watching everyone suffering like this.”
 
“She just needs a lot of love right now,” Amanda answered with a sigh. “They just need to hold her and let her know they love her.”
 
“They do.” Margaret smiled as she picked up her basket. “Well, I best go. The doctor’s coming over this afternoon.”
 
Ever since the grasshoppers had destroyed their crops, Margaret made sure to do plenty of baking for the McCain’s. Then after she and the rest of her family were told about Ruth, she started doing extra things to ease their burden. Amanda, Beth, and Jennifer understood Margaret’s desire to be there for the McCain’s. After, all, Jennifer told her, she would soon be a McCain. Margaret’s mother believed with all her heart that someday she and Lucas would be married.
 
“I’m leaving now, Mama,” Margaret announced as she headed out the door.
 
Jennifer hurried into the front room and laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Remember now…if Ruth’s condition worsens, you send word. We want to be there for the family.”
 
“I will.” Margaret nodded. Then, with a smile she hurried out the door.
 
She decided to walk that day. For mid-July, the weather was rather cool; and she could use a good walk to think. She hadn’t heard from Lucas since before Gettysburg. Each day that passed without a letter caused her more fret and worry. Not only that, but the fact that Ruth was dying lay heavily on her heart as well. Margaret was very worried about Lucas. She wondered what losing his mother would do to him. Abe told her they tried to send a telegram, but it was always hard to tell if the army actually delivered the telegram to Lucas.
 
Margaret was half-way to the McCain farm when she heard a horse quickly approaching. She stopped and turned to see who was in such a hurry. The horse was still quite a distance off, but the form on the horse made her heart skip a beat. It looked familiar somehow and…
 
The horse quickly approached. As it grew closer, she saw the familiar looking handsome face. The face held a beard, but there was no fooling who was underneath it. “Whoa!” the rider called out suddenly.  That voice was music to her ears. The one word uttered was enough to tell Margaret’s heart who the rider was. The horse, unhappy with the sudden stop, reared back on his hind legs. Margaret stood in disbelief as the rider sat in the saddle and looked down at her. His mouth gaped open and he stared, not quiet believing she was actually standing in front of him.
 
She stood frozen in time. Her hand slowly made its way to her chest as her mouth slowly opened. She didn’t want to…she couldn’t believe it was really him. She must be dreaming! She must be…”Hello, Margaret.” He stayed in the saddle as they stared at each other. “You sure are a sight for sore eyes. I can…hardly believe I’m looking at you.” Lucas slowly dismounted his horse and stood in front of her.
 
“Luke…” Margaret’s voice was merely a whisper. She slowly allowed her eyes to travel down his body. She saw his Calvary uniform all dirty and dusty, and he wasn’t giving off a pleasant aroma. . His face needed a good washing and shaving, but still…he was the most beautiful sight she’d seen in a long, long time! Her eyes filled up with tears. The basket in her hands slipped and fell with a crash to the ground, but she paid it no mind. She slowly lifted a shaky hand up to his cheek and touched his bearded face. “Is it you?” she asked quietly. “Are you really here?”
 
“I’m really here, Margaret,” his shaky voice answered. The way Lucas said those words made her heart leap. Lucas leaned his face into her hand and kissed it. “It’s so good to see you.”
 
Margaret suddenly threw her arms around him. He lifted her from the ground as he hugged her tight to him. “Oh my Darling!” Margaret cried. “Oh Lucas…You’re back! You really are here!” She couldn’t keep herself from pulling away and kissing his lips. She pecked his lips several times before he finally clung to her and gave her a long, sweet kiss. “Oh Luke…” She sobbed.
 
Lucas continued to hold her tight. He pressed his lips against the side of her neck as he continued to hold her. “Oh Marg…” Lucas sighed. “I wanted to get all cleaned up and shaved…back into my regular clothes before you saw me…”
 
“I’m glad you didn’t.” Margaret smiled. “Oh Luke…You don’t know how I’ve longed for this moment! I…” But she stopped as she looked in his eyes. In that moment, she saw something. “Luke? Luke…something’s wrong…Something’s…”
 
“Margaret…” Lucas looked as if he were about to fall down and burst into tears. But he fought against his emotions and hugged her to him once again. “Not now…” He pulled away from her a bit. “Mother? How’s Mother?”
 
“You know?” Margaret asked.
 
Lucas nodded. “Yes. I know.”
 
“Is that why you’re here?” Margaret asked. “To see your Mother?”
 
Lucas sighed. He never could lie to her. “Not…exactly. The Captain got the telegram and told me while he was putting me on a month’s leave.”
 
“Then…” Margaret swallowed. “You have to go back?” Lucas nodded. He couldn’t say anything. Margaret wanted to cry at that news, but she shook her head and grabbed his hand. “No matter. We’ll have to make the best of the time we have together.” He nodded. “Luke…why did you get leave? Isn’t that rather rare?”
 
“Yes.” Lucas sighed as he bent over to pick up her basket. He smiled. “Are you sure you didn’t know I was coming home? You have some of your cinnamon rolls in here. You know how I like those.”
 
“Luke, what’s wrong? I hear it in your voice. I see it in your eyes…but most importantly…I can feel it in my heart. Something’s wrong. I have the same feeling I had before Chancellorsville. I had it before Gettysburg. What’s wrong?”
 
Lucas lowered his head as tears filled his eyes. “We’ll talk…later…I have to see Ma.”
 
“Alright.” Margaret nodded. Lucas mounted his horse and reached down a hand to pull her up behind him. Margaret smiled. She was glad to once again be sitting behind the man she loved. She wrapped her arms snuggly around his waist and leaned her head against his back. She closed her eyes and smiled as they rode toward the McCain farm.
 
***
 
Emily quietly closed her mother’s bedroom door behind her as she exited the room and walked into the kitchen. Peter paused in pouring his coffee and looked up at her. “How is she?”
 
“It’s happening so fast.” Emily turned and slammed the tray down on the counter. “Why does this have to happen?” Deep frustration sounded in her voice.
 
Peter sat his coffee down and hurried over to her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on top of the head. “I’m sorry, honey. I wish I could stop it. I surely would.”
 
Emily sighed. “How’s Tiffany and the baby?”
 
“They’re both sleeping.” Peter smiled as he broke the brotherly embrace. “Tiffany’s feeling stronger but I want her to stay in bed for a couple more days.”
 
“Wouldn’t hurt.”
 
“Where’s Laura?” Peter asked then.
 
“I sent her to…” Emily sighed and pressed a hand to her forehead. “This has been her home for eight years. It just doesn’t seem right that it’s no longer home for her.”
 
“Emily, this will always be home for all of us. But you know Abraham’s decision is for the best. I…”
 
“I know, I know…” Emily shook her head as she rubbed it. “I’m just…missing her. I know Abraham thinks I’m too young to care for her and…”
 
“No. It’s not that you’re too young, sis. He just doesn’t want you tied down with so much responsibility. Neither do I. Emily, you’re at the age where you should be courting some handsome fellow…not mothering a little girl. That’s why Abe made the decision he did. ” Peter took another sip of his coffee and looked around. “You’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t even had time to clean. I reckon we could use a housekeeper right now.”
 
“Your arms aren’t broken!” Emily snapped.
 
Peter slowly sat down his cup. “No. Your right about that but…”
 
Emily held up a hand. “Nevermind, Peter.” Her voice held a bit of anger in it. “Don’t worry. Margaret’s coming. We’ll get it cleaned up this afternoon, Peter.” Emily looked around. The house was a mess, but between taking care of her mother and cleaning she was beside herself. She walked over to a chair and started picking up the mess. “You know Peter, it wouldn’t hurt for you to pick up your shirts instead of slinging them around all over the house!”
 
“He never did like to pick up his shirts,” a familiar voice sounded from the doorway.
 
Emily’s hands froze at the sound of that voice. She knew that voice. She slowly lifted her head and turned to stare toward the door. Her eyes grew wide and the clothes she was holding in her hands fell to the floor. “Luke?” She let out a lout cry then ran across the room to her brother’s open arms. “Luke!” She cried as he enveloped her in his arms. “Oh Luke!” She cried and cried as he held her. “We were so worried!” She lifted from him and stepped back. “We hadn’t heard from you since Gettysburg and…” She suddenly put her hands on her hips. “You smell bad! And you need a shave! And those clothes!” Emily folded her arms and shook her head as she studied her brother from head to toe.
 
“Well…” Lucas laughed as he put his arm around Margaret who was standing quietly beside him. “I’m glad to see you haven’t changed! But it just so happens, sis, that Margaret didn’t seem to mind a bit. Why, she even kissed this ugly face of mine!”
 
“Yes.” Emily smiled. “I’m sure she did!” She reached up and kissed his bearded cheek. “But she’s been wanting to kiss you since the day you left!”
 
“Emily!” Margaret blushed.
 
Lucas laughed as he turned to look at Margaret. “My little blusher…” he mumbled as he looked deeply into her eyes.
 
The whole time, Peter stood behind his sister just gaping at Lucas. “Hello, big brother,” Lucas greeted Peter with a boyish grin.
 
Peter hurried forward and gave Lucas a bear hug. “Oh, you’re a sight for sore eyes!” Peter declared. “What are you doing here?”
 
“My Captain gave me a month’s leave. I got the telegram about Ma.” Lucas paused and looked toward his parents’ bedroom door. “How is she?”
 
“Bad,” Emily answered. “She’s really bad today. We’ll know more once the doctor stops by later this afternoon.”
 
“Can I see her?”
 
“Of course.” Emily nodded. Lucas started for the bedroom. “Luke…” Lucas turned to look at his sister. “She’s too weak to talk. She’s not really aware of anything.”
 
Lucas nodded and went into the bedroom. He took off his hat and sat down on the side of the bed. “Mama…” He reached out and laid a hand on her cheek. “Mama…” Ruth slowly opened her eyes, but she couldn’t focus on him. “I’m glad I got here in time. I rode like h…mad to get here.”
 
Her face was ashen. The room was so dark that Lucas could hardly see her face. “Mama…I love you.”
 
“L…L…Luke…” Ruth whispered. “I…love…you…” Saying those three words took every ounce of strength she had. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.
 
Lucas lay his head on her chest. He needed so bad to cry in her arms. He ached for a good cry with her. Who would hold him while he cried now? Who would help him through the demons that seemed to be possessing him at the moment? He pressed a kiss to her forehead and stood to walk away. “I love you, Mama. I love you.”
 
Slowly, he walked out of the room. He turned and looked at Margaret and Emily. Peter stood beside the door. “What’s the doctor doing for her?” Lucas asked.
 
“Making her as comfortable as he can,” Emily answered quietly.
 
“Well he’s not doing enough!” Lucas banged his hand on the table. “What’s wrong with him? Why ain’t he here right now helping her?”
 
“Luke!” Peter hurried over to his younger brother and grabbed his arm. “There’s nothing he CAN do! Our mother’s dying!”
 
“I can’t believe that!” Lucas cried. “I can’t believe you are all just allowing her to die!”
 
“We aren’t!” Emily cried. But she suddenly turned away.
 
“Luke…” Margaret walked up to him and took his hand. “Luke…your mother has been sick for a long time.”
 
“And nobody did anything about it?” Lucas asked as he glared at the others in the room.
 
“We didn’t even know, Luke. Ma hid it…it all from us! She collapsed a week ago and that’s how we found out she was sick.” Peter kept eye contact with Lucas to show him he was being sincere.
 
“Oh…” Lucas breathed. “This is so unfair! Why is this all happening? Seems you have all faced heartache…and now…Mother…”
 
“It’s not all heartache.” Peter nodded. “My wife and daughter are right there in that room sleeping.”
 
“Your…” Lucas gasped. “Oh, that’s right! You have a wife!”
 
“And a daughter. She was born the same day we found out about mother and Gettysburg. The shock of everything…” Peter smiled. “My daughter is beautiful. Unfortunately, she is in quarantine for now. She was born a month early and is pretty small…the doc doesn’t want her to catch any germs and get sick so she has limited contact.”
 
“I understand.” Lucas nodded. “What’s her name?”
 
Peter lowered his head, unsure of how Lucas would take the answer. “Ruth Ellen…Ruthie.” Lucas allowed the name to sink in. “Luke, my daughter was born the day I found out my mother was dying. She wasn’t supposed to come for another month. I can’t help but believe that she was born that particular day for a good reason. It’s almost like…” Peter stopped. “When I retired for the night, I looked down at her and knew what her name would be. Little Ruthie is bringing us joy in the time of our pain.”
 
“I still can’t help but think there has to be something we can do for Ma.”
 
“Luke…there’s not. Ma’s been sick for a long time. She knew she was dying and didn’t tell us. I’m just…” Emily swallowed as she turned from the group and pressed a hand to her mouth as she cried.
 
Lucas stepped up behind her. “What, Emily? What?” Lucas asked softly.
 
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice something was wrong. I should have seen how sick she was! I should have…” Emily burst into tears and turned to once again allow Lucas’ arms to go around her.
 
“Sis, I didn’t notice either.” Peter walked up and put a hand on her back. “We saw her everyday and missed the signs. I think we all knew something was wrong though. We just didn’t want to admit it.”
 
Emily nodded. She straightened up and blew a hand in front of her face. “Luke, you really DO wreak!” she declared. “How long’s it been since you had a bath?”
 
Lucas smiled. “You don’t want to know. I’ll…go  get cleaned up. I need my clothes and soap and such…”
 
Emily turned and picked up the things she had just gathered up for him. “I expect you want to look presentable before the rest of the family arrives later. They should be here in a couple hours.”
 
Lucas looked down to see a new razor on top of the pile of things she presented him with. “I have to shave my beard?” Lucas ran a hand down his cheek. “Supposing I told you that I was planning on wearing one.”
 
“Luke…” Emily shook her head. “Abe looks good in a beard. Jeremiah wears a mustache rather well but…you, my brother look more like a hobo when you wear any facial hair.” Emily pointed to the razor. “Shave it.”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrows as he turned to look at Margaret. Margaret lowered her eyes, suddenly bashful at the look he was giving her. She smiled. “I’ll love you no matter how you look but…” Margaret smiled at him.
 
“Shave it?” Lucas asked.
 
Margaret nodded. “Shave it.”
 
Lucas smiled as he reached out and took her hand. “Please…come down in about half an hour? I’ll be presentable by then.” Margaret nodded without saying a word. She could tell Lucas needed her. She could tell he needed to talk.
 
***
Lucas sat by the water after getting dressed in his regular clothes. His uniform piled in a heap beside him. He didn’t care if he ever wore those again! As far as he was concerned, they could burn! “Hi.”
 
Lucas turned and smiled up at Margaret as she stood with her hands folded in front of her. She smiled as she kneeled down beside him. Without thinking, she pressed a hand to his smooth cheek. “Well…I knew that handsome face was under there somewhere.” She bent over and kissed him. Then she pulled away. “Oh, I shouldn’t, it’s not proper.”
 
“Hey…” Luke pressed a hand against her cheek. “It is proper. I love you.”
 
“Do you?” Margaret smiled as a warm feeling came over her. “I hoped you did. Reading it in a letter isn’t the same as…” Margaret smiled as she straightened up and looked into his eyes. “Oh…can you say it again?”
 
“Say what?”
 
“You know…” Margret blushed.
 
“Ohhhh…” Lucas pressed his hand to her cheek. “I…love…you.” He kissed her softly. “After not seeing any kind of woman for over a year, you sure are a sight!” He declared breathlessly.
 
“Oh…” Margaret playfully half-turned away from him. “So I wouldn’t be as beautiful if…”
 
“Hey hey hey! You stop that and turn back around!” Lucas smiled as she turned back toward him. “I never want to take my eyes off of you again.”
 
“My…my…for a quiet man, you certainly are saying some sweet things.” Margaret smiled. But Lucas grew quiet and lowered his head. “Alright. Tell me.”
 
Lucas lost his smile and turned away. “Not now. I can’t”
 
“Lucas…” Margaret touched his face. Lucas turned his head back around. “You’ve always been able to talk to me. Talk to me now, my Love. Don’t shut me out.” Lucas stared at her. He felt the tears filling his eyes and tried to fight them back. “Why did you get a month off? What happened?” Margaret’s voice was sweet and soothing.
 
Lucas suddenly felt uncontrollable emotions. Tears welled up in his eyes and he put his hands to his face. “Oh…Oh…Margaret…” He moaned. Then he began sobbing uncontrollable sobs that came from deep inside him. He suddenly felt like a three year old little boy.
 
Margaret’s eyes filled with tears when she saw how broken he was. She got on her knees and put her arms around his neck. “Cry, my Love. Just cry…” Margaret whispered softly. Lucas cried harder against her shoulder. He lowered his head down to her lap and cried until his eyes were red. The whole time he cried, Margaret stroked his hair gently and stayed quiet. Finally, he was spent and kept his head lying quietly on her lap as he stared out over the water.
 
Margaret listened as he grew quiet. Her heart ached, wondering what hurt had come to her love. But she knew some things took time to explain. Right now, he needed to feel protected. She would do her best to protect him for as long as she could. Softly, she began singing. It was hard to sing without tears at first, but her voice soon strengthened.
 
A broken man am I, am I
And at the seaside I did cry.
I cried until my eyes were dry
Then I let out a peaceful sigh
 
Margaret’s voice died as the song ended. Lucas just kept his head in her lap and listened to her beautiful voice. Oh, how he had longed to hear her sing for so long. How he longed to feel her arms around him. When the song died on her lips, he slowly lifted his head from her lap and stared into her eyes. She smiled and used the back of her thumbs to dry the remaining tears on his cheeks. Lucas swallowed hard.
 
“I…I killed a man.”  The words he spoke cost him dearly, but he had to confess his transgression to someone, and he trusted Margaret with his heart more than any other human being on earth.  The way he said it made it sound so terrible. Margaret sucked in her breath. “He was a…husband and father and I…I killed him.”
 
“Where?” Margaret asked softly. There was no accusation in her eyes or her voice.
 
Lucas lifted his eyes up to her and stared into her face, a bit shocked she could remain so calm at what he had admitted. “Gettysburg.”
 
“During a battle?” Margaret asked.
 
Lucas nodded. He lowered his head. He couldn’t bear to look her in the eye. “Look at me…” Margaret whispered softly. Lucas refused. “Lucas…Look at me.” Her voice held sweet honey, but it was stern.
 
Slowly, Lucas lifted his head. “Was he a Confederate Soldier?” Lucas nodded. “Then why do you speak of murder?”
 
Lucas started to lower his head, but Margaret rested her hand on his cheek and repeated her question in a stern, yet soft and gentle tone of voice. “Why do you speak of murder if it was during a battle?”
 
“Margaret…Margaret…” Lucas mumbled. “I was face to face with him. He…” Lucas reached for his jacket and slowly pulled out the letters and picture. His hands shook as he stared at the picture. Then he slowly pointed to the man he had killed. “His name is…Simon…Simon Lee.”
 
Margaret looked at the picture. She ran her fingers along the face of the man, then touched the face of the baby. “I found these on his body after I…killed him.”
 
“And this is why you were given a month’s leave?”  Lucas nodded. “Luke, I…I don’t understand. Why are they punishing you for…”
 
“No…” Lucas swallowed and closed his eyes. He stood up and leaned against the tree, his back to her. “No…that’s not the way it is. I…” Lucas closed his eyes. His chest started feeling heavy again as he leaned up against the tree. The visions that he forced deep down until he was asleep at night were trying to resurface. “I was face-to-face with him. When I looked him in the eye, I knew he wasn’t going to kill me. I saw…I saw DEATH in his eyes. I guess…”
 
Lucas slid down against the tree as tears filled his eyes. He went back to that day. The look in Simon’s eye as they stared at each other…the fear Lucas had felt as he suddenly lunged toward Simon. The sight of the blood as it trickled down his chin…The look of death in the rebel’s eyes as he gurgled and let one last breath out…It was all so fresh. Lucas suddenly wrapped his arms around his knees as his eyes filled with tears.
 
Margaret stood and came to him. She bent down beside him. “Lucas…” she whispered as tears again fell from her eyes.
 
“I thought I could but…” Lucas wiped at the tears on his face. “I can’t…I just can’t…” His voice was so broken, so desperate for the pain to go away.
 
“Luke…Why did they send you home?” Margaret asked again as she put her arm around him and drew his head to her shoulder. “Why?”
 
Lucas sniffled and wiped at his cheek again. “Because…they wanted to deem me a hero…to give me the Lieutenant stripe and I refused.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Because I don’t deserve it,” Lucas suddenly shouted as he again lifted his head and stared at Margaret. “Because I killed a man.” He paused and turned away from her. “I was a…coward.” He didn’t want to behave like this in front of her, but his tears were like a faucet he couldn’t turn off. He cried. “I was a…a coward…” he whispered painfully.
 
Margaret’s heart ached for Lucas. She’d never seen him so broken before. Somehow, she had to help him, but she didn’t know how. She thought of a million things she could say. She thought about telling him he was doing his job – or maybe that Simon would have killed him had Lucas not killed him; but those things didn’t seem appropriate. She had no idea how to help him; and that hurt her more than anything.
 
Again, Margaret wrapped her arm around his neck and pressed his head against her shoulder as he sobbed. She kissed him softly. “We don’t have to talk anymore tonight. We’ll talk more in a few days.” Margaret lifted his head and pressed her hands against each cheek. “We’ll talk about it. It’s the reason you came home. Okay?”
 
Lucas nodded. “I’ll be here for about three weeks. Then I have to go back.” Lucas closed his eyes. “And right now…I don’t know how I can do that.”
 
Margaret lowered her head. “Oh, I know it’s not long but it’s all I can give you,” Lucas said suddenly.
 
Margaret smiled. “Three weeks. We’ll have three weeks.”
 
Lucas relaxed as he stared into her eyes. “Margaret…I’m sorry about Andy. I was so afraid you would…”
 
Margaret pressed a finger to his lips and shook her head. “No, Luke. The news was terrible, I’ll admit that. I will miss him something awful but…even worse than that is my father.”
 
“Yes…” Lucas sighed. “Seems this war has done so much to so many.” Margaret sat down beside Lucas under the tree. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head as she laid her head on his shoulder. “I wonder why it took us being apart to realize how we feel…” he murmured.
 
“I don’t know.” Margaret lifted her head to look into his face. “How much longer will this war last?”
 
Lucas sighed. “On our Country’s birthday, it was rainy in Gettysburg when we worked on burying the dead. But as we stared through the rain across the battle line, we saw the Rebels. They are nothing but a bunch of men who came together to fight for what they believe in. Margaret, they believe in it as strongly as we do but…they don’t have the chances we have. They don’t have the weapons or the man power, yet they are so determined…every last one of them…until they all die.”
 
Lucas grew quiet. She could feel the tension in his arms as they held her. “We should get back.”
 
“Yes…” Lucas sighed regretfully. He didn’t want this moment to end. “I’m sure everyone knows I’m back by now.”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret answered him as she stood up. “Luke, Emily wants to see the look on their faces as they walk in and see you. She said she needed some excitement like that.”
 
Lucas allowed himself to chuckle as they walked back to the house.
 
Emily looked up from where she was kneading dough when the door opened. She paused as she blew some hair out of her face. Slowly, she straightened and walked towards Lucas. “Now…this is the brother I know and love!” she declared. “Yes…you look good and clean, and you smell like Lavender!”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas nodded. “What happened to the normal lye soap?” Emily chuckled as she went back to her work.
 
Lucas slowly walked over to the fireplace mantle and took down the family photo done just two years ago. He stared at the image of the happy family. Julie had been heavy with child then. His mother had been healthy. Lucas focused on his father’s face. “Papa…” He whispered as he remembered the final embrace they had shared before Lucas had left for war.
 
Margaret walked up behind him. “It’s not the same here without him.”
 
Lucas looked around the house. “Things are so…different now. I’ve only been gone a little over a year. Saw Jeremiah’s house while ago.” Lucas shook his head. “No crops in the fields…no work to do…”
 
“Oh, there’s plenty of work to do!” Emily declared as she gave the bread one final punch.
 
Lucas walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. “How are you holding up Sis?”
 
Emily washed her hands, then dried them on her apron. “So much has happened this last year, Luke. It’s been one thing after the other. I…”
 
The door opened, interrupting whatever she was about to say.
 
“Emily, Julie needs…” Abraham’s voice died as he stood in the doorway. He stared at the sight in front of him as Lucas slowly turned to face him. “Luke?” Abraham walked into the room and crossed to the kitchen in four big steps. “Lucas!” He hugged his little brother tight. “What are you doing here?”
 
“He’s just here for three weeks,” Margaret answered quickly.
 
“Why?” Abraham asked as he put his hands on his hips. “Did you get hurt or something?”
 
“No, I…” Lucas gave Abraham a playful punch in the arm. “How’s that family of yours? I bet that Charlie sure is growing!”
 
Abraham nodded. “Yes he is. So are David, Samuel, and Adam. They’re walking now. They get into the biggest messes!”
 
“I’m sure.” Lucas shook his head. “Wow..four boys!”
 
“Have you seen Ma?” Lucas nodded. “The doctor should be here anytime. He was just leaving our house.”
 
“Everything’s okay?” Emily asked.
 
“Fine. Julie’s made a full recovery. He sees no reason why she should have any trouble conceiving again.”
 
“How is Ma?” Lucas asked. “I mean…she could hardly talk to me.”
 
Abraham shook his head. “You got here just in time, Luke. The doctor said it should be only a few days. She’s said goodbye already.”
 
“Can’t even get water down her anymore. All I can do is squeeze a few drops in her mouth. She looks awful.” Emily’s eyes filled with tears.
 
“Laura Rose?” Lucas turned toward Abraham. “How’s she taking this?”
 
Abraham shook his head. “Not well, I’m afraid. She doesn’t understand…feels everything’s being taken away from her.” Abraham sighed. “It’s going to be rough for her. She’s acting out more than usual now – I can’t punish her much these days. Julie’s asked me to step aside and let her deal with Laura’s behavior during this time.”
 
“She staying with you?” Lucas asked. Abe nodded. “Permanent?” Abe nodded again. “I see. How is she taking that?”
 
“It’s rough for her. But we’re talking about her feelings and we’re giving her a whole lot of love. She can’t process it all. Right now, she’s trying to come to terms with the fact that…” Abe shook his head. “I don’t know how I can expect her to when I can’t even come to terms with it.” Abe’s eyes filled with tears. “How can we go on without Ma?” His voice broke.
 
“I don’t know.” Lucas shook his head. He looked around the house. “I can’t believe that…that Pa’s gone.”
 
Abraham patted a hand on his brother’s shoulder as Lucas’s eyes filled with tears. “I tell you what…why don’t you come back to the farm with me. It’ll do Laura a world of good to see her favorite brother.”
 
“Oh, I don’t know…” Lucas looked into his brother’s eyes. “I think maybe she has a new favorite brother…now that I abandoned her.”
 
Abe paused and cocked his head to one side. “Luke, what’s wrong? You look so…”
 
“Broken…” Margaret whispered. “Like someone snapped him in half.”
 
 Lucas didn’t answer. He turned and grabbed his old cowboy hat hanging on the peg by the door. He looked at it and smiled. “It sure is good to have this back.” Then he reached down and grabbed his rifle, which he had sat by the door earlier.
 
“Luke…” Margaret gasped as she stared at the rifle in his hand.
 
Luke looked down at it. “I’m sorry…guess I got used to carrying one everywhere I go.” Surprisingly, he didn’t put it back where it belonged. He held it in his hand at his side. “Let’s go.”
 
They started out the door. Abraham turned and looked at Margaret. “I’ll bring him back to you. I promise.” She smiled, but her eyes were fixed on the rifle in Luke’s hand. She was beginning to realize that in a way, her fears were becoming a reality. The Luke that rode off to war that day would never be back.
 
***
 
Julie sighed as she turned from the sink. “Now Laura, I’ve asked you a dozen times already to go shuck that corn! Your brother went all the way to Stillwater to pick it up for tonight and I need to cook it!”
 
Laura sat at the table drawing a picture. “I don’t wanta!” she declared defiantly. “I don’t wanta and…and I don’t hafta! You ain’t my Mama!”
 
Julie closed her eyes and clinched the sink as anger came over her. Laura had been like this ever since she returned from seeing her mother. Julie tried to be understanding, but her patience was wearing thin. She lifted her head and stared straight ahead. “Laura Rose McCain, I’m going to ask you one more time before I get your brother’s…”
 
Julie stopped in mid-sentence when she saw her husband returning with Lucas by his side. She gasped, her eyes growing wide with shock. “I don’t believe…” she mumbled. “Luke!” she shouted out then. She turned from the sink, drying her hands on her apron as she ran to the door. “Lucas is here, Laura Rose!”
 
Laura gasped and ran to the door.  But she didn’t follow Julie out of the house. She stood with her head peaking around the wall and watched Julie run to Lucas and hug him tight. “Oh Lucas!” Julie cried. She parted from him and took his face in her hands. “Let me look at ya!” She saw the scar on his face. “Is that were you got shot?”
 
“It is.”
 
“But other than that…you look like you came back just the same.” She noticed the rifle held firmly in his hand. “What’s that for? You going hunting?”
 
Lucas looked down at the rifle. “It’s for protection, of course. You never know when someone’s going to try to kill you.”
 
Julie slowly turned and looked at Abraham. Abraham merely shook his head, telling her to leave it alone. “Papa! Papa!” Charlie, freshly awake from his nap, ran toward his father.
 
Lucas stared at Charlie. “Well I’ll be a…is THAT Charlie?”
 
“He’s grown a bit,” Abraham acknowledged as he stooped down and picked the little boy up in his arms. He gave Charlie a kiss. “Say hello to your Uncle Luke.” Charlie waved, but lay his head on his father’s shoulder.
 
“Have you seen Peter and his family yet?” Julie asked.
 
“Only briefly before I went in to see Ma. I mean, I saw Peter.”
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “Peter’s making Tiffany stay in bed until he’s sure she’s fully recovered. It was a hard delivery…almost lost the baby.”
 
”Well, Peter mentioned that Tiffany had the baby, but he didn’t say anything about almost losing it…What happened?”
 
Julie shrugged. “The baby came early and was breached.” Lucas narrowed his eyes. “Oh…a baby’s born head first, but this one was about to come feet-first. It’s very dangerous for both mother and baby and the doctor tries to turn the baby before its born…very painful and sometimes results in death.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas nodded, not really understand but not wanting to pursue the conversation any further. “Where’s the other kids?”
 
“I’m sure the boys are up. Laura’s inside. She knows you’re here. I’m not sure why she didn’t come out.” Julie turned. “Laura? Laura come on out and say hello to your brother!” Laura never appeared. “She’s going through a lot right now, Luke. She’s good as gold and so helpful one minute. But the next, she’s… I can’t get her to obey me for anything. In fact Abe, before you walked out, I was about to take her over MY knee.” She turned back to the house. “Laura!”
 
Laura slowly stepped into the doorway. She saw Luke standing there, but she couldn’t believe he was really there. She stepped out onto the porch, narrowing her eyes to look at him. “My Rosebud!” Lucas smiled as he held out his arms to her. But she didn’t move. Lucas started forward, but Abraham grabbed him and told him to wait.
 
Laura stepped off the first step. She put a hand to her mouth as she studied the figure in front of her. Then she stepped onto the ground. “Abe…Abe!” Laura called.
 
Abraham hurried over to her and stooped down in front of her. “Is it his ghost? Did he die?”
 
“No, honey. He’s right here. Our brother’s come home.” Abraham put a hand on her shoulders. “Go to him, honey.”
 
Laura still wasn’t so sure. Deep inside, she’d given up hope of ever seeing him again. Lucas dropped to his knees. “Rosebud…” he said again. This time his voice was gentler.
 
“Go to him, Honey. You’ll know it’s really him as soon as you’re in his arms.” Abraham patted her back. “Go to him.”
 
“I know!” Lucas dug in his pocket. He held up the silver dollar. “Look, honey. I still have this. I held it many times when things got tough and I…” Lucas pressed the coin to his lips. “I kissed it every night before I went to sleep.”
 
Laura cocked her head to one side. “Honest?” She finally spoke to him.
 
“Oh, honest!” Lucas answered with a firm nod. “You’re my Rosebud!”
 
Tears suddenly filled her eyes. She let out a cry and ran to her brother. Lucas wrapped his arms around her as she sobbed. Her sobs were heavy with emotions she had held inside for the longest time, waiting for Lucas to take them from her. They were painful and deep. Lucas felt his eyes fill with tears as he sat on the ground and rocked her back and forth in his arms. “Oh Rosebud…” he whispered softly in her ear.
 
Julie, Charlie, and Abraham slipped inside to leave the two alone.
 
In time, Laura laid quietly in Lucas’s arms. Lucas kissed the top of her head but kept his arms firmly around her as he just held her. “You don’t know how good it feels to hug you again, Laura Rose.”
 
Laura sniffed as Lucas again hugged her tight. “I didn’t think you’d come back.”
 
Lucas put a hand under her chin and lifted her face up to look at him.  “I told you I would,” Lucas answered tenderly as he raised his eyebrows.
 
“I know, but…” Laura lowered her head. “God’s taking everyone away from me. I thought he took you too.”
 
“Oh Laura…” Lucas again squeezed her tight. “Honey, God hasn’t taken everyone away from you! How can you even say that? Why, you still have Abraham and his family, Jeremiah and Em, Peter and his family, Emily, Margaret and the rest of the Gibbs family…God’s not taking everybody away from you.” Lucas kissed her forehead. “I know that right now it may seem that way though.”
 
“He took Papa. Now he’s taking Mama.” Laura sniffed
 
“Oh.” Lucas ached at the thought of his parents being gone. He still hadn’t grasped that his father was really gone. He still expected the great Marcus McCain to come barreling out of his house and ordering him to stop sitting around. “I don’t want Mama to die either, honey. But…Papa’s heart was really bad. That’s what took him. When he died, God welcomed him into heaven – gave him a whole new body – a new heart.”
 
Laura slowly lifted her head to look at Lucas. “You really think so?”
 
“Oh, of course! The body Papa got wasn’t broken and all, and the heart worked perfectly!”
 
“Will He give Mama a new body?” Lucas nodded. “Julie said that Mama’s body is being attacked by something. She said it was can…can…”
 
“Cancer?” Lucas didn’t even know what had ailed his mother until just this moment. “Yes.” He nodded. “Mama will have a whole new body. You see, sweetie…God didn’t give her the cancer. But God will take it away when he welcomes her home in Heaven.”
 
“I don’t want Mama to die…” Laura sighed.
 
“No.” Lucas scooted her away from him just a bit. “But I know you don’t want to see Mama in a lot of pain either.” Laura lowered her head. “Do you?” She shook her head.
 
“I feel different inside now. I feel like…I can’t explain it. Like something’s bad inside me. Like…”
 
“Part of you is dying too?” Luke’s voice broke. He felt like his whole being was dying. Lucas turned away from Laura, suddenly overcome by tears.
 
“What’s wrong, Luke?” Laura asked. But he shook his head. “Part of you dying too? Is it Ma?” Luke stood and walked away. He was so overcome with emotion that he could no longer speak. Laura hurried toward the house. “Abe! Abe!” Abe walked out. “Something’s wrong with Luke!” Abe heard the worry in his sister’s voice.
 
Abe started to walk toward his brother when he realized Laura was about to follow. “No, you stay here, Rosebud. I’ll go to him.”
 
Laura stood and watched Abe walk to Lucas. “What’s the matter?” Julie asked as she stood in the doorway.
 
“I don’t know. Something’s wrong with Luke.” Laura turned. “Luke says part of me is dying inside. Is that right?”
 
Julie stepped down the steps and studied Laura’s face. She saw worry and sadness there. Laura hardly understood exactly what death meant. Julie knew Laura didn’t understand the concept an adult Lucas had tried to explain. Julie dropped in front of Laura and grabbed her shoulders. “When your father died, it hurt you inside, right?” Laura nodded. “And I suspect it will always hurt right there in that spot of your heart.”
 
“It does. Every time I think about him I…” Laura’s bottom lip started to quiver.
 
Julie nodded as she stared into Laura’s face. “When your Mother dies, you’ll feel a spot deep inside that hurts all the time, and it’ll never really go away. You’ll just learn to live with that hurt spot.”
 
“So I AM dying inside?” Laura asked suddenly, fear lying on her face. “Is it cancer?”
 
“Oh Laura! I wish I could explain it to you better!” Julie drew Laura into her arms and hugged her. “The people we love…” Julie licked her lips. “It’s like they have a room in our heart. There’s a room for every person we love. The room we have for Jesus is a special room and he’ll always stay there, but the other rooms…well, they can become empty. You have an empty room in there where your father used to be. Soon you’ll have an empty room where you’re mother used to be.” Julie sighed. “Those rooms feel empty…they always will feel empty.”
 
“Nobody will come and live in those rooms again?” Laura asked as she sniffed.
 
Julie shook her head. “The room is still full of memories and love for the person who once lived there. Nobody can EVER take the place of the person who once lived in that room. But in a way, Pa and Ma will always live there…in your memories.”
 
“Is Luke sad ‘cause of those empty rooms?”
 
“I don’t know, Laura. But your brothers and Margaret will be there for him…whatever his trouble is.”
 
Laura sniffed and hung her head. “I’m sorry for yelling at ya, Julie I didn’t mean...” Laura looked up at Julie. “I mean…”
 
Julie shook her head. “I know, honey. I know.” Julie hugged her.
 
“I’ll go shuck the corn now.” Julie watched Laura slowly walk away toward the corral. Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her cheek. Her heart was breaking for Laura.
 
***
“Luke?” Abe found Luke by a big oak tree. His hand pressed on the tree as he leaned into it.  His shoulders sagged as if they held the weight of the world. “What’s wrong?”
 
“My mother’s dying!” Luke answered too quickly.
 
“Yes.” Abe gently put a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “But there’s something else. I saw it in your eyes earlier.” Abe waited, but Lucas offered no explanation. “What is it?”
 
Lucas turned and looked at his brother. He opened his mouth to answer, but the words wouldn’t come out. “It’s…it’s nothing! I’m just upset that my father’s gone and my mother soon will be. Is that so hard to understand?” Abe heard the pain and torture in his brother voice. His heart went out to him.
 
“No. Because I feel pretty broken inside myself,” Abe answered. “But you’re broken for some other reason. What is it?”
 
“I said it’s nothing!” Lucas lashed out. “It’s just because my Mother…the woman who gave me life…is dying!”
 
Abe saw the pain on his brother’s face. He also saw more. His brother was pale – looked as if he’d been sick. He was too skinny and too tired. But Abe decided not to press it now. “Alright. You want to come on inside and meet my other sons?”
 
“I’ll be there in a minute.” Lucas looked toward his sister who was sitting quietly in the corral shucking the corn. Lucas shifted the rifle in his hand to his other hand and slowly walked toward his sister. He sat the rifle down outside the corral and went to sit down beside Laura. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sad about…about Mama.”
 
“Julie explained it to me.” Lucas picked up an ear of corn and started shucking it. “She said you have some empty rooms in your heart…from people you’ve loved who died.”
 
“And others…” Luke mumbled as the visions once again played in his mind. He forced them down until later. He knew that night in his fitful sleep they’d come out. They always did. “So how do you like living here?”
 
“It’s crowded in the bedroom with the boys,” Laura answered honestly. “But…Abe said we’d talk about giving me my own room after Mama…” Laura lowered her head. “Luke…when…”
 
“I don’t know, Laura. Very soon, I’m sure.” They worked on the corn silently. When it was done, Lucas picked up the bucket of fresh corn and they walked inside together.
 
 The moment Lucas and Laura walked in the door, Lucas was bombarded by four little boys running around the main room. “Boys!” Julie shouted as they toppled at her feet. “Abe…”
 
Lucas bent down and picked one of the little boys up. “Who’s this one, Laura Rose?”
 
“Oh, that’s David! He’s the trouble maker!”
 
“Laura!” Abe lightly reprimanded her. “Don’t talk like that about your nephews!”
 
“Well…David likes to explore.”
 
“At their age, they ALL like to explore!” Lucas declared. He scratched his chin. “And it seems to me like a little girl in this very room enjoyed exploring. In fact, it seems we found her ‘exploring’ the creek a lot!”
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “That little girl still enjoys exploring!”
 
Julie lowered her eyes and looked at the rifle in Luke’s hand. “Luke…as soon as Abe enters the door, his guns come off and are hung on the hook. We do have small children in here, so you should put that thing up somewhere safe.” Her voice was very stern.
 
Abraham took it and sat it on the makeshift rack over the mantle. When he turned, he saw the weary look in his brother’s eyes. “Um…this must have been a pretty long day for you, Luke. Let’s sit down.”
 
Luke sat down at the table. He watched silently as Julie snapped the beans. He saw her hands pause. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Hm?” Luke lifted his eyes to look at her. “Oh…it’s just been so long since…little things like this…snapping beans…sitting at a table…it’s just been so long.”
 
“We’re having supper at Ma’s tonight,” Julie announced. “I need to hurry so I can get down there.”
 
“We uh…” Lucas rubbed the back of his neck and stood up. “I’m sorry…” He grabbed his rifle and hurried out of the house.
 
“Abe…” Julie looked at her husband after Lucas left. “Honey, what’s wrong with him?”
 
Abe stood and went to look out the window. He saw Luke go to stand by the corral. Lucas lowered his head. His shoulder began to shake. “Pa told me about this once. He said some men…after fighting…something happens and they crack. They can’t live with the things they had to do…the…”
 
“Uh Abe…” Julie warned him. Abe turned to look at Laura. “You know…” Julie licked her lips. “It occurs to me that if we had some blackberries I could make a pie,” she suggested. Laura sat still at the table with her head in her hands. Julie cleared her throat.
 
Laura slowly lifted her head. “I don’t like blackberries!” she declared. “’Sides, Mama makes the best blackberry pie! Nobody…”
 
“Laura Rose!” Abe warned.
 
“Abe…” Julie cleared her throat.
 
“Now Julie, I will not stand here and allow her to talk to you that way! Now young lady, Julie asked you to pick some berries, so get to it.” Laura stood up with a sigh and went to get the berry bucket. She walked to the door. “Young lady…” Abe warned again.
 
“Yes sir,” Laura mumbled. She opened the door and saw Lucas. “Abe…can I ask Luke to help me?”
 
“Sure,” Abe answered with a nod. He waited for the door to close and turned to look at Julie.
 
“How do we help him, Abe?” Julie asked as a loud clanging sound suddenly erupted from the floor where the boys were playing.
 
“I don’t know, Julie.” Abe shook his head. He walked back to the window and watched Luke take Laura’s hand. “But somehow…we’ve got to help him.”
 
“Abe…it’s like something’s eating him up inside. I’ve never seen him like this.”
 
“I know, Julie. Let’s focus on Ma right now. Then maybe we can find some way to help Luke.”
 
***
 
When Lucas and Laura returned, Lucas played with the children on the floor of the house while he waited to walk back down the hill with the family. He enjoyed getting to know his nephews, and he even managed to laugh as he tickled them.
 
With rifle in hand, Lucas made his way back down the hill. He carried David, bouncing him up and down as they went. When he got into the yard, he sat David down and allowed him to toddle to the quilt Emily had laid out for the children to play on. He watched Dr. Stevens slowly ride away in the buggy.
 
Lucas wasted no time. He hurried into the house. “Luke…” Jeremiah started in surprise as he stood from the table.
 
But Lucas ignored him and hurried to Emily. “How’s Ma? What did the doctor say?” He questioned anxiously, praying some miracle had occurred.
 
Emily had her back to him. She lifted a hand to her face and slowly wiped the tears away. She slowly turned and looked up at her brother. “She’s leaving us very soon, Luke. He doesn’t think she’ll make it through the night.” She sniffed as her bottom lip quivered. “Luke…I…I don’t think I can live without her!”
 
Lucas closed his eyes as a feeling of great loss suddenly came over him. He slowly sat down as his eyes again filled with tears. He shook his head from side to side. “I’m…sorry…I should have never gone away.   This is all my fault…my fault…I killed Pa and…”
 
Jeremiah, still in shock that Lucas was here, was also feeling a great loss. He slowly walked around the table. “Luke, now this isn’t your fault!” He declared as he sat down beside his brother. He just stared at his brother, studying his features as he wondered why Lucas was back.
 
“They were both alive when I left. Ma was healthy and…”
 
“No Luke…” Peter turned from the mantle where he had been standing and slowly walked over to Lucas. He kneeled down in front of his brother. “The doctor told us that Ma was sick before Pa died. All this time…All these months…She’s suffered alone!”
 
“But why?” Lucas asked as he shook his head. “Why didn’t she tell anyone so we could take care of her…make things easier for her…”
 
Jeremiah turned and looked toward the bedroom door. “That…” he sighed. “…is something she’ll take to her grave with her. We don’t know. Maybe she didn’t want pity.”
 
“Or maybe she was in denial,” Emily suggested from her place.
 
“Or maybe…maybe…she just hoped that…that God would heal her.”
 
Lucas wiped his eyes with the palm of his hands and groaned. “Oh, this is so hard!” He looked at Jeremiah. “It’s good to see you.”
 
“It’s good to see you too, baby brother. What are you doing here? Did you get the telegram? Is that why you came back?”
 
Lucas closed his eyes. He wished everyone would stop asking him why he came back! “Yeah,” he merely answered.
 
“I’m glad the army let you come home to say goodbye. I wish you could have done that with Pa.” Jeremiah put his arm around Lucas as he grieved. “I know that in a way…Ma’s death is like grieving for both our folks.”
 
Lucas stood up on shaky legs and made his way toward his mother’s bedroom. He walked inside and closed the door behind him. Then he slowly walked over to the bed. He sat down and laid his head on her chest, listening to her shallow breathing and her faint heartbeat. “Mama…I need you so much,” he whispered. “If only you could hold me one more time…”
 
He couldn’t say much as he sat on the side of the bed with his head on her chest. Her breaths were so shallow and raspy. He felt tears once again slip from his eyes as he just laid on her. “Mama…”
 
The door softly opened. A crack of light shone on the pair on the bed. “Uh…” Peter stood in the doorway. “Emily said it’s time to eat.”
 
Lucas didn’t move, but just laid there in that same position. He didn’t want to leave her. He was afraid she’d slip away before he came back. “Luke…” Margaret’s voice sounded from behind him. She gently put her hands on his forearms and coaxed him to stand. “Let’s go eat.”
 
Lucas wiped his eyes as he allowed Margaret to lead him toward the door. “Did you say goodbye?” Margaret asked in the doorway.
 
Lucas nodded. “My heart said goodbye. That’s why it’s aching more than ever now.”
 
Margaret took his hand and squeezed it. Then she led him out the door.
 
***
 
The entire Gibbs family had arrived while Lucas was in with his mother. They were all shocked to see him there. Emily and Julie didn’t think they would ever be able to calm everyone down so Abraham could bless the food. As they started eating, Lucas was overwhelmed with questions. Some he answered, but others were too painful to respond to. He merely cleared his throat and changed the subject when those questions came up.
 
Margaret sat right beside Lucas. She watched him closely. There wasn’t a single bite of food that went into his mouth that evening. Lucas squeezed her hand every once in a while and tried to smile at her, but his smile never really formed. “Isn’t the food good?” Margaret finally asked. “You’ve always liked fried chicken.”
 
Lucas looked down at it. “Well…I guess I’ve just been eating cornmeal and beans so long I…” Lucas stopped as he realized the room had grown quiet. Everybody looked at him. “I’ll go check on Ma.”
 
“No.” Julie stood up. “You stay. I’ll check on her.” Julie disappeared into the bedroom as quiet conversation again started at the table.
 
Julie came back out and sat down next to Abe. “Did she take any water?” Emily asked. Julie shook her head. “Well, I…” She started to stand up, but Peter grabbed her hand. Julie bit her lip.
 
“Emily, you know what the doctor said. She’s too weak to drink any water,” Peter reminded his sister in a gentle voice.
 
Jennifer cleared her throat as she stood up. “I think it’s time for us to go. May I go say goodbye?” Emily nodded.
 
“Aunt Jenny, you know you don’t have to ask,” Jeremiah mumbled softly. Jennifer nodded then slowly turned and walked into the bedroom.
 
“She’s saying goodbye,” Jeremiah mumbled. “They’ve been friends for a…long time.”
 
Jennifer came out of the bedroom wiping her eyes. Beth came to her and hugged her. “Let’s go home, Mama.” Even Johnny was quiet as he went with his mother.
 
Scott and Amanda stood up. “Emily…if anything happens…I mean…” Amanda stopped.
 
“We’ll let you know,” Peter nodded.
 
Amanda started for the door, but paused when she saw Scott staring at Ruth’s bedroom door. “Scott?”
 
“I remember when I was a kid. My Ma was really sick and I came to stay over here. Remember that, Peter?” Scott’s voice was low and heavy with emotion as he spoke.
 
Peter nodded. “I remember. You had a bad dream and Ma…” Peter stopped as his eyes filled with tears.
 
“Scott…if you want to say goodbye…” Amanda started.
 
Scott took a step toward the bedroom. “No, I…”
 
“Come on.” Amanda took his hand. “I’ll be right beside you.” They disappeared into the bedroom as the family sat quietly at the table.
 
“Abe?” Laura broke the silence.
 
“What is it, Rosebud?”
 
“Why’s Scott saying goodbye? Is he going somewhere?”
 
Abe felt his eyes fill with tears. He bent down beside her. “No, sweetie. Mama’s just about to go to Heaven.”
 
“To…tonight?” Laura asked as she swallowed hard.
 
Abe nodded. “We think so. She’s held on as long as she could. It’s time for her to go to Papa.”
 
“No!” Laura’s eyes filled with tears. She saw the door open as Scott came out. Amanda held onto him as they went out the door. Laura started to bolt for the bedroom. Abe tried to grab her, but she ran forward.
 
Luke slowly stood up from his chair. His legs shook from nerves. “Goodnight, Luke,” Margaret whispered. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
Lucas stared at her as she hurried out the door. He turned toward the bedroom. Laura was on the bed laying against her mother. Julie was beside the bed with her hand on Laura’s shoulder as Laura cried. Abe, Peter, Jeremiah, and Luke all gathered at the foot of their mother’s bed. Em stood silently in the bedroom as tears filled her eyes. Tiffany had come out of her bedroom quietly and stood in the doorway looking inside. Emily fell to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably.
 
The family stood there for a long time and cried as they looked down at their mother. Laura was shivering. Abe forced himself to walk up to the head of the bed. “Laura, say goodbye.”
 
“No!” Laura cried. “I can’t!”
 
Abe sat down on the side of the bed and lifted her up. He held her tight in his arms. “Laura, you have to say goodbye.”
 
“No!” Laura cried.
 
“Laura…” Abe started.
 
“Abe…” Julie gently laid a hand on his back and shook her head.
 
“We have to go home now, honey. The boys need to sleep.” Abe’s voice broke as he realized he had to say goodbye now. He didn’t want to do that. He wanted to stay here all night. He wanted to hold her hand as she took her last breath, but he had watched his father breathe his last and he couldn’t do it again. He just couldn’t.
 
Julie motioned for Abe to get up. She sat down behind Laura. She drew her back against her and whispered in the girl’s ear. “Honey, I want you to do what you want to do. It could be hours before she goes. We don’t know but…” Julie paused. Her voice was breaking from emotion. “You have to be prepared, Laura. When you walk out of here…it will probably be the last time you see her.”
 
Tears fell silently from Laura’s eyes as she stared at her mother. “She’s not really alive now…is she?” Laura’s voice broke. “I mean…it’s not my Mama…”
 
“In some ways…you’re right.” Julie pressed her cheek against Laura’s. She kissed her. “In some ways she is gone already. Her heart’s still beating and she’s still breathing.”
 
Laura bit her lip. “Oh, it hurts so! It hurts, Julie!” She cried. Julie hugged her tighter. Laura bent down and kissed her mother on the cheek. “I love you, Mama. Tell Papa I said hi. Tell him I’ll be good. I promise!” Laura’s lip trembled as she clung to Julie. “I’ll be a good girl for Abe and Julie, Mama. I’ll be the best girl I can! Oh…oh Mama…” Laura sobbed as Julie held her.
 
Suddenly, Laura jumped from Julie’s embrace and ran out of the room. Lucas closed his eyes and turned away. He stopped at the door to look at his mother one last time. “I love you, Mama. Goodbye.” Tears fell from his eyes. He walked into the main room to find Laura in her mother’s chair sobbing. “Rosebud…”
 
Laura jumped up and ran to Lucas. She threw her arms around his neck and cried hard. Lucas turned to find Abe, his face wet with tears, walking out. “Let’s get the children and go home,” he said quietly. “Luke…you stay with us?” Lucas nodded. Then they walked out the door.
 
When they got home, Julie immediately took the boys to their bedroom and laid them down in bed. They were all exhausted and didn’t wake up for their changing. She closed the door and turned to see Lucas sitting at the table. Laura’s head was on his chest and her arms were locked around his neck. Her cries had died, but she still sniffed.
 
“Where’s Abe?”
 
“He went to get the cot from the barn,” Lucas answered quietly.
 
“Laura, let’s get you ready…” Julie started to take her from Lucas, but Laura whimpered. “Luke…” Her grip tightened around his neck.
 
Lucas stood up. “I’ll put her to bed and stay with her until she falls to sleep.”
 
Abe came in with the cot and set it up. Julie got blankets for Lucas to use. She saw the red in her husband’s eyes and knew he had himself a good cry while out in the barn. “Abe…” Abe stood and turned. Then he threw his arms around Julie. “Oh Mama…” Abe wept as she held him. Julie slowly sat down. Abe laid his head in her lap as he sat on the floor. His fists clinched her dress. “Mama…”
 
In time, Abe stood to his feet. He and Julie went to bed. In time, Lucas came out of the bedroom and lay on his cot. He dreaded this time because he knew what would happen. Lucas closed his eyes to get some sleep before the nightmares came.
 
***
Her head turned. Tears lay heavily on her cheeks. “We’ll miss you. We love you. Hurry home.” Simon kissed her one last time. He stepped from the porch, rifle slung over his shoulder, and waved as she blew him a kiss.
 
But this time, it was different. It was in slow motion: She threw her hands to her face and let out a loud cry. Then she clutched her middle and fell to her knees as she cried hard. A piece of paper fell from her hand. The small boy standing beside her put his hand in his mouth and cried as he pointed to his father.
 
Simon turned to run off. Blood trickled from his mouth. His eyes grew wide and held that same look they’d held that day. He fell to the ground with a hard, loud thud.
 
“No! No!” Lucas shouted as he sat up and grabbed his chest. “Go away! Go…” He stopped and looked around him. Sweat poured from his face. He sat on the side of the cot and put his head in his hands. Total despair had once again settled over him.
 
The door to the bedroom opened. Abraham hurried out with a lit lantern. “Luke? Luke?” He froze when he saw the state his little brother was in. Abraham quickly sat the lantern down and hurried over to his brother. He bent down in front of him and looked up into his eyes. “What’s happened? What’s this all about, Luke?”
 
“Nothing.”
 
“Bull!” Abraham continued staring in his eyes. “Luke, you had a night terror.” Abe brushed the hair from Luke’s forehead, which was drenched with sweat. “What was the dream? What demon are you wrestling with?”
 
Lucas stood and walked toward the front door. “It’s nothing!” he answered more harshly as he reached for his rifle. He hurried out onto the porch and took in deep breaths, trying to calm his emotions. “Can’t a man have a bad dream?”
 
“Well yes but…this was more than a bad dream. This is fear.”
 
Lucas suddenly turned and glared at his brother. “You calling me a coward, Abe? Is that what you’re doing? I’m not! I’m not a coward! I just can’t live with the fact that I killed…” Lucas stopped and turned around. Slowly, he sunk down onto the step.
 
Abraham sat down beside him. He put an arm around Luke’s shoulder and just watched him silently. He knew Lucas was struggling with something – could tell the moment he saw him yesterday. Silence stayed for a long time. Finally, Julie cleared her throat from behind. “Should I make some warm milk?”
 
“I don’t think warm milk will help what he’s struggling with, honey. You go on back to bed.” Julie studied Abe’s eyes then nodded and went back inside.
 
“Don’t worry…” Lucas sighed. “I’ll be better tomorrow once I start helping with the chores and talking to the family. They only come at night when everything’s quiet.”
 
“What?” Abraham asked.
 
“The…the visions…the images…I’ll be better tomorrow.”
 
“What about when you go back, Luke? Will you survive in this state? Will you?” Abraham shook his head. “The only thing that will help you is talking about it.”
 
“I can’t…” Lucas swallowed. “I just…I can’t…It’s too awful!”
 
“Luke, I…” Abraham stopped. His eyes focused on something coming up over the rise. It was a lantern swinging rapidly. “What the…” He jumped and ran toward the light without thinking.
 
Emily was crying. “Abe, it’s time! Peter rode for the doctor. I tried to tell him to stay but…”
 
“Oh God…” Lucas prayed as he stood up.
 
“Help me get the children, Emily! Let’s hurry!” Abraham hurried inside. “Julie! It’s time! Get the children.”
 
Julie hurried into the bedroom. Soon, they had all the children gathered, headed down the hill. They hurried into Ruth’s bedroom and stopped when Tiffany stood and turned. “She’s gone.”
 
Lucas dropped to his knees. His hands hit the floor. “Oh Mama!” he suddenly cried.
 
“NO!” Laura cried as Abraham held her tight against him. “NO!” She tried to run forward.
 
“Abe, let her go to her!” Julie shouted suddenly. He let go and Laura ran to the bed. She threw herself on top of her mother’s still form and wept uncontrollably. Julie clung to Abraham. Lucas continued to sob from his place on the floor.
 
Jeremiah and Em ran in then. They saw the emotions and knew it was over. Jeremiah went to his brother to console him while Em ran to Tiffany. They held each other and cried.
 
***
 
Margaret suddenly sat up in bed. She heard banging on the door and reached for her robe. Scott hurried toward the door as Margaret hurried out of the room.   They had all been expecting the knock, but none were really prepared when it finally came. “Peter!” Scott declared as Peter rushed in.
 
Peter stood in front of them with tears running down his face. “It’s time. She’s leaving us!” Peter cried. “Mama’s leaving us!”
 
Margaret hurried forward, tightening the ties on her robe. “Luke…” she breathed. She laid a gentle hand on Peter’s wet cheek. “I’m so sorry…I know it had to come but…” She turned toward Jennifer. “We must go to them, Mother.”
 
Jennifer nodded as she hurried toward the bedroom.
 
“I have to go for the doc,” Peter stated as he turned to go out the door.
 
“Why? You should be there when she takes her last breath, Peter. At this point the doctor can wait,” Scott answered.
 
“NO!” Peter shouted as he hurried out the door. “I have to get him!”
 
“Peter!” Scott shouted after him.
 
Margaret laid a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I don’t think…” Margaret started but stopped to take a deep breath as her voice broke. “…that he wants to be there.” Margaret burst into tears. “Oh Scott…I can’t believe Aunt Ruth’s leaving us!”
 
Scott hugged his sister. “I know, Sis…Let’s hurry and get dressed so we can get to the farm.”
 
The entire Gibbs family was dressed and headed toward the McCain farm in no time. They pulled into the yard and hurried toward the house. Scott stopped when he got to the door, still standing wide open. “Oh no…”
 
Margaret and Beth stopped right behind him.  They both let out a loud sob when they saw the scene that greeted them. The scene told them that Ruth McCain had passed and was now with her husband in heaven. The emotions were mixed – relieved it was over and she was no longer in pain, yet sad because their mother/adopted aunt were now gone.
 
Margaret rushed passed Scott and hurried to Luke. Jeremiah stood and allowed Margaret to take her rightful place to comfort him. Lucas clung to her. His head pressed against her bosom as he wept for his mother. Margaret allowed her own tears to fall as she held him tight against her. “Your parents are now together, Luke…they’re together, and that’s the way we should see it.” Margaret’s words were a mere whisper as she moaned.
 
“I know…” Lucas answered against her. “But I still want…” He burst into sobs. “Oh…Margaret!” Margaret hugged him tighter as he cried.
 
In time, the muffled sobs slowly died. Emily wiped her tears and went in to lift Laura from her mother, but Laura screamed hysterically. Abraham and Julie hurried forward to comfort the child. Abraham bent down beside the bed and put a hand on Laura’s back. Softly, he spoke to her. “Ma’s in Heaven, child. She’s resting in the arms of Jesus.”
 
“I want her…I want her here!” Laura sobbed as she allowed Abraham to lift her from their mother’s body. She clung to him and cried until she was sick. Abraham hurried outside with her.
 
Lucas slowly lifted his head from Margaret’s bosom and looked into her face. “Help me, Margaret…” He swallowed. “Help me understand…why…”
 
Margaret cried fresh tears as she slowly shook her head. “I can’t, Luke…Oh, I can’t!” Margaret stood to her feet and reached down to lift Lucas to his. “You must find a way to go on, Luke. Your mother would want that.”
 
Lucas nodded as he swallowed hard. His feet were shaky as Margaret helped him walk out of the bedroom. Tiffany slowly made her way to the kitchen to start a fire. Emily wiped her eyes and went in with her. They would occupy their heavy hearts with fixing a big breakfast for the family.
 
The door opened. Peter rushed in. He saw the family’s eyes red with tears. He saw members still clinging to each other. “No…” he swallowed as he slowly shook his head. “No…” He hurried to his mother’s bedroom. “Ma!” Peter’s voice sounded from the bedroom. “No…no, Ma!” The family again sobbed as they listened to Peter grieve. Tiffany hurried into the bedroom to lend comfort to her husband.
 
Silence filled the McCain house as some of the women prepared breakfast. Peter was too grieved to order his wife back to bed. He heard his daughter’s cry and slowly stood up. “We must go to Ruthie now, Mama. I’ll take care of her. I’ll make you proud.” He shuffled his feet as they walked into their bedroom and closed the door.
 
Dr. Stevens had stayed in the doorway not wanting to invade on their privacy, but he soon left when he heard Laura’s sobs. He walked up to Abraham and saw that she was sick. “I can give her something to make her rest,” he suggested.
 
The doctor’s offer sounded so tempting. Abe’s heart broke even more as he watched Laura hiccup as her head laid back on his shoulder. But he knew sleep would only postpone the acceptance of what had to be. She had to grieve along with the rest of them. It was the only way. Abe kissed the top of Laura’s head. “No.” He shook his head. “No. We’ll…bury Mother later today. I trust you can spread the word. We’ll bury her at 1:00 beside my Father.” Dr. Stevens nodded. Abraham smoothed Laura’s hair and kissed her cheek as she shook in his arms. “I think it’s better if she grieves. She’ll be okay. She’s a McCain.”
 
Dr. Stevens nodded. He opened his bag and handed Abraham some powders. “I understand. If you need to…you can give these to help her sleep later…when it’s all over.” He patted Laura’s head. “I’m assuming you won’t need the undertaker?”
 
“No.” Abraham sighed. “We’ll take care of everything. I’ll be in later for a…” Abraham swallowed. He couldn’t force himself to say “coffin.”
 
“Alright. I’ll let Steve know. I think he’s been working on a special one for Ruth. She won’t be buried in a pine box. She meant a lot to this community and she’ll be greatly missed.” Dr. Stevens looked up at the sky. “The Death Certificate will say 4:00 AM.” Abraham nodded then watched Dr. Stevens leave.
 
Laura clung to him as they made their way inside. The moment they came inside, Julie hurried up to the brother and sister. “Abe…let me take her.” She reached out and took Laura in her arms. “I’ll lay down with her in Emily’s room while you…” Julie kissed Laura’s head. “…do what you have to do.”
 
Julie laid down beside Laura on Emily’s bed. Laura sobbed some more, but she was so exhausted. Julie smoothed the girl’s hair as she softly spoke comforting words to Laura. Her soothing voice was just the thing the little girl needed. Laura soon fell asleep, more peaceful with what had come. But Julie didn’t move. She laid with Laura in her arms as she allowed her own heart to come to terms.
 
The door opened a crack. “Julie?” Julie wiped her eyes, kissed Laura’s cheek softly, then stood and turned toward Abe. “Uh…breakfast.”
 
Julie walked out. “What about Laura?”
 
Julie shook her head. “Let her sleep, Abe. She hasn’t slept very well ever since we found out about Ma. She’s come to terms with what’s happened. The funeral will be so tiring. Just…let her sleep.” Abe nodded and quietly closed the door.
 
Breakfast was eaten in silence. The grief was so loud that nobody could say anything. They were all left to their own thoughts. As Julie stood to gather the plates, she turned to see Laura standing in the doorway. She stared toward her mother’s room. Laura took a step forward. “Laura!” Julie dropped the dishes and hurried toward her. “Honey, she’s gone.”
 
“Where is she?” Laura asked.
 
“Peter and Jeremiah…they took her out to get ready for burying,” Julie answered softly.
 
“So she’s really gone…” Laura mumbled. “I mean…she’s really…” Laura sniffed, then lifted her head. “Is it too late to eat breakfast?”
 
“Certainly not!” Abe declared as he scooted his chair out. “I have a seat right here.” He patted his lap. Laura didn’t hesitate to run to her oldest brother and climb up. Emily sat a fresh plate of food in front of Laura, who proceeded to eat.”
 
***
 
The doctor had done his job in spreading the word. Various families stopped by that morning to offer their condolences. Many of the women brought by food so the family wouldn’t have the burden of cooking during their grief. The families kept their visits brief and promised to come back that afternoon for the funeral. The house was fairly quiet, a dark hint of grief stayed in the air.
 
Beth and Johnny kept the children outside so their laughter wouldn’t disturb the mourners. Laura was sent outside a few times, but merely sat in the yard and watched the boys play. Julie and Abe watched her, knowing it would take time for her laughter to return.
 
***
 
Lucas sat at the table with his head down. His hands were clasped together as he stared down at the table. Margaret sat beside him rubbing his back. “There’s plenty of food here to get your family through the next week. Everyone’s brought food I think.” Lucas nodded as he sniffed quietly. “Was it hard? Digging the grave?”
 
“It’s something I had to do. I dug Andy’s grave. Now I’ve done the same for my mother.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “There’s another grave I should have…”
Margaret suddenly hushed him by placing a finger over his lips. “It’s time to go.” She helped Lucas to his feet and kept an arm around him as they made their way out the door. The coffin with their mother inside was on the back of the wagon. Steve, the undertaker, had insisted he ride the coffin to the grave over the hill. He didn’t want that burden to rest on the family.
 
The family silently walked behind the wagon hand-in-hand as they made their way over the crest. Abraham carried Laura as she clung to him. Margaret continued to hold onto Lucas to offer him support as they made their way to the grave.
 
The moment to bury Ruth McCain had arrived. Their grief stuck in the air like a a heavy fog. The small boys wiggled to get out of the arms that held them, but they were hushed as throats cleared around them. They had to just get through this day so they could begin putting the shattered pieces of their hearts back together.
 
Reverend Gentry stood silently as the brothers lifted the coffin from the back of the wagon. Tears streamed down their cheeks as they walked it toward the grave, each corner occupied by one brother as the fiddle quietly played Amazing Grace. They stopped beside the grave and waited for the song to end. Then, with tears, they slowly lowered it down into the hole with ropes.
 
The family listened as Reverend Gentry said the words over Ruth McCain.
 
“Today we say goodbye to a special woman…a woman who helped settle this town with her husband….She leaves behind four sons…Abraham…Jeremiah…Peter…and Lucas…and two daughters…Emily…and little Laura…Beside her lies her husband whom she loved very much, and her two babies. They are all joined together in Heaven…”
 
The Reverend spoke of the love Marcus and Ruth had shared when they first married, how much they loved their family and town, and how much they had overcome through all the struggles they faced. Then he opened his Bible and read the Twenty-Third Psalm. As his solemn voice spoke the words of comfort, Abraham allowed his head to rest against Julie as she kept a firm arm on Laura, still in Abraham’s arms. Their children stood beside them surprisingly well-behaved.
 
Jeremiah and Em shed tears as their heads leaned together as they stared at the coffin in the grave. Peter and Emily held each other as they shed tears for their mother.
 
Lucas turned and allowed Margaret to hold him as he wept fresh tears over more than anyone could ever understand. He pressed Margaret’s head against his chest longing for her to take his pain away.
 
“…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever…Amen.”
 
The silence continued as funeral guests walked by the family members and gave final words and touches of comfort before leaving. Soon, the Gibbs’ and McCain’s were the only people left. Abraham tried to put Laura down, but she moaned and clung to him. He stepped forward and kneeled next to the grave. Picking up a handful of dirt, he scattered it on the top of the coffin. The family watched as Abraham put Laura’s feet on the ground and talked softly to her. Finally, she nodded and bent down to pick up a handful of dirt. She threw it on the coffin. “Goodbye, Mama.”
 
Julie hurried forward and put an arm on Laura’s shoulder. She motioned for Laura to walk toward the house. Charlie followed close behind Julie and Laura. Abraham quietly picked up David and Adam and followed close behind. Half way to the house, Laura started to turn and run back to the grave, but Julie had a firm hand on her. “Your father always said there’s no looking back. Once it’s done, it’s done. Remember?” Laura nodded. “I know it hurts,” Julie said softly as she led Laura toward the house. “But we have to learn to work through the hurt, and when we come on the other side of it, we’re better because of it…and wiser.”
 
They were soon followed by Jeremiah and Em who had the last of Abraham’s children. Emily and Peter followed close behind, walking arm-in-arm. They were quiet as they came inside and sat down. Tiffany was warming up the food for a mid-afternoon meal. Peter looked at her, but didn’t try to stop her. He was too burdened by the events of the day. But he suddenly stood and went into the kitchen. He softly stroked Tiffany’s hair as she bent over to look into the oven.
 
Tiffany knew he was ready for her. She turned and took him in her arms. He sobbed the emotions of the day.
 
“Where’s Luke?” Emily asked as she dipped some food on a plate for Laura who sat looking very sad at the table.
 
“I don’t know…” Julie murmured.
 
***
 
Lucas watched everyone else leave. Margaret’s family walked up to the house. Margaret squeezed her mother’s hand. “You go on. We’ll be up there in a few. I want to stay here with Luke.”
 
Jennifer nodded. Speaking softly so only Margaret could hear, she said, “Give him some time. This is hard on him you know.” Margaret nodded then stood back and watched her mother walk with the rest of her family down to the McCain farmhouse.
 
Lucas slowly approached the grave. He dropped to his knees beside the grave and simply stared into the hole down at the casket that held his mother’s body. For a long time he just stared. He didn’t cry. He just stared. But he sensed Margaret’s presence there. He’d always been able to tell when she was near him. That’s one thing he loved about Margaret – that her concern was always for him.
 
Lucas drew his tongue over his lips to moisten them. Then quietly he spoke…” Margaret.”
 
“I’m here.” Margaret slowly walked up behind him. Lucas lifted his hand and drew her down beside him. “I was thinking about Ma and how she could always tell when something was bothering me. She said it was a mother’s way but…I think it was more than that. Ma and I always had a connection.”
 
“I know. You would call it a curse when you were little though.” Margaret’s eyes crinkled as she smiled at him. “She always knew when you were up to something.”
 
“Oh, but she wasn’t like some mother’s…You know the types that wanted to protect her children and shield them from all the bad stuff.” Lucas leaned back against Margaret as she wrapped her arms around him from behind. “I remember when I was thirteen or fourteen. I got a hunting knife and she worried and fretted, but she NEVER forbade me to use it.”
 
“Oh…” Margaret rolled her eyes. “I remember that knife! You cut yourself really bad one day. Uncle Marcus and Abraham rushed you into town to see the doctor while your Ma held your hand with that red cloth.”
 
“It wasn’t red to start out with.” Lucas couldn’t keep the smile from his lips as they remembered together. “And I didn’t know you were in town. Your face turned white as a sheet when you saw Abraham and Pa dragging me into the doctor’s office!”
 
“Ha!” Margaret shook her head. “You were screaming and carrying on so much…I thought you lost your hand!”
 
“I almost did.”
 
“How many stitches did it take?”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Five or six. I still have the scar too. Look…” Margaret traced the scar on his hand. “I never told you what happened next.” Margaret lifted her eyebrows and waited for him to speak. He turned in her arms and looked at her. “When we got home, Pa wanted to know where that knife was. I told him I didn’t know – I threw it and I never wanted to see the darn thing again!”
 
“Um…” Margaret raised an eyebrow at him. “I was there, my Love. That’s not what you said.”
 
“Well…close enough.”
 
“You’re Pa sure was mad! He told you to just march out there and find it!”
 
“Yes. And I did but…I couldn’t pick it up. I was so afraid of it. I just stood over it and stared at it for the longest time.”
 
“You’re Ma got worried and went looking for you. Your Pa told her to leave you be – don’t baby him, Uncle Marcus said. But Aunt Ruth just gave him that look…you know the one.”
 
Lucas made the look. Margaret nodded. “You have that same look, Luke.” Margaret sobered. “Luke, she left to find you. She wasn’t going to leave you out there all by yourself.”
 
“Yes. She bent over and picked it up and she said..”
 
“’I’m not afraid anymore, son. And you shouldn’t be either.’” Margaret laid a hand on his cheek.
 
Lucas stared at her. “How did you…”
 
“Because...” Margaret kissed him softly. “I was there. I was worried about you, so I followed your mother down there and hid among the trees.”
 
 
Lucas smiled. “You are always there when I need you. Even now.” He wiped his cheeks and stood up. “I have a job to do.”
 
Margaret saw his hands shaking. “You’re still afraid, Luke. You’re afraid of something terrible and I want you to know that I’m here to help you just like your mother was always here to help you before. I want to help you.” Margaret rested a hand on his arm and looked him in the eye. “But not today. This is your Mother’s day.”
 
“Yes.” Lucas turned and picked up the shovel. “This is my mother’s day.”
 
Margaret stood a few feet away from him and watched him heave shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt onto the grave. She was there for him if he needed her. But she was proud at how strong he was in this moment.
 
Lucas felt the strength he suddenly possessed inside. But he knew where that strength came from. It wasn’t something he possessed inside on his own. A beautiful woman who’d captured his heart years before…she was his strength. Without her he was nothing.
 
***
 
When the burying was completed, Margaret came forward and took Lucas’s hand. Lucas slowly allowed the shovel to drop from his hand as he just stood over his mother’s grave and stared down at it. “You okay?” she asked quietly.
 
“No.” Lucas brushed at his tears. “I feel so…”
 
“Broken.” Margaret answered for him. Lucas put an arm around her as they started back toward the house. “Luke, I want to fix you…if I can.”
 
“I know. I just need…”
 
“Time,” Margaret answered. “I know. But Luke, you only…”
 
“…have three weeks.” Lucas smiled down at her. He paused and turned her to face him. Lovingly, he brushed his fingertips along her cheek. “Has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful?” Margaret started to lower her head, but he kept a firm hand under her chin. “I’m not talking about the outside. I’m talking about the inside. There’s something special about you…deep inside.” He turned back and looked at the grave he’d just finished. “My mother had that. The way my father looked at her was…”
 
“Magical…” Margaret whispered. “Come on, I want to get some food into your stomach.” She patted it. “You’re getting way too skinny!”
 
“You’d understand if you saw the sort of food they fed me at…” Lucas stopped. He hadn’t wanted to remember there was a war raging back East. He wasn’t doing his part. His friend, Johnny Drako, was fighting all alone.
 
“Not today, Luke. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Margaret took his hand and pulled him toward the house. But after Emily put the food in front of him he just stared at it. He hadn’t eaten since that day and he didn’t feel he could eat now. “You’re nothing but skin and bones, Luke. You have to eat!” Emily declared with a fist on her hip.
 
Luke stared at the food. His stomach was in knots. He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep anything down, so he merely nibbled at the food to satisfy his sister.
 
The McCain family was quiet as they ate. A sadness sat over the house. While everyone noticed Lucas picking at his food, Abe noticed Laura just staring at her. “Laura, please try to eat something,” Abe asked quietly.
 
“Can’t. It feels like butterflies in my belly.” She stood from the table. Abe cleared his throat and Laura froze.
 
“Not today, Abe…Please?” Julie mumbled from beside him. They watched Laura walk to Ruth’s bedroom. She went inside and closed the door. Emily started to go after her. “Let her be,” Julie suggested. “She’s really hurting. She just needs time like…” Julie took her husband’s hand. “Like the rest of us.”
 
The women silently worked at cleaning up the dishes while the men slowly went outside. They tried to talk, but nobody really felt like talking. Finally, it was time to go home. Laura hadn’t emerged from the bedroom. Julie and Abe walked towards the bedroom together. When they got in there, they found Laura on the stripped bed fast asleep, her mother’s quit up around her. “Poor child…she must be exhausted,” Julie mumbled.
 
Abe went in and lifted Laura off the bed. They gathered their children then started for home. “You coming, Luke?” Abe asked as Lucas talked softly to Emily.
 
Lucas walked towards Margaret. “I’ll be there. Just wanta walk my girl home first.” Abe nodded and left with his family, Laura fast asleep on his shoulder.
 
Lucas picked up his rifle as he put on his hat. He opened the door and escorted Margaret out of the house. “Is that really necessary?” Margaret asked, pointing at the rifle. “Are you afraid a bear’s going to jump out and grab me?”
 
Lucas looked down at the rifle. He hadn’t really even realized he’d picked it up. “I didn’t even think about it.” But he made no move to put it down. “Guess it’s…become a part of me.” He heard Margaret sigh beside him. “My brothers carry guns.”
 
“Handguns in holsters,” Margaret nodded. “But you never really cottoned to handguns. I was hoping…” Margaret stopped. They walked side-by-side for a few minutes in silence. “You didn’t eat tonight,” Margaret finally mentioned softly.
 
“I ate.”
 
“A bird eats more than you ate tonight. Luke, how much have you eaten since…”
 
Luke stopped and turned to her. “Look Margaret, if you’re going to just lecture me on how to live my life then…” Lucas stopped and closed his eyes. He shifted his rifle in his other hand and put his hand at her elbow. “I can take care of myself.”
 
She stayed silent until they were standing in front of the corral. Anytime Lucas had brought her home, the walk had ended in that spot. “I’m sorry about the homecoming. I wish it had been happier.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Thanks for walking me home.” Lucas nodded. “You know…there’s a dance next Saturday. Maybe you could…” Margaret stopped when she saw him turn from her. “I’ll see you in church tomorrow.” She turned to walk away.
 
Silently, Lucas grabbed her arm and turned her back around. “I’m sorry if I’m being rude but…” Lucas sighed. “I tried to bury him but I couldn’t. The Captain wouldn’t let me. He said we just take care of the Union soldiers.” Lucas shook his head. “Oh…how I wish I could have…”
 
“Luke…” Margaret started.
 
But Lucas shook his head and put his hand under her chin and lifted her face up toward his. “You remember the first night I kissed you?”
 
Margaret let out a small gasp at his sudden change. She knew he was fighting something he didn’t want to fight, but tonight she wouldn’t push him. Instead, she smiled. “Yeah. You acted like a snake had bitten you!” Margaret declared. “You turned and ran as fast as you could.”
 
“Well…” Lucas lowered his head. “That’s just because…I knew in that moment that I loved you. I’ve always loved you, but that night it was not the friendship kind of love.” Lucas pressed his lips to hers and kissed her. But there was such tension in his kiss. Margaret ended the kiss quickly because it only brought her sadness. “What’s wrong?” Lucas asked, a bit taken back himself that she had ended the kiss so soon.
 
“How can I help you?” Margaret asked. “How…”
 
Lucas lowered his head. “G’night.” Margaret watched him turn and hurry out of the yard. As he walked along the road, he couldn’t keep the visions from coming. He heard screaming – screaming that pierced his heart. He saw the eyes of the man as he fell in death. All the way home he saw them. The screaming grew louder and the visions bigger. As he walked, it was almost like they were standing right there in front of him. “NOOOOOO!” Lucas shouted as he lifted his rifle and shot in the air. “Go away! Get out of here!” he shouted.
 
Then he slowly lowered his rifle and stared at it. What had he become? What had that killing done to him?  Lucas fell to his knees and wept as he clung to his rifle. “Oh God…Please…Please take this torture away!” Lucas sobbed as he doubled over. “Please God!”
 
In time, Lucas wiped his eyes and stood up. He walked towards Abe’s house but didn’t go inside. Slowly, he took a cigar from his pocket and lit it. He heard the door open, but made no move to hide the fact he was smoking. He was an adult now – he could make his own decisions. Abe paused when he saw the cigar in Luke’s hand. “Since when did you smoke those things?”
 
“Johnny got me started on them when we first left,” Luke answered. His eyes met Abe’s, challenging him to tell him he couldn’t smoke. His father never smoked – said he had enough worries then to add smoking to the problem. And he raised his children not to smoke. Abe and Jeremiah still stuck with that, but he’d seen Peter sneak a cigarette or two every now and then.
 
“I see.” Abe leaned over the corral beside Lucas. “What a day!” he exclaimed.
 
“How’s Laura?”
 
“She’s asleep.” Abe watched Lucas puff on his cigar a few times. He saw the sadness and pain in Lucas’s eyes. “How are you?”
 
“I’ll be okay,” Lucas answered.
 
Abraham turned toward him, leaning his elbow over the fence as he look at his brother. “Will you?” Lucas nodded. “Why won’t you talk to me, Luke? I’m your brother! I want to help you!”
 
“I can’t!” Lucas cried. “I can’t talk to you! You’d hate me for what I did. Everyone would…”
 
Abe pushed himself off the fence. “Alright. Goodnight.” He walked back into the house then stood at the window and watched his dejected brother stand at the corral in silence.
 
“You didn’t pressure him, did you?” Julie asked. She has warned him not to before he left the house.
 
“No. I walked away, just like you told me to.” Abe sighed. “There’s something he’s carrying that he needs to share. I suspect that’s why his Captain released him. But…” Abe shook his head. “I can’t help him.” He sighed as he turned away. “At least not tonight.”
 
“Maybe going to church in the morning will help him,” Julie suggested. “Come on, let’s go to bed. Laura may wake up in the middle of the night crying so I want to get to bed early.”
 
Abe put his arm around her shoulder as they walked into the bedroom. That night, she held him while he went to sleep.
 
***
 
“What do you mean you’re not going to church?” Abraham asked in a disapproving voice at the breakfast table the next morning.
 
“I mean I’m not going to church!” Lucas repeated again, this time his voice held challenge. “I can’t.”
 
“Me neither,” Laura declared from her seat at the table.
 
“You’re going, young lady!” Abe declared as he gave her a stern look.
 
“But I’m so sad…like Luke!” Laura argued. “I don’t want to…”
 
“Finish your breakfast, Laura,” Julie sternly said in a quiet voice as she met her husband’s eyes and shook her head.
 
Abe turned back to his brother. “Our family’s always gone to church on Sunday. Do you mind telling me why you don’t…”
 
“Because I CAN’T Abe! You don’t know…” Lucas stopped. The room grew quiet.
 
“Luke?” Laura looked at him. “I know your heart has an empty room from Ma, but is there another empty room? Is that why you’re so sad?”
 
Lucas put his hand to his face. He didn’t know how to answer. But he decided to tell her the truth. “Yes honey, somebody did die. Somebody very special and…I killed him.”
 
There was silence around the table. Laura gasped as her eyes grew wide and she stared at Lucas. Julie and Abe locked eyes, wondering what this was all about. Julie looked at Laura. “Uh…start clearing the table, Laura.”
 
“Luke…you REALLY killed somebody?” Laura asked. Luke nodded as his eyes filled with tears.
 
“Do as Julie asked, Laura,” Abe’s voice ordered sternly. Laura stood and started gathering the dishes. There was something in Abe’s voice that morning that made her want to do exactly as told. After she went into the kitchen, Abe spoke in a low voice. “Luke, your killing a man doesn’t come to a shock to me. You ARE fighting a war, after all.”
 
“Maybe if I told you how…how I watched death enter his eyes…” Lucas felt tears fall from his eyes. “…how I saw the fear in his face before I lunged. How I lunged and…lunged…and…” Lucas closed his eyes and stood from the table. “I can’t…Oh, God help me…I can’t!” He hurried from the house.
 
“Luke!” Abe ran after him. “Luke, you can’t run from this!”
 
“I have to!” Luke cried. “The pain is too much to bear!” Abe stopped as Lucas disappeared around the barn.
 
“Should you go after him?” Julie asked, running up behind him. “I mean…should he be alone in such a state?”
 
Abe turned and looked down at Julie. “I don’t know…” Abe frowned. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
 
“He left a boy, Abe. He’s come back a man. Only 19, yet look at how rough he’s become.” Julie’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh Abe…was this war really worth it? Is it worth the price he’s had to pay?”
 
“I don’t know, Julie. I just…don’t know.”
 
***
 
Margaret smiled when she saw the McCain family coming into the church. But as her eyes scanned the family, she saw somebody missing. She turned and looked at Abe as he sat down behind her. “He wouldn’t come,” Abe shook his head.
 
Margaret turned back and looked at Beth who sat beside her. “He wouldn’t come to church?” Margaret whispered. “I wonder why…”
 
Reverend Gentry came in then. Margaret tried to concentrate on his words, but she couldn’t. Her heart was with Lucas, wherever he was. After church, Margaret questioned Abe. Abe pulled her to the side. “I’m going to confide in you because you may be the only one who can help him. He’s having these nightmares at night. They’re night terrors. The last two nights, I’ve heard him calling out in his sleep and there’s such a fear in his voice. He won’t tell me what they’re about.”
 
Margaret lowered her head. “Abe…that first day he came back, he told me that he had killed a man. The man had a wife and son. He’s so broken, Abe. I have to try to reach him.”
 
“Go find him, Margaret. See if you can reach him.” Margaret nodded as she hurried out of the church.
 
She knew Lucas very well. She had no trouble finding exactly where he was. He sat on the same bank of the river he had sat with her and Andy on over the years. She slowly made her way over and sat down beside him.
 
Lucas had to know she was there, he had to feel her presence…yet he made no indication she was there. His eyes, red from crying, were now staring blankly out over the water. His jaw twitched as if he were upset about the invasion she had committed. Margaret felt tears fill her eyes at the blankness in his face and the pain in his eyes.
 
It took her a while to find her voice. “We missed you in church,” she said quietly.
 
“I couldn’t come.” Those three words he spoken held no emotion whatsoever, yet they were rushed as if someone had forced them from his lips.
 
“Why not?” Margaret asked. “Why couldn’t you come?”
 
Lucas turned and looked at her, but his eyes didn’t really focus on her. They seemed to look right through her. “I’ve done something…something horrible. God hates me for what I did.” His voice was angry and held so much pain in it. The pain was so heavy it hurt Margaret’s heart.
 
Margaret’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh Luke…You…You can’t mean that!” Margaret shook her head. “God CAN’T hate, Luke! He just…CAN’T!”
 
“I do mean it.” Lucas swallowed. “If you knew…what I’d done…you’d hate me too.”
 
“Oh, but I DO know!” Margaret declared. She grasped his hands. “Luke, I DO KNOW! You told me!”
 
“No.” Lucas shook her head. Tears fell from his eyes again. “No, you DON’T know…If you knew…knew everything then…then you would hate me!”
 
“Why?” Margaret cried, desperate to understand. “Why? Because you hate yourself?”
 
But if he heard her words, he made no indication of it. “There’s a woman grieving right now. She’s grieving because…because…I killed her son! I killed him…knowing he couldn’t kill me!”
 
“How do you know that?” Margaret asked quietly. “How do you know he couldn’t kill you?”
 
Lucas swallowed as his mind went back to that day. He pressed a hand to his forehead as his eyes filled with tears. He turned from her, but this time Margaret put her hands on his shoulders and turned him back around. “Don’t shut it out, Luke! Tell me!” Lucas shook his head. “Tell me!” Margaret pleaded with him.
 
“Because…” Lucas suddenly stood up and shouted at her. “Because I saw his eyes and he knew he was going to die! He stood there staring at me, knowing he couldn’t kill me! But I….KILLED…HIM…I KILLED HIM…OH, GOD HELP ME I KILLED HIM!”
 
Lucas fell to his knees in front of her as the tears came again. Margaret dropped to her knees beside him. “Luke…what do you think he saw in your eyes?” she asked softly.
 
Lucas slowly lifted his head. “What?”
 
“Is it possible that…that he saw death in your eyes too? Is it possible he saw how afraid you were?”
 
“No.” Lucas swallowed the lump in his throat. “No. Because I lunged at him. In that moment, I WANTED to kill him.” Lucas slowly got to his feet. “That’s why I’m so bad. That’s why God hates me.” He turned and walked away.
 
“Luke!” Margaret called after him. But he held up a hand as he continued walking away from her. “Oh…Lucas….” She started to run after him.
 
“Go away, Margaret.” Lucas shouted. “Go away and LEAVE ME ALONE!”
 
Margaret cried for him as she quickly ran toward the McCain house. Abe and Peter were in the yard when they saw her coming. “Luke’s not with her,” Peter noted. Abe nodded as he walked toward her.
 
Margaret ran to him and threw her arms around him as she sobbed. “He says God hates him for what he did!” Margaret cried. “He said he killed the man but…” Margaret parted from him and wiped at her eyes. “It’s war, Abe…I don’t understand!”
 
“You go on inside and eat. I’ll find him,” Abe ordered. Margaret shook her head. “You need to eat. Go on, now.” Abe motioned for Peter to go with him. Jeremiah hurried from the house when he saw Margaret so upset. He hurried from the house and followed his brothers.
 
“Abe, what’s going on?” Jeremiah asked. Abe proceeded to tell his brothers everything he knew as they hurried to find him. Abe had a bad feeling as they rushed to find Lucas. Suddenly, in a clearing ahead, they saw him. But the image made them stopdead in their tracks.
Lucas sat on the ground and held the rifle in front of him. The butt was placed firmly on the ground while the barrel was pointed straight at his head. He had a stick rigged in the trigger so he could reach to pull it in its current position. Lucas had his head bowed and was weeping uncontrollably.
 
Abe heard both his brothers gasp at the same time. He wasted no time as he hurried forward and grabbed the rifle from his hands. It was cocked.
 
“Damn it, Luke!” Luke was shocked at the sudden interruption and immediately stood up. The look he shot his brother was one of shame mixed with agony. Abe waved the rifle over Lucas’ head. “You killed a man, so your gonna kill yourself…that’s GREAT! You think it’s so wrong that you killed a Rebel soldier during a battle…You think that it’s your fault he left a widow and a son behind! So you now believe that if you kill yourself, the pain will go away? Is that it?”
 
Lucas lowered his head. “You don’t understand!” He cried.
 
“I don’t…” Abe put the rifle on the ground and grabbed Luke’s shoulders. He shook him hard as he spoke. “YOU don’t understand! Margaret loves you…She mopes around here every time there’s a battle and PRAYS you will write her a letter so she knows your okay. You have a whole family here who loves you. We just buried our mother, yet you want to KILL yourself and give us more grief? Isn’t that a bit SELFISH?”
 
“The pain is too much!” Lucas cried as he fell to his knees. “You don’t know! You don’t…” Lucas put his hands to his head and sobbed harder than he had sobbed before. “The visions…the sounds…the smells…they’re with me all the time! I can’t take it anymore! I want them to go away! I want them to go….” Lucas shook his head. “…away.” The last word was a little more than a whisper.
 
Jeremiah and Peter hurried forward and kneeled down in front of Luke. “Luke….Luke…” Jeremiah shook his head as he laid a hand on his brother. “Abe, he’s this upset for killing a man during battle?”
 
Abe nodded. “When a man dies, it takes part of you with it. You should know that.”
 
Jeremiah’s eyes became moist as he looked at how much pain and torture his brother was in. He’d only seen a man this broken one other time. Lifting his head, he said,  “Abe, I think it’s time.”
 
Abe lifted his head to look at Jeremiah. It took him only a minute to realize what Jeremiah was talking about. Agony entered Abe’s own eyes. He shook his head. “NO!” he shouted. “NO, I can’t!”
 
His sudden outburst and agonized voice startled Lucas. Lucas hushed his sobbing and lifted his head to look at his brothers.
 
“You think we could keep this from him forever? Don’t you know it would come out eventually? You HAVE to tell him, Abe!” Abe turned from his brother. Jeremiah stood up and went to him. “I know it’s painful…I remember the pain you felt, but…he’s dying inside! You HAVE to tell him!”
 
Lucas and Peter stared at their older brothers in confusion. “Tell him what?” Peter asked. “What is this?”
 
Abe kept his back toward them as he continued shaking his head. “I never wanted to think about it again. NEVER!”
 
“But you HAVE to! You were in the exact spot Luke’s in now. You HAVE to tell him.” Abe just stood with his back to his brothers. His shoulders sagged. “Abe, do it for Luke.”
 
Abe slowly turned around. His eyes held a deep sadness. He slowly walked over and sat down on the ground next to his brother. Swallowing, he spoke. “You were only…ten at the time. I was 18. I wore my handguns proudly.” Abe stopped and turned away. “Oh, I can’t…I…”
 
Jeremiah bent down beside his brother. He put a hand on Abe’s shoulder. “You know the William’s, Luke? The widow with eight children?” Lucas nodded. “Do you remember her husband?”
 
“Yes. He owned the General Store. Used to always give me my favorite candy when I came to town. Mama would always tell me we couldn’t afford it and he’d always sneak me some…” Lucas stopped. “What’s this got to do with him?”
 
“Do you remember how he died?”
 
Lucas thought. “Well…”
 
“Some outlaw shot him,” Peter answered.
 
“No.” Jeremiah shook his head. “An outlaw didn’t shoot him.”
 
Lucas and Peter looked at each other in surprise. Lucas slowly turned to look at his brother. “You…” He pointed a finger at Abe as his eyes grew wide in surprise.
 
Abe put his hands to his face. “I didn’t mean…” he started.
 
Jeremiah squeezed his brother’s shoulder as he continued. “There was another man by the name of Jessie Andrews. Andrews and Williams never got along. They would fight over the craziest things. One day, I remember them fighting over the color of the sky.”
 
“There was some sort of grudge from a long time back,” Abe mumbled.
 
Jeremiah nodded. “One Saturday, Pa sent me and Abe into town to get the seed. Andrews and Williams were in the store. They were arguing and fighting as usual.”
 
“They were always fighting, Luke. It was always in innocence – no real harm was ever done…” Abe’s voice died again.
 
“But that day, Williams had a gun in his hand. He had been polishing the guns he had for sale. We walked in and as they were fighting.” Jeremiah gave his brother another squeeze. “Luke, Williams was waving that gun around. He said it was loaded and he was going to shoot Andrews if Andrews didn’t leave. Andrews had no gun – no gun at all.”
 
“He was unarmed!” Abe’s voice suddenly sounded defensive. “I couldn’t just stand by and…”
 
Jeremiah quickly interrupted Abe. “Williams suddenly lifted the gun toward Andrews. He just…”
 
“I killed him…” Abe said in a broken voice now. “I killed him.”
 
“But you had no choice!” Lucas declared as he kneed over to his brother and took his hand from his face. Lucas looked him in the eye. “He would have killed Andrews.”
 
“Killed…Andrews…” Abe gave a sarcastic laugh, but his eyes remained focused on Luke. “That’s the hell of it…” Abe answered.
 
Jeremiah looked at Lucas, then Peter. “The gun wasn’t loaded.”
 
“It wasn’t…” Lucas and Peter looked at each other in disbelief.
 
Abe sobbed now. “I didn’t have to kill him!”
 
“But you had no way of knowing!” Peter declared then as he kneed over to his brothers and put a hand on Abe’s other shoulder. “You thought you were saving a life…coming to the aid of a defenseless man! How could you know it wasn’t loaded?”
 
“Peter’s right, Abe.” Lucas stated. “How could you know?”
 
“That was a very hard time for me, Luke. The Marshal took me to his office and got my story. There were enough witnesses around to…” Abe stopped.
 
“For two weeks, Abe refused to come home. Ma and Pa talked to him over and over but…he had left a widow with eight children. He felt terrible.” Jeremiah sighed. “I remember him cursing God. How could he, a man who had been raised by the Good Book, kill an innocent man?”
 
“I was sick, I was so upset. Never in my life had I had to face my mortality. But that day, I wanted to die.” Abe locked eyes at Lucas. “I, too, was contemplating suicide.”
 
“What about the widow?” Lucas asked, suddenly wanting…needing…to know. “How did she take what happened?”
 
Abraham stood and walked away a few paces. His shoulders slumped. “Well Luke, if you’re waiting for me to tell you she understood…”
 
Jeremiah shook his head. “What Abe did was a mistake – a terrible mistake. Pa told him it was a lesson…a hard lesson…to understand all the facts.” Jeremiah stood and walked up behind his brother. He turned and looked down at Luke. “If we hadn’t been so panicked that day, we would have realized…”
 
Abe suddenly spoke. His voice was loud and clear. “She slapped me. That slap hurt so bad I…” Abe reached up and touched his cheek. “I can still feel it. I saw the look of hate…pure hate in her eyes for what I had done.” Abe turned. “And rightly so. I had, after all, killed her husband. Eventually, she came to understand…the best a widow who lost her husband in such a manner could, but even today when I see her…the look she gives me is a reminder of what I did. Our relationship can never be anything but a constant reminder that I’m the reason her husband’s dead.”
 
“We never knew…we never knew anything was wrong!” Peter declared suddenly.
 
Abe slowly walked over to Lucas and Peter. He laid a hand on each of their shoulders. “That’s because I asked Pa to never tell you. Pa doesn’t lie, but he lied for me that day. He lied because he loved me, and he knew I was hurting…really hurting…That’s why he told you I had to go away to get supplies then kept you away from town. I was bad, Luke. The truth is, I’ll never get over that killing. Because what I did that wrong was wrong…very, very wrong. But I’ve learned to live with it – to go on and live with the wisdom the experience taught me. That’s when I grew my beard.” Abe reached up and scratched his bearded cheek. “I wanted to hide the shame that I wore constantly on my face, and I never shaved it.”
 
“How did you come to terms with it?” Lucas asked.
 
“Ma and Pa just kept talking to me…telling me they loved me and…they forced me to tell the whole story from beginning to end. Then they explained to me how it really was…it took time and a whole lot of pain, but eventually…it got better.”
 
“Abe…” Lucas slowly stood and looked into his brother’s eyes. “Did you ever tell Julie?”
 
Abe lowered his head. “No.”
 
“Don’t you think you should?” Peter asked. “After all, she is your wife. There should be no secrets between you.
 
“Tell her about THIS?” Abe asked.  “Peter, I can’t. I…” Abe stopped and turned to look at his brothers. Abe sighed and nodded. “I guess it is time to shed this ghost.”
 
Abe walked to the rifle and picked it up. “Sit down, Luke,” Abe ordered quietly as he looked down at the rifle. Lucas obeyed. Abe turned and held up the rifle. “This…this is a tool. It doesn’t kill but the man behind it kills. And rather it’s justified or not depends on the man.”
 
Lucas turned and looked away. “I didn’t kill him with a rifle.”
 
“What?”
 
“I used my…” Lucas swallowed. “My…bayonet.” Lucas felt his eyes fill with tears.
 
Abe closed his eyes, feeling the pain his brother must be experiencing. He sat down in front of his brother. Jeremiah sat down next to Abe, then Peter sat down. They all surrounded Lucas as he sat in the middle of his brothers. They all laid a hand on him. “We love you, Luke. We love you so much and we want you to talk to us.”
 
Lucas turned as the visions started to come. He began sobbing again. He put his hands to his face to cover his shame. “Those eyes with fear and death…the sound as I lunged…oh, the sound…” Lucas sobbed harder as he put his hands to his ears. “I can’t stand that sound!”
 
“Go on, Luke. Go on.” Lucas shook his head. He didn’t want to remember. He never wanted to remember! “Come on, Luke! Tell us!” Abe insisted.
 
“The blood trickling from his mouth….Then after I pulled the bayonet out, I saw him lift his head and give me that…that…” Lucas swallowed and shook his head. “Oh, I can’t…it hurts too much…too much…”
 
The brothers joined in a group hug around Lucas as he sobbed uncontrollably. Jeremiah started praying to God to help them help Lucas. The brothers all cried over Luke in the middle of the field. They were alone, able to shed tears without shame.
 
But just over the rise, she looked down on the men huddled together. They all wept over Lucas. Her eyes filled with tears when she realized just how broken her love was. She fell to her knees and cried, begging God to help them…all of them…Then she turned and hurried away.
 
In time, they lifted from Lucas. Abe held the rifle out to Lucas. “I want you to tell us all about it…as a family. Can you do that?”
 
Lucas took the rifle in his hands and stared at it. “I don’t want everyone to be ashamed of me.”
 
“You may be surprised at the results. Not today, Luke. I think you’ve been through enough. Tomorrow…tomorrow we’ll get the family together and we can all listen to your story. Perhaps Johnny can watch the children. Can you do this, Luke? Can you?”
 
Lucas looked away. “I…I can’t! I…” He swallowed. “You will all hate me! You will!”
 
“After what I told you? Is what I did any better than what you did?” Abe stood up and looked down at his brother. “I bared my soul to you. Now it’s your turn to do the same.”
 
The brothers started to walk away, leaving Lucas with the rifle. “Is this a good idea?” Jeremiah asked.
 
“He’s not going to kill himself,” Abe shook his head. “That’s why he was so upset when we got here. He already knew he couldn’t do it.” Abe turned. “Our brother knows we love him.” He turned back to look at Lucas who was still looking at the rifle. “And deep down, he knows his killing was justified. He just has to tell that to his heart.”
 
The brothers walked on when suddenly, Lucas called out to them. They turned. “What you saw today…” Lucas said slowly as he stood up and took a few small steps toward them. “Will you…I mean…”
 
“It’s between us.” Abe nodded. “You weren’t really going to do it.”
 
Lucas watched his brothers turn and walk away. He didn’t feel the pain nearly as badly now. He sat with the rifle in his lap and stared at it for a long time as he thought back on the story Jeremiah and Abe had told. He allowed the words others had told him to penetrate his clouded brain…Johnny, Captain Benton, Margaret…Their words began to echo.
 
Two hours passed. Lucas pictured the attack in his mind again. He remembered all the destruction and chaos…the bodies lying all around. They were in a war. It was a bloody war where thousands and thousands of innocent men were dying. Lucas stood and looked at his rifle as he slowly started walking back toward the farm. He knew what he had to do.
 
***
 
“But I want to go find him!” Laura argued when Abe refused to allow her to go look for Lucas. Laura started toward the door.
 
“Laura Rose, don’t you take another step toward that door!” Abe demanded. “I told you he’s fine. He just wants some time alone.”
 
“But Margaret said…”
 
Abe took two giant steps toward his sister. He bent down behind her. “Turn around, Laura.” Laura slowly turned around. “There will be no more back talking. I told you your brother is fine. Margaret said he was upset, it’s true. And he still is, but Luke’s been going through some pretty hard things lately. If he wants to tell you about them, he will. I…”
 
A knock sounded on the door. Abe hurried toward the door and saw Lucas standing there. His shoulders were slumped. His eyes were red from tears. In his hand he held a cigar. He took a puff from it as he stared his brother in the eye. “Tomorrow morning. I’ll be at the farm at 8AM.” Abe watched Lucas turn and walk away.
 
“Luke!” Laura tried to run out the door. Abe grabbed a firm hold on her. “Where’s he going, Abe? LUKE!”
 
But Lucas didn’t stop walking. He went into the barn and closed the door. Julie walked up beside her husband and slipped an arm around him. “What was that all about?”
 
Abe looked down into her eyes. “My brother’s…” Abe smiled tearfully. “He’s going to be okay…”
 
“What did you say to him, Abe?” Julie asked quietly.
 
Abe stared into her eyes. He turned his head away as he mumbled, “I’ll tell you tonight…after the kids are in bed asleep. It’s a dark secret I’ve carried for…” Abe sighed. “…for a long time.”
 
***
Margaret heard a knock on the door early the next morning. She turned from the kitchen where she was helping Beth fix breakfast. “Who could that be?” she wondered as Scott walked toward the door.
 
Lucas stood in the doorway. His face was downcast and it looked as if he’d been fighting the devil all night. Margaret stepped forward. Lucas took off his hat. “I need to talk to you…” Lucas’ voice shook as he spoke. He turned and looked toward the door. “Outside.”
 
The look on Lucas’ face haunted her. She wondered what their talk was all about as she quietly slipped from the house and closed the door. As they walked into the yard, Lucas dug his hand in his pocket. Holding his rifle securely in the other hand. “I…” Lucas swallowed as the words got caught up in his throat. He didn’t stop walking until they got to the corral. “War is…is…” Lucas closed his eyes again, not quite able to say the words. “Margaret…men see things…and…and…experience things while in battle that a man should NEVER have to face. This morning, I’m going to tell everything – as it is. I don’t know if you should be there or not. I…”
 
“Of course I’ll be there!” Margaret declared.
 
“You don’t understand.” Lucas shook his head. “I have to…to reveal everything…all my hurts…and I’m not sure if…”
 
Margaret took his hand and lifted if from his pocket. She squeezed it as she turned and looked up into his eyes. “I love you, Lucas McCain. I…I want to be there.”
 
“And it’s because you love me so much that…that…there are certain things I may say that may…”
 
Margaret shook her head. “Unless you ask me not to come, I’ll be there.” Margaret raised her eyebrows. “Are you asking me not to come?”
 
Lucas silently studied her eyes. Then he shook his head. “No,” he whispered. He lifted his hand to her cheek. “I want…no…I NEED you there today but…honey, it could get really bad.”
 
“Will this make you better? Make your pain go away?”
 
“I think so. I think it will help. I’ve come to realize that what I did was…” Lucas’ eyes filled with tears. He took the letters and picture from his pocket. “This could have been Simon standing here feeling this pain for what he did. I don’t know the truth but…”
 
“Then I want to be there, Luke. For you.”
 
Lucas continued to stare down at her. “You know…I love you…so much!” Lucas bent his head down and softly kissed her. His arms slowly slid around her as their kiss deepened. He allowed his lips to linger for only a few moments before parting from her. “Thank you for praying for me.” Margaret nodded.
 
Lucas looked over her shoulder as the door opened. Scott came out. “Whelp, here’s your watchdog!” Lucas mumbled as Margaret turned to see Scott hurry toward them. “I reckon he saw me kiss ya like that.”
 
Margaret giggled. Scott folded his arms as he stood in front of them. “Well now…I must say that I should be getting my shotgun out and threatening to marry you two right here and now for what I just saw!” Lucas looked down at Margaret and chuckled. “But my wife ordered me to invite you in for breakfast instead.”
 
“Married for two months and you’re taking orders already? I’m going to wait at least…” Lucas started.
 
“Watch it…” Margaret warned in a teasing voice.
 
“Ahhhh, now, you wouldn’t order me around!”
 
“Huh?” Scott chuckled as they started toward the ranch house. “She’s been ordering you around for 19 years, boy!”
 
Margaret watched Lucas closely during breakfast. His appetite was a bit better this morning as he managed to eat a couple eggs and drink some coffee. Lucas sat down his cup when he saw the worry in her eyes. “I’ll be okay, Margaret. Trust me.” Margaret nodded then stood to wash the dishes.
 
***
“What do you mean I hafta stay here?” Laura argued as Julie and Abe announced the plans to her.
 
“Johnny doesn’t know how to change diapers, sweetie,” Julie pointed out. “You have to stay here and help him.”
 
“But Luke’s MY brother and I want to be there!” Laura declared. “It ain’t fair to leave me out!”
 
“Laura…” Abe started forward.
 
“ABE!” Julie hushed him as she bent in front of Laura.
 
“Now, Laura Rose…You are eight years old, and that is old enough for you to understand that there are adult conversations that you are not included in for your own good. You just have to face that fact.” Julie stood up. Laura crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip.
 
“And you will be going to bed very early tonight, I can see!” Abe declared sternly from behind her. “If your attitude doesn’t change quickly, I’ll take you out to the barn and explain things in a different way!”
 
Laura relaxed a bit, but still held a look that told her guardians she wasn’t happy with their decision. There was a knock on the door. Johnny hurried inside. “Don’t know why I have to stay here with the kids! I’m no babysitter!” he grumbled as Scott stood right behind him.
 
“Because you were told to!” Scott answered bluntly. “Now mind your manners, boy!”
 
“Well…I was supposed to go help the Andrews break some horses!” Johnny complained. “Instead, I have to be here looking after…” he stopped when Scott clinched his fists and came forward. “Alright…I’ll do it.”
 
Julie turned and looked at her five children, then at Abe. “Abe, I don’t know if…”
 
“Everything will be okay, honey.” Abe took her arm. “Let’s go.”
 
“Now Johnny, you keep the boys away from the stove and don’t worry about feeding them. I’ll be back in plenty of time to…”
 
“Let’s go!” Abe grabbed her arm and pulled her out the door. Before closing it, he turned and pointed a finger at Laura. “You be on your best behavior, young lady. I hear any bad reports and…”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
They made their way down the hill to the main farm. Lucas stood outside at the corral. Margaret stood beside him with an arm around his shoulders as she spoke softly to him. “Go on, honey.” Abe kissed her. “We’ll be in in a minute.”
 
Abe walked toward Lucas and Margaret. “Luke…”
 
Lucas shook his head. “Now that I think about this, I…”
 
Abe put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “It will be painful…for all of us…but you know we want to be there for you. We want to share in your pain so we can help you.” Lucas looked up into his brother’s eyes. “It helped me. You know that. If our parents hadn’t forced me to cry everything out in front of them, I never would have made it. Just getting it all out…it does something to restore your soul.” Abe put his arm around Luke’s shoulder. “Come on. I know how hard this is.”
 
Soon, the three stepped into the house. The room grew quiet as everyone sat down. Lucas looked down at the rifle in his hand and cleared his throat. “I…” Margaret took his hand and squeezed it. “Yesterday, my brothers found me at my lowest point. I don’t think…I could get any lower than I was yesterday.” Lucas stared at the rifle in front of him, remembering just how low he had gotten. “This thing..this rifle…it’s become a part of me. Before the war, I could go without it but now I feel like I’m leaving part of myself behind when I don’t have it.”
 
Margaret sucked in her breath from beside him. Lucas turned and looked at her. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head, indicating for him to continue. Lucas slowly sat down, resting the butt of his gun on the floor. He rested his hands on the rifle as he spoke. “I always knew that…that in war people die but I guess I didn’t really fully understand that when I left here. The devastation and gruesomeness of war is…well, it’s beyond the imagination.
 
“You don’t know…understand..that at one moment you’re sitting around a campfire laughing and joking…you’re doing laundry together or complaining about the food…just laughing and joking…But just moments later, you see the man laying dead beside you. You think to yourself that he was just here talking and laughing and now he’s…he’s gone.” Tears filled Lucas’s eyes. “Andy…We were at the campfire talking one morning before the battle. We were talking about Thanksgiving and how you were all running around getting it ready. He talked about Margaret…” Lucas turned to look at her and smiled.
 
“He did?” Margaret asked as a tear slid down her cheek.
 
“Mm hm…Out on the battlefield, his last thoughts were of you.”
 
“Tell us, Luke…” Scott begged. “Tell us about it.”
 
Lucas lowered his head. “I can’t…I…”
 
“Tell us,” Abraham demanded in a stern voice. “Don’t hold back, Luke. Tell us.”
 
“Oh…” Lucas swallowed hard as he looked at Margaret. “I don’t want to hurt your more by…” Margaret reached over and touched his hand. She smiled at him and nodded silently. “Alright. He was fighting – giving it all he had. But suddenly, Johnny told me he was down. I ran to him and put his head in my lap as he laid there dying. I…” Tears filled Lucas’s eyes. “I felt so bad because I…Margaret asked me to…to protect him and I…”
 
“I had no right, Luke. No right…I was just worried…” Margaret whispered through her tears. “Did he…die a hero or…” Margaret lowered her head.
 
Lucas slowly looked at each face around him. He never wanted to lie – especially to Margaret…but he couldn’t tell her the truth – that in the last moment, Andy realized he couldn’t shoot the enemy. He closed his eyes and nodded his head. “He…died a hero.” Lucas licked his lips. “He…asked me to marry you just before he died…Those were his last words.”
 
Margaret wiped at her tears and smiled. “That’s Andy.”
 
Lucas sighed. “I buried him.” He shook his head. “No…I dug his grave but in truth…Johnny buried him. I couldn’t. I…” Margaret squeezed his hand again. Lucas lifted his head and looked into her comforting eyes. He nodded. “Some of the men…some who have died since then…stood over the grave and said some words. We said the Twenty-Third Psalm and the bugler played “Amazing Grace.” He had a proper, Christian burial.”
 
“Thank you for that,” Jennifer whispered as tears slid down her face.
 
Lucas turned toward her. “I’m…sorry, Aunt Jenny.” Lucas slowly walked over to her and took her hands. “I’m so sorry!”
 
“Go on, Luke,” Abe urged him with a heavy voice.
 
Luke nodded as he turned and looked at the others. “Well….” Lucas licked his lips. “We’ve had several big battles, you know that. We had Chancellorsville and Gettysburg…those were the worst. I…” Lucas shook his head.   Lucas put his hands to his head. “After a battle I walk among the dead and I see…so many…so many dead bodies…mere boys, some older than me, yet some my age…their entire lives…their futures…just wiped out. I watch all the pain and suffering and I smell the…the death!”
 
Lucas ran his hands through his hair and lowered his head until it was practically down on his lap. Abe slowly stood and came over to his brother. He took Lucas’ hands in his and lifted his head. “Go on, Luke…” Abe softly coaxed. “Tell us…”
 
“After Chancellorsville…there was death everywhere. We lost so many – so many good soldiers. Some had wives and children, others had mothers and fathers, brother and sisters; and still others had…” Lucas shook his head. “A thing like that can get to you.” Lucas stopped talking.
 
“Tell us about Gettysburg,” Abe said quietly. Lucas lifted his head and shook it. “Tell us.”
 
“I…I can’t!” Lucas tried to stand, but Abe kept his hands firmly tight on him. Jeremiah and Peter came to kneel down in front of Lucas. “I…I…” Lucas swallowed hard.
 
“Tell us, Luke,” Peter pleaded.
 
Lucas looked around the room at his family members. He swallowed as sweat broke out on his face. “Gettysburg…” He whispered the name as if it was a life-line. “It lasted three days. Three days of living hell where we were constantly running for our lives! Shot after shot…I can’t count how many yells I heard from men who were hit. I can’t count the number of bullets that whizzed over my head. It was a horrific, terrifying time – a time when I had to drag men back to the hospital and leave them there. I watched good men fall all around me…Then there was the last day…”
 
Lucas buried his face in his hands. “Oh God…Oh God…forgive me…” Lucas began sobbing as his family watched.
 
“What happened, Luke. Tell us,” Peter whispered softly.
 
“The General…He ordered us in a line – he said it was time to end and we were to fire until he told us to stop. We kept pushing toward the line…closer and closer until they broke. It was chaos…I felt men falling, and I kept firing over and over and…I was going through brush…crawling for my life. At times I was like a snake on my belly trying to get away from the bullets firing all around me. Ohhhhh…..the fear I felt!” Lucas started weeping again. “Please don’t hate me! Please!” He begged desperately.
 
Abe put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “We don’t hate you, Luke! We could never hate you!”
 
Lucas lifted his head. “How can you not hate me???” he shouted. “I was afraid! I was TERRIFIED! I was a…”
 
“No, Luke!” Margaret argued with him. “You could NEVER be a coward! Anybody who was in your position would be afraid!”
 
Lucas shook his head. “I saw him…” he swallowed. “Simon Lee…He was running toward the woods and I chased him. I cornered him and…” Lucas closed his eyes. “Oh, it hurts…it hurts…” Lucas slid from his chair onto his knees. “We hesitated and just stared at each other. Looking at him, I could see into his soul!” Lucas swallowed again as he wept. “I saw death in his eyes. He KNEW he was going to die! I saw fear as he hesitated, his hand on his bayonet. Somehow, he knew that I…” Lucas shook his head, then buried it again into his hands. “I killed him.”
 
“How Luke…tell us how…”
 
Lucas shook his head. “It doesn’t matter!”
 
“It does!” Abe shouted. “It matters so much and YOU know it! Tell us, Luke! TELL US!”
 
Luke whispered the word so quietly that hardly anybody heard it. “I lunged! I lunged and lunged and lunged…” He put his hands to his stomach and doubled over as if feeling the bayonet inside him at the moment. “I screamed as he screamed…his screams haunt me at night and he…I watched him die!”
 
Lucas cried harder than he had cried before. His brothers held him while he cried. No words were spoken as Lucas allowed all his tears to pour fourth. Jeremiah softly prayed for his brother as his brother continued to weep. In time, Lucas was spent and laid against his brother as if he were a three year old suddenly exhausted from play. Margaret got on her knees beside Lucas. “We love you, Luke. We love you.”
 
“I…hate…war…” Lucas said between sobs. “I hate it!”
 
“And we hate slavery. We hate that the Confederate States saw if fit to separate from the United States. We want our country reunited!” Abe argued with him, trying to take him back to reality.
 
“He didn’t ask for this…” Lucas shook his head. “Those men…who are fighting against us…none of them asked to be killed in such a manner.”
 
“No,” Abe agreed. “They didn’t, Baby brother, but…every one of those men knew the consequences when they signed up. They had to be willing to die for what they believed.” Abe stayed quiet as he held Lucas’s head against his chest. “Do you, Luke? Do you believe in the United States? Are you willing to die for your country?”
 
“Yes,” Lucas answered softly. “I want this damned war over. I want it over.”
 
Margaret looked into the eyes of each McCain brother. She knew she had to do something that was very difficult for her. Tears filled her eyes as she slowly put her hands to Lucas’s cheeks and lifted his head toward her. She waited until his eyes focused on her. Then she spoke. “Then you have to go fight. With you there…they’ll have the best man and you HAVE to fight for what you believe!”
 
“Margaret?”
 
Margaret felt tears fall down her face. “When your faith is restored…you MUST go back, Luke. You must fight hard!”
 
“But I could…”
 
Margaret lowered her head. “I know. But if you don’t fight…you’re already dead, Luke. That man you killed. That…Simon Lee…” Lucas nodded. “You killed him because you had to! You wanted to live. He wanted to live as well. He would have fought to live…if you hadn’t killed him then…”
 
Lucas stared into her eyes. Then he slowly nodded. “Someone else would have.” Margaret nodded. “Margaret…how do I make the pain go away?”
 
“You fight, Luke. You push it back…way back and bury it deep and move on. You cannot allow it to keep coming up. Eventually, the nightmares will go away like mine did. Eventually you will make it through the day without thinking on it.” Abe sighed. “You just have to learn to live again.”
 
Lucas nodded. He reached in his pocket. “I’m wondering if…” Lucas swallowed. “If you could do something for me, Margaret.” He pressed the envelopes and picture in her hand. “Hold onto these until I come back from the war.”
 
“Why?” Margaret asked.
 
“I just…” Lucas swallowed. “I need to keep him with me until this war is over….as a reminder…” Margaret hugged him. Then the other family members hugged him. The brothers helped Lucas to his feet.
 
“It’s not over, Luke. But when the nightmare comes tonight, I want you to talk to me about it. Tell me what’s happening and how you’re feeling. It’s the only way to get you through this.” Abe squeezed Lucas’s shoulder.
 
“I…can’t say I don’t still feel guilt. I do – a lot of guilt.”
 
“I know. I…even after all these years…I still feel guilt for what I did. I reckon that’s good.”
 
“Well…” Emily came and hugged Lucas. “Would anybody like to help me with lunch?”
 
“Yes!” Several of the women answered. They started into the kitchen.
 
“Margaret?” Margaret turned. “Well…I was thinking of going up to Abe’s and bringing his young ‘uns down here. Care to uh…join me?”
 
Margaret blushed. “I’d love to.” She put her hand in his as they walked out the door.
 
***
 
They stopped half way there. Lucas looked over Margaret’s shoulder to make sure nobody was watching. Then he lifted her face to his and gave her a soft, gentle kiss. Margaret smiled as their lips parted. “You know…” Lucas rubbed his thumb along her cheek. “You are amazing!”
 
“I’m the same Margaret I’ve always been.”
 
“No.” Lucas shook his head. “You get better and better.” He sighed then. “Honey, I don’t want to go back. I…”
 
Margaret pressed a finger to his lips. “We still have 2 ½ weeks to come to terms with that. Until then we talk and enjoy each other’s company.” They started walking again. “You are feeling better.”
 
“Yes.” Lucas slipped his arm around her. “Abe told me about an incident that happened in his life a long time ago. He told me about how broken he was and he somehow made me understand that I’m not nearly the monster I thought I was.”
 
“I could have told you that!” Margaret declared as she gave him a poke.
 
“Hm…” They entered the yard. The door opened and Laura hurried out. “Luke! Luke!”
 
Lucas dropped to his knees and hugged his sister. She kissed his cheek. “Abe wouldn’t let me come, Luke! I begged, but he wouldn’t!”
 
“Well…I bet you had a lot more fun here.” He looked around. “Say…how would you and the boys like to come back with us for lunch?”
 
Laura nodded. “Ya all better now, Luke? Abe said you were really sad.”
 
“I still am, Rosebud. It’ll take time.”
 
“What happened?”
 
Luke turned and looked at Margaret. Margaret kneeled down beside Luke. “Your brother’s seen some pretty scary stuff. It gave him some nightmares.”
 
“Oh…scarier than the story Abe told me last Halloween?”
 
Margaret smiled. “Much, much scarier.”
 
“Oh. Abe didn’t like THAT much. Julie was really mad at him!” Lucas laughed. “Would you come help me get the boys ready?”
 
“Of course.” They walked into Abe’s house only to find Johnny holding his nose at a dirty diaper. Margaret laughed and shook her head. “Well, are you ever going to make a fine father!” she declared.
 
“I’m with him!” Lucas declared. “I reckon the diaper changing will be up to my wife!”
 
“Oh no!” Margaret shook her head. “I’m sure you’ll get you’re share, my love.”
 
“Oh, but I bet Abe doesn’t have to do this!” Lucas declared as he wrinkled his nose.
 
“Oh, but I sure bet he does!!!” Margaret declared.
 
“Abe DOES have to change diapers. And if he don’t do it right the first time, Julie makes him do it again.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Come on, Johnny boy. Help me get these kids to their parents!”
 
***
Lucas stared into his coffee cup as he listened to Abe and Julie say goodnight to their children. He smiled as the couple walked out and sat at the table. “How’s Laura adjusting?” Lucas asked.
 
“It’s rough for her,” Julie admitted. “But we just give her a lot of love.”
 
Abe took Julie’s hand. “I think it’s rough for ALL of us. It’s hard knowing Ma’s gone now. I still can’t believe it.”
 
“It’s late. I think we should all turn in.” Julie stood. Lucas made no indication of moving from his seat.
 
“Julie…You go on. I’ll be in there in a few.” He waited for the door to close then moved to the other side of the table to sit down beside Lucas. “You’re afraid of the nightmares?” Lucas nodded. “They may not come, you know. Now that you’ve told us everything…”
 
Lucas turned and looked at his brother. “But what if they do come?”
 
“Well…” Abe looked back into his cup. “Then we talk.” He slapped Lucas on the back. “But we better both get to sleep. We’ve work to do tomorrow.”
 
“Work?” Lucas groaned. “I’m on vacation!”
 
“No.” Abe smiled. “You’re on leave. There’s a difference. I want to get the fields cleared. We’re doubling our winter wheat crop this year. Then you can help me and Laura build the fence around my house.”
 
“Oh…” Lucas lifted an eyebrow. “And what about Margaret?”
 
“I believe she and Julie are going shopping tomorrow. That means we’ll also have five children to watch.”
 
“Oh!” Lucas groaned. “The war’s beginning to sound better and better!”
 
“Goodnight, Luke.” Abe stood and walked toward his bedroom. “Luke…” He smiled. “It’s good to see that boyish charm back.”
 
Lucas smiled as Abe closed the door to his bedroom.
 
***
 
Abe leaned against his bedroom door and closed his eyes. “Oh, I’m so glad that’s over with!” he declared.
 
“Not quite,” Julie stated from the basin.
 
Abe opened his eyes and slowly walked to where she was standing. She pulled a chair out and patted it. “Come sit down.”
 
Abe slowly moved across the room. He saw the basin of water as well as a razor. “What’s this?”
 
Julie pushed him down into the chair then straddled him. “Last night, you told me about what happened to you a long time ago.” Julie laid a hand against his bearded cheek. “You also told me you grew this beard to…to hide your shame.”
 
Abe nodded. Then he tried to turn his head away. “Look at me, Abraham McCain,” Julie ordered gently. She waited for his eyes to once again focus on him. “Now then…I want to ask you to allow me to take the shame off your face. I think it’s time for you to let go.”
 
“Julie, I…”
 
Julie gently placed a finger to his lips. “Abe…I want to shave your beard. I want you to see that underneath, there is no longer shame.”
 
“Julie, that’s silly! I don’t…”
 
“Don’t you?” Julie lifted an eyebrow as she laid a gentle kiss on his lips. “Abe?”
 
“You may not like what you see under there,” Abe murmured. “I’ve had the beard for so long…I never shaved it off.”
 
“You grew the beard for one reason. Is that correct?” Abe nodded. “Julie dipped the soap into the wash basin and lovingly lathered it in her hands. Abe looked down and saw the soap in her hands as she slowly lifted them to his face. “Then you need to shave it for one reason: Because from this day forward, I don’t want you to be ashamed anymore.” Julie slowly began wiping the soap on his beard. “As your wife, I want to take away any shame that remains.”
 
Abe took her hand and held it. He looked at the soap still on her hands, then slowly moved his eyes up to look into hers. “Julie, I…” He closed his eyes. “I understand.”
 
Julie smiled as she silently picked up the razor and worked at shaving his beard. Lovingly, she worked for a long time. She smiled as his face was revealed to her for the first time. Abe kept his eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of Julie’s love pouring out in such a fashion. Then he opened them when she began wiping his face with the towel. “Well?” he asked as Julie put a hand to her mouth and studied his face.
 
Julie bent down and kissed his left smooth cheek. Then she kissed his right smooth cheek. Then she laid her hands on his cheeks and slowly kissed his lips. “So…This is Abraham McCain.” She stood up and took his hands, lifting him from his seat. Then she led him across the room to the mirror. “And I see no shame on your face.”
 
Abe stared at his reflection. His eyes grew moist. “That’s him. He’s the one that…”
 
“That’s Abe McCain,” Julie said as she kissed him again. She drew her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his. When she parted, she said…”You are the man I married. You are the father of four…five children. You are my husband and I love you. There is no shame.”
 
Abe turned again and stared at his reflection in the mirror. “This is me…” he whispered. “There is no longer any shame.” He turned and looked at Julie. “What do you think?”
 
Julie said nothing. She took his hands and led him toward the bed. After they were dressed for bed, they slid in under the covers. That night, Julie and Abe held each other and kissed for a long time. Abe allowed his guilt to slowly slip away as they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The Years Before — Falling In Love

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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