The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before

Chapter 16 - Falling in Love
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Lucas dipped his feet in the creek as he and Laura sat on the creek bank fishing one lazy Sunday afternoon. Margaret sat beside Luke, her head on his shoulder as she watched the two fish. “You sure you don’t want me to rig you up a pole?” Lucas asked Margaret with a twinkle in his eye.
 
“I’m sure!” Margaret declared without lifting her head. “I’m enjoying watching you and Laura fish.”
 
“Luke, I got one! I got another!” Laura suddenly declared as she pulled on her line.
 
Lucas kissed Margaret quickly before he jumped up and hurried over to his baby sister. “Well, let’s see it!” Lucas declared as Laura started pulling her line in. “Come on, sis! Hurry!”
 
“Alright, alright!” Laura griped. “I’m going as fast as I can!”
 
“Well now, ya ain’t going fast enough!” Lucas shouted as he grabbed the line. “Come on, Laura Rose! Go a little faster!”
 
“Will you stop hounding me!” Laura bossed as she jerked on her line one last time. “It’s a…” Laura stared at what was on the end of her line.
 
Lucas fell to the ground laughing as he kicked his feet in the air. “Now, that’s the best catch all day, Laura Rose!” he declared as he rolled on the ground laughing. Margaret put a hand to her face and tried to keep the laughter from her face. “Oh ho, Laura Rose! You caught a big BOOT!”
 
Laura planted her hands on her hips. “Now, it ain’t funny one bit, Lucas McCain! You stop that laughing this instant or I’ll…I’ll…”
 
Lucas stood up and towered over her. “Or you’ll WHAT?” Lucas challenged her as he narrowed his eyes.
 
“Well, I’ll…” Laura suddenly gasped as her eyes widened. She got down really close to the water. “Luke, if that ain’t the biggest bullfrog I ever did see!”
 
“What?” Lucas bent down to take a look. “Where?”
 
Laura gave her brother a hard shove. Lucas let out a cry before he toppled into the water. Laura fell to the ground rolling with laughter. “Laura Rose!” Margaret gasped.
 
Lucas stood and hurried from the water. “Now see here, young lady!” He shook his finger at her. “You are going to get it!” Laura started backing away. “You just wait and…” Lucas picked her up and tossed her into the water. Then he brushed off his hands in declaration. “Ha! Now, how’s that feel?”
 
Laura came out of the water sputtering. She grabbed Lucas by the ankle and tripped him back into the water. “About like that!” she shouted as the two started splashing each other.
 
“Laura Rose McCain!” Laura stopped when she saw Abe standing on the bank of the creek with his hands on his hips. “What do you think you are doing, young lady?”
 
“Playing,” she answered quietly. “He started it!” she pointed at Lucas.
 
“What? I did NOT!” Lucas declared as he put a hand on his hip. “SHE started it! She pushed me in the water!”
 
“Yeah! Because you laughed at me!” Laura shot back at him.
 
“You’re the one who caught an ol’ boot!” Lucas declared.
 
“That’s enough!” Abe shouted. “Lucas, out! Laura, OUT!” Both brother and sister climbed up onto the bank. Abe came to stand in front of both of them as they stood in front of them. Both held matching guilty expressions on their faces. Abe folded his arms and shook his head. “Laura Rose, Julie is going to tan your hide! Now, you get on up to that house and get cleaned up!” Abe ordered as he pointed toward the house. You were supposed to help Julie with the triplets while she fixed supper!”
 
“Yes sir.” Laura turned to get the fish.
 
“NOW!” Abe ordered as he pointed toward the house. Then he gave her a firm slap on the backside. After she left, Abe folded his arms and walked around his brother, looking him up and down. “Well…well…well…” He shook his head. “Is this the kind of men the army’s bringing up these days? Nineteen year old soldiers who engage in a water fight with his sister…”
 
“Abe…I can explain…”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “I’m sure you can. Your sister was supposed to be home thirty minutes ago!”
 
“I’m…sorry. I guess I just got so involved in uh…” Lucas looked down at Margaret. “…Uh…fishing that I lost track of time.”
 
“Mm hm…” Abe nodded his head. “Fishing for a kiss, no doubt!” Abe shook his head at Lucas.
 
“Well…” Lucas folded his arms across his chest. “I reckon you think it’s time for me to go back to the Civil War.”
 
“No!” Margaret leapt forward, suddenly inviting herself into the conversation. “Now Luke, you behave yourself!” Margaret ordered sternly. “If Abe sends you away early for bad behavior, I’ll be awfully mad!” She grabbed Lucas by the arm. “Abe McCain, I’ve got 12 more days with him, and I expect to keep him around for 12 more days!”
 
Abe merely shook his head, turned, and walked away. “Well now…I guess we’re all alone.” Lucas said as he grinned down at her.
 
“And you are all wet!” Margaret stood on her tip toes and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
 
“Ah shucks…I’ll dry!” Lucas sat down on the blanket and pulled Margaret down beside him. “You know…” Lucas started as he lay down and stared up at the sky. “When I’m in the middle of a battle, sometimes I remember all the times we spent out here just talking and fishing and stuff…”
 
Margaret propped her head up on her hand as she lay on her side and looked down at Lucas. “And does remembering those times help you?”
 
“Yes.” Lucas smiled. “And thinking about you…imagining you sitting at your desk writing me a letter…”
 
“I don’t even want to think about you going back!” Margaret declared suddenly. “I can’t stand the thought of…”
 
Lucas reached up and pressed a finger to her lips. “Then don’t.” He rose up and pressed a kiss to her mouth. “Let’s not mention my going back until I have to.”
 
“Lucas?” Margaret rested her head on his shoulder. “You…are better now, right?”
 
“Yes, honey.” Lucas patted her shoulder. “I’ve had one nightmare and Abe made me talk through it. The longer I’m away…the more I come to realize that I was just doing my job. But mostly, I try to just keep it tucked way back in my head. Abe said now’s not the time for me to forget what happened…but someday, like him, I’ll want to deal with the demon and put it behind me once and for all.”
 
“Luke…” a deep, familiar voice sounded behind them. Both sat up and turned around.
 
Lucas jumped to his feet. “Uncle Sam?” He hurried forward, but Samuel staggered back. Lucas froze. “Uncle Sam!” Lucas exclaimed, realizing Samuel was wasted.
 
“He’s sick!” Margaret declared as she stood and started for her father.
 
Lucas grabbed a firm hold on her arm. “Stay here,” he ordered. “He’s not sick. He’s DRUNK!”
 
“Luke!” Margaret exclaimed suddenly. “He’s my father!”
 
“I’ve never seen you take a drink in your life…much less get wasted on the stuff!” Lucas looked Samuel up and down. “They wrote me and told me about you but…”
 
“You…” Samuel pointed a finger at Lucas suddenly. His voice grew angry. “Why are YOU alive? My son died but you lived? Lucas, I…”
 
“Papa, no!” Margaret suddenly bolted forward.
 
“Margaret, I said stay back!” Lucas ordered as he gently took her arm and held her at bay. Lucas pointed a finger at Samuel. “If you think…” Lucas paused to take a deep breath. “If you think for a SECOND that I wouldn’t have taken that bullet for Andy then you are WRONG! You don’t know how hard I wished it was me laying there instead of Andy!”
 
Samuel stood in front of him. He held a bottle in his hand. As he stared Lucas up and down, he lifted the bottle to his lips, but Lucas bolted forward. “How can you do this?” He took the bottle from Samuel’s hand. “How can you behave this way in front of your daughter???”
 
“Lucas, I…” Samuel started.
 
Margaret bolted forward and put her arms around Samuel. “Luke, he’s my father! Please!”
 
“Margaret, I know Scott wouldn’t want you around him when he’s drunk. And neither do I.” Lucas stared at her, letting her know what he expected.
 
Margaret sighed. She turned and looked at her father. “Papa…why? Why do you always come when you’re drunk? Just once I’d..”
 
Samuel lifted his eyebrows and stared hard at his daughter, causing her words to die. He grabbed her wrists and removed her hands from his body. Then he turned and hurried away. Lucas walked up behind Margaret and put his hands on her shoulders. “Why, Luke?” She shook her head and wiped her tears. “Why?”
 
“I heard he was like that, but…” Lucas clinched his jaw. “How can he turn his back on his family like this? I don’t understand!”
 
Margaret turned. “He’s sick, Luke!”
 
“No.” Lucas shook his head. “He’s DRUNK!” He hugged her, wishing he could take the pain she felt for her father away. “He’s gone now.” Lucas lifted a hand to her chin and lifted her face up toward his. “I don’t want to fight about it, honey.” He raised his eyebrows. “Do you?”
 
“No.” Margaret whispered as she allowed herself to smile. “Time’s too short for fighting.” She lowered her head. “But I was hoping that you…of all people…could try to be a little more understanding.”
 
Lucas led her back to the blanket and laid down. He drew her back down beside him. They laid quiet for awhile. Finally, he whispered, “I’ll try.”
 
“Good.” Margaret grew quiet again. Lucas put his arm around her as she laid her head on his shoulder. They lay there for a long time just enjoying being together. Lucas put his hat over his face to block out the sun. Margaret soon heard him snoring.
 
She giggled as she lifted her head from his chest. “Luke?” The snoring stopped. Margaret tapped his arm. “Lucas McCain.”
 
“Hm?”
 
“Did you know you snore?”
 
“No! I do NOT snore!” Lucas declared. He lifted his hat off his face. Holding it up in the air, he narrowed his eyes at her. “Besides, how would you know?”
 
“You always fall asleep down here at the creek. I just never told you that you snore before, but you do.” She put a hand to her mouth and chuckled as he raised an eyebrow.
 
“Margaret…I do NOT snore!” Lucas argued again.
 
“Yes…you do!”
 
“And I wasn’t sleeping.” He put the hat back over his face and crossed his arms over his middle. “I was just…resting my eyes.”
 
“Deeply!” Margaret declared. “You fell asleep!”
 
“Stop it!” Lucas argued again. “I done told you I wasn’t…”
 
Margaret sat up on the blanket and looked down at him. “Lucas?”
 
“What?” Lucas asked impatiently from under his hat.
 
“Um…can I talk to you about something?” Lucas mumbled. “Lucas?”
 
Slowly, Lucas lifted his hat from his face. “What?”
 
“The money you send home from the war…” Margaret hesitated.
 
“What is it?” Lucas asked as he slowly sat up.
 
“Well…It’s a bit awkward to talk to you about this but…all the money you’ve sent home is in the…bank.” Margaret met his eyes.
 
“The…” Lucas narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”
 
“Oh…I shouldn’t be telling you but…” Margaret turned away. Lucas grabbed her shoulders and turned her back around. “Abe’s saving the money, Luke…for…for us.”
 
“Us?”
 
“For when we get married,” Margaret declared as she blushed.
 
“We’re getting married?” Lucas asked in shock.
 
“According to your brother, yes.”
 
“I see.” Lucas thought on that a moment. “Go on.”
 
“Well…Julie told me not to tell you but…Oh Luke, Laura wants her own room! They were going to build a couple extra bedrooms before the locusts came, and I told him to use that money because if we do get married, we’d find some other way but…”
 
“My brother is stubborn.”
 
Margaret nodded. “Seems to run in the family.” Lucas cocked his head to one side and again raised an eyebrow at her. “And he told Julie he would build Laura a room, but your Ma died a week ago and he still hasn’t said anything about it so…”
 
“So…he is just going to try to weasel out of it…” Lucas stood up. “Well, we’ll see what we can do about that!”
 
Margaret quickly stood up. “What are you going to do?”
 
“I’m going to the bank and getting MY money.”
 
“You’re what???” Margaret asked in shock.
 
“Yes. And then I’m going to go buy the supplies Abe will need to build those bedrooms! AND I’ll be there to see they are built!”
 
“You can’t, Lucas!” Margaret argued.
 
“I can! It’s our money, isn’t it?”
 
“Yes but…” Margaret shot a hand to her mouth and giggled. “First of all, you look like a drowned rat. And second of all its…well, it’s Sunday. The bank’s not open today!”
 
Lucas looked down at his clothes. “Oh…I see.”
 
“Lucas, will you do me one favor?” Lucas nodded. “Well, when you get ready to deliver the materials…let me know. I want to be as far from the McCain farm as I can get when Abe explodes.” Lucas laughed as they started up to the house.
 
When they got there, Laura was outside ringing out diapers to hang on the line. “Chores on Sunday?” Lucas asked as they paused outside. “I didn’t figure Abe would assign chores on Sunday!”
 
“He doesn’t. Julie assigned them and Abe agreed!” Laura declared as she wrinkled up her face. “Since I came back all wet when I was told not to, I have to wash dirty diapers!” Laura moaned as she shot her brother a dirty look. “Julie said this way I stay out of trouble.”
 
“But it was all in fun!” Lucas declared. “Besides, I pushed you in…” Lucas walked over to Abe who was coming from the barn. “Abe! Why are you punishing Laura? I’m the reason she got all wet.”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “I know.” He bent over and picked up the ax. “Get to chopping, boy.”
 
“What?” Lucas rolled his eyes. “You cannot be serious!”
 
“Oh, but I AM!” Abe declared. “Would you like me to tell you how much trouble Laura got into when she got home? Julie wasn’t impressed in the least.”
 
“Just because I pushed her into the water?”
 
“No. Not JUST because you pushed her into the water. Because Julie told Laura before she went off with you that she was to get out of her Sunday dress and she didn’t. Therefore, she was pushed into the water and tore it, causing more work for Julie. And since her brother was the one who got her into all this trouble, he will chop wood.” Abe handed Lucas the ax. “Now…get to chopping, boy.” Lucas just stood there staring at the ax. Abe cleared his throat. “Oh, or would you rather I send Julie out here who, by the way, is in a pretty sour mood right now…”
 
Lucas sighed and took the ax. “Practical way of getting your work done for ya…” Lucas grumbled as he walked over to the wood pile.
 
Abe nodded. “That’s exactly the idea!” Margaret giggled as she walked inside to leave the “children” to their punishments.
 
As he chopped wood, Lucas watched Laura hang the last diaper on the clothesline. “Boy, I’ll be glad when those three don’t go in their britches anymore!” Laura declared as she put her hands on her hips.
 
“Oh, I’m sure Abe and Julie will find other ways of punishing you that are just as bad.” Laura went to help gather up the kindling.
 
“Laura,” Julie called from the door. “Come on inside and set the table, please.”
 
“Can’t I help Luke with…”
 
Julie placed her hands on her hips. “Laura Rose!”
 
“Yes ‘em.”
 
During supper, the family talked lightly. Abe, Julie, and Margaret were all happy to see the change in Lucas over the last week. He looked so alive and ready to take on anything. But there was a change in him – one that would never go away. Instead of the boy who had left, Lucas came back with a rough attitude – one, that for the last couple of days, had been hidden by the boyish charm he had while around Laura. After supper, Abe and Luke went to dig more holes to put the fence up while Laura helped Julie with the dishes. She asked Julie if she could help with the fence when the dishes were done. “No. I think you can help me get the boys ready for bed.”
 
“But Abe said I could help him…” Julie turned from picking up one of the boys and shot Laura a look. Laura sighed. “Yes ma’am.”
 
Julie allowed Laura to go outside and help Abe and Luke, but while out there her friend Jessie came by. “Can we go play?” Laura asked Abe.
 
“It’s getting dark. Your bedtime is quickly approaching,” Abe answered sternly. “I think you should just talk quietly then go on inside and get ready for bed.” Laura wasn’t happy with the decision. “Maybe you can go play with Jessica tomorrow once Julie’s done with you.”
 
Lucas watched Laura say goodnight then walk inside. “Seems she’s adjusting well,” Lucas stated.
 
“She is.” Abe grunted as he held the fence in place while Lucas nailed it. “So uh…how are things between you and Margaret?”
 
“Good.” Lucas smiled. “They’re really good.”
 
Abe turned and looked at his little brother as he rested his arm on top of the fence. “I can’t help but watch you two when you’re together. I must say that I’m really impressed with how in love you two are.”
 
“Is it that obvious?” Lucas asked, a bit embarrassed.
 
“It’s THAT obvious.” Abe picked up another portion of fence and started putting it into place. “Uh…do we hear wedding bells yet?”
 
“Huh?” Lucas turned and stared at his brother. “Wedding bells? Abe, in case you forgot we’re still in the middle of a war!”
 
“I know.” Abe nodded. “Who says you can’t get married before you go back off to war. You could have a few days as husband and wife…”
 
“And make her a widow?”  Lucas pounded a board really hard. “No way!”
 
“Luke…”
 
“No, Abe. I’m not going to even ask her until I come back from the war.” Lucas sighed. “I’m not leaving a widow behind.”
 
“Does it still bother you that much?” Luke nodded. “Well…I suspect it always will.”
 
“Doesn’t it bother you every time you see that widow with eight children?”
 
“Yes. I guess it does.” Abe pounded another bard into place. “I just want to see you two happily married. I reckon I’m anxious to see you two joined together. It’s something Ma and Pa always wanted for you two.”
 
Lucas smiled. “You know brother…Every time I’m with her, I want the same thing.” He turned and looked at Abe before sitting down the hammer. “Well…like you told Laura, it’s getting dark. I could use a cup of Julie’s coffee.”
 
The brothers walked inside and sat down at the table. Abe saw Julie in the kitchen making cookies. He walked up behind her and kissed her neck. “Is there any coffee?”
 
“You know where the stove is, Abe,” Julie answered with a smile. She turned and laid a kiss on his lips.
 
He smiled deeply into her eyes. “Yes I do, my love.”
 
Abe and Lucas sat at the table jawing and laughing. Lucas looked toward the cot in the living room then turned and watched as Julie sat down next to Abraham. The two gave each other a loving look. Lucas suddenly felt like he was invading. “Uh…” Lucas finished his coffee then stood from the table. “I think I’ll sleep in the barn tonight.”
 
Julie and Abe forced their eyes off of each other and turned to look up at Luke. “That’s not…” Julie started.
 
Abe laid a hand on her arm and shook his head. “Goodnight, Luke,” he mumbled as he touched Julie’s cheek and turned her to once again look into his eyes. “You have a good night’s sleep. I’ve plenty of work for you in the morning.”
 
“Work?” Abe didn’t take his eyes off of Julie. He smiled deeply into her eyes and nodded. “Oh…I have some errands to run tomorrow.”
 
“Oh?” Abe turned to look up at Lucas. “What sort of errands?” Abe slowly moved his face toward Julie.
 
“Uh…just errands. Goodnight.” Lucas quickly left the house and made his way to the barn.
 
Julie smiled as Abe’s lips parted and met hers. He kissed her softly at first, but the kiss deepened and Julie wrapped her arms around Abe and responded to his kiss. After they parted, Julie asked, “What’s gotten into you tonight?”
 
“I don’t know…” Abe answered. “I just walked inside and saw you there…you looked so beautiful baking those cookies and I realized I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
 
“Oh.” Julie slowly stood up. “Shall we go to bed, Mr. McCain?”
 
Abe picked her up into his arms. Julie giggled as he chuckled softly. After carrying her into the bedroom, he kicked the door closed with his foot. Standing in the middle of the bedroom, he pressed his lips to hers and kissed long and deep. He slowly allowed her to slide from his arms and stand in front of him. Abe pressed his hands against her cheeks. “So much has happened lately…we haven’t made love since you lost the baby. I don’t want to pressure you.”
 
“Oh Abe…” Julie laid a hand against his cheek and kissed him. “I’ve wanted it for weeks.”
 
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
 
Julie shook her head. “The time was never right. Seems it’s been one thing after another and you’ve been under so much pressure.”
 
Abe kissed her. Julie found the button on his shirt and started unbuttoning it, the whole time they kissed. She pulled his shirt off then moved her lips down his neck and gently kissed his chest. Abe moaned as he started unbuttoning her dress. They undressed each other as they stood in the middle of the room. The lantern cast light on the couple as they stepped back to gaze at each other. Abe looked his wife up and down from head to toe then grinned. “You ARE so beautiful, Mrs. McCain.”
 
He allowed his hand to travel up and down her body as he started pushing her toward the bed. They stared into each other’s eyes, which danced with excitement at the love they would soon be sharing. Abe kissed her hard on the mouth as he bent over and pulled the covers back. Julie crawled into the bed, still kissing Abe, as Abe slid in next to her and pulled the covers up. He forced his lips to part as he gently ran a hand up and down her bare skin. “This could result in another baby. Are you ready for that?”
 
Julie rested in her husband’s arms as their bodies pressed against each other’s. “If that’s what God wants, then I’m happy, Mr. McCain. Maybe it’ll be a sister for Laura.”
 
“A sister?” Abe asked as he allowed his lips to travel down her throat.
 
“You know she’ll be like a sister…” Julie started. But Abe hushed her with his lips.
 
Their kisses deepened as they caressed each other. They enjoyed the feel of the other pressed up against them as their hands traveled up and down the other’s skin, caressing. It was some time before Abe knew Julie was ready to give herself to him. They shared deep passion as they made love that night. Abe didn’t hold back, knowing they were both ready were God to allow Julie to conceive. The passion raced through them until finally they were both spent.
 
Julie smiled as Abe laid on his back and pulled her head onto his chest. Abe kissed the top of her head and sighed. “I love you, Julie,” he whispered.
 
Julie laid a hand on his chest and sighed. “Can I ask you a question?” Abe mumbled. “Why did Luke go to sleep in the barn?”
 
Abe chuckled. “I suspect he knew we needed to be alone.” Abe kissed her as Julie gasped. He chuckled again. “He’s a man, Julie.”
 
“That’s sort of what I figured. I reckon we made it sort of obvious, huh?” Abe nodded. He bent his head down to kiss her again, but found she was sound asleep.
 
***
Lucas picked up his napkin as he watched Julie rest her hand on Abe’s back while she poured his coffee. Abe watched her fill his cup then turned and smiled up at her. “Thanks, Sweetie.”
 
“You’re welcome.” Julie answered as she smiled into his eyes and bent to give him a quick kiss.
 
“So uh…did you two get a good night’s sleep last night?” Lucas asked as he grinned into his coffee cup.
 
“Lucas!” Julie gasped.
 
“Julie!” Abe gasped at his wife.
 
“Well…I guess I should have asked if you had a good night…” Abe kicked him in the shin under the table. “OUCH!”
 
“Eat your breakfast, Luke.” Julie shook her head. “MEN!”
 
“So…” Abe cleared his throat as he flashed Julie one more smile while she sat down. “What are these errands you have to do in town?”
 
“In town?” Laura gasped. “Oh, can I go with you, Luke? Can I please?”
 
“You’ve got chores to do this morning, young lady!” Julie answered sternly.
 
“Oh, but…”
 
“You heard your mother…er…Julie..” The adults chuckled at Abe’s slip up. “No arguing or you’ll get a good bite of her lye soap again.”
 
“I didn’t say anything about my errands being in town, brother!” Lucas declared. Then he turned to look at Laura. “But uh…if you’re good…I’ll bring you back some candy.”
 
“Lucas...” Julie started.
 
“Now you can’t deny a girl candy! I still like those peppermint sticks myself. What do you say?”
 
“I like the sucker sticks. Can I have strawberry, cherry, uh…” Laura looked toward the ceiling as she thought of what other flavors she would want.
 
“Eat your breakfast!” Julie demanded. She turned to Lucas. “She can have two pieces of candy…if she’s good.”
 
Laura ate silently for a few moments. “Luke?” Lucas looked at her. “How will you know I’m good?”
 
Abe and Lucas chuckled at her question. “Well now…I never thought much about that. I reckon it’s what adults always say to the kids. I’ll tell ya, Laura…I just BET you are good enough for candy if you help Julie with the housework this morning. Then maybe Abe and Julie will let you go to Jessie’s house after lunch.” He winked at her.
 
Julie shook her head. “You’re spoiling her!”
 
“What good is it to be a big brother if you can’t spoil your baby sister?”
 
“I’m not a baby! I’m eight years old!” Laura declared.
 
“Oh! Well, just don’t get married before I come back from war!” Lucas allowed his voice to die, but the words were already out.
 
There was suddenly silence around the table. Julie and Abe looked at each other as Laura suddenly widened her eyes. “Back from…” She started as she slowly sat down her spoon.
 
“Uh…we were going to tell you, honey,” Julie mumbled as she turned to feed David some more cereal.
 
“No! You can’t go back to war! You can’t!” Laura’s eyes filled with tears.
 
“Uh…Luke, now that you’ve stuck that boot in your mouth…maybe you should get to your errands.” Abe’s voice sounded annoyed.
 
Lucas ignored his brother and turned to Laura. “Laura, listen…” Laura turned away from him in her chair
 
“Luke!” Abe stopped him. “We’ll handle this. Go on to your errands.”
 
Lucas slowly stood from the table. He paused at the door and put on his hat. Then he reached for his rifle. Slowly turning back toward Laura, Lucas said, “Laura, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
 
“If you go away, I’ll never speak to you again! NEVER!” Laura declared.
 
Lucas looked at Abe and Julie who now sat uncomfortably at the table. “I’m sorry.” He hurried out.
 
“He can’t go back, Abe! He just can’t!” Laura’s eyes filled with tears.
 
“Laura…” Abe cleared his throat. “Go on and clear the dishes.” He turned and looked at Julie. “I think we need to talk.” They put the boys down on the floor and asked Laura to watch them then walked into their bedroom and closed the door. “Is that boy ever going to grow up?” Abe asked in an impatient voice.
 
“He didn’t mean…it was an innocent mistake,” Julie declared, trying to calm her husband’s boiling temper.
 
“I told him not to tell Laura about…” Abe ran a hand through his hair. “Damn it! The moment we get her settled down…something upsets her again!”
 
“Calm down, Abe!” Julie ordered in a quiet voice. She folded her arms. “Now…we just have to sit her down and explain it to her.”
 
“How do you explain to an eight year old girl that her brother returned safely from war but now has to go back, possibly not returning the second time? It’s going to be awful…just like it was that first day.” Abe turned toward the window. “And she doesn’t have Ma and Pa to help her through.”
 
“No.” Julie walked up to stand behind her husband. She put her arms around him and gave him a backwards hug. “But she has us.”
 
“She’s going to hate me all over again for keeping this from her.”
 
“She’s going to be upset, yes. Do you blame her?” Abe shook his head. “But she’s old enough to understand.”
 
“Charlie, NO!” they heard Laura yell from the other room. Then they heard Charlie’s cry. Abe and Julie hurried into the other room to find Charlie on his back side with his hands in his mouth. “What happened?” Abe asked as Julie hurried over to pick up her oldest son.
 
“He was trying to get into the scraps!” Laura declared.
 
“Yeah? And what did you do?” Abe asked as he looked at Charlie. Laura stayed quiet as she went back into the kitchen. “Laura, I asked you a question.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“I see.” Abe raised an eyebrow as he bent down in front of her. “Laura…I’m sorry. We should have told you.”
 
“Why does he have to go back?” Laura asked suddenly. “Why?”
 
Julie sat down in a chair with Charlie on her lap as the triplets chased each other around the table. “Come here, Laura.” She held out her hand. Laura slowly walked over to her. “Lucas came back because he was really, really sad after somebody died. He needed family around him to help him. We knew he was going to go back, but…well…Ma was really sick and you were pretty upset about that.  We didn’t want to upset you anymore.”
 
Abe smoothed her hair back. “We were going to tell you. Honest, we were Laura. I guess we were just trying to find the right moment to tell you.”
 
“When’s he leaving?” Laura asked.
 
“Eleven days.”
 
“Eleven…” Tears filled Laura’s eyes. “Why? Why can’t somebody else take his place?”
 
“Come here.” Abe sat on the floor and pulled her down onto his lap. “Laura, Luke has a job to do. He can’t abandon his job. Let’s suppose I decided one day I just didn’t want to be Charlie’s Pa anymore. Or…let’s suppose that Julie just decided she didn’t want to be my wife anymore. Would that be very nice?” Laura shook her head. “Well…Luke said he’d be a soldier and fight in this war. He has to keep that promise. You wouldn’t want him to break his promise…would you?”
 
Laura lowered her head and shook it slowly. The door opened. Lucas stood in the doorway. “I’m sorry, Abe. I couldn’t leave when things weren’t right between me and my Rosebud.” Lucas kneeled down. “Laura, I wish I could stay here with you but…”
 
Laura stood from Abe’s lap and walked over to Lucas. “You have a job to do.” Lucas nodded. “Does Margaret know?”
 
“She knows.”
 
“And is she sad?” Laura asked.
 
“I think she is. But she understands I have to. Laura…I can’t go back knowing you hate me. I just…”
 
“I don’t want you to go, Luke!” Laura declared. “And if you do go, I’ll be very angry but…” Laura lowered her head. “I won’t hate you.”
 
“Fair enough.” Lucas smiled as Laura threw her arms around him. He patted her back, then pulled her away and smiled at her. Slowly, he stood up. “I’ll be home later.” Lucas walked to the door. He turned and smiled down at Laura. “…WITH the candy!”
 
***
“How much?” Lucas shrieked at the bank clerk.
 
He looked back down at the ledger. “There’s $520.00 in your account,” he repeated as Lucas stared at him.
 
“Oh…” This piece of news surprised Lucas quite a bit since he had only sent home half that much. He couldn’t help but shake his head. That brother of his wasn’t as rough and tough as he let on. In fact, Abe was becoming a regular softy!
 
“Is there a problem, Mr. McCain?” the clerk asked. “I can get Mr…”
 
“No! I mean…there’s no problem…I just didn’t know there was…” Lucas shook his head and told the clerk the amount of money he wished to take out. After pocketing the money, he made his way to the mill at the other end of town. It hadn’t been there long, and Lucas was mighty happy to see his old school friend running it. “Matthew!” Lucas shook the boy’s hand. “Tell me…how much of this lumber would it take to build a couple bedrooms?”
 
Matthew laughed. “Just a couple bedrooms? What about the rest of your house?”
 
“It’s not for me. It’s for my brother, Abe.”
 
“Oh. I see…” Matthew scratched his head as he walked into the office. “Well now, this IS interesting. You see, before the locusts came he had given me an order for lumber. But after the locusts, he canceled the order.” Matthew searched through the papers on his desk. “Yes. Here it is. I had about a wagon load of wood for him.” Matthew raised his head. “Did he change his mind?”
 
“Nope.” Lucas dug in his pocket for the money. “But he will when he sees the lumber and such outside his house. How much?”
 
“You mean…” Matthew paused as he pointed a finger at Lucas. “Land sakes…I don’t want to be anywhere near you two when Abe learns what you’ve done!” He shook his head. “Well…not many orders coming in right now. I can have the lumber ready for you this afternoon.”
 
Lucas nodded and turned to walk out. “Oh…” Lucas turned back around. “I don’t suppose I need to ask you not to tell Abe…you know…just in case he comes by?”
 
“I guarantee you I won’t breathe a word!” Matthew declared.
 
Lucas left the mill and hurried to the hardware store. Walking up to the counter, he asked, “My brother didn’t by any chance put in an order before the locusts hit?”
 
The clerk nodded. “Yes, Luke. As a matter of fact…” The clerk dug through his papers. “Yes. Here it is.”
 
Lucas scanned the list made in his brother’s handwriting. “Alright. How soon can you have that ready for me?”
 
“How soon?”
 
“This afternoon?”
 
“Well…I thought that…”
 
Lucas banged his fist on the counter. “Forget what you thought. I have the money right here.” He dug his hand in his pocket and pulled out the money. “Now…can you get started on it?”
 
“Oh, sure Luke. Sure.” The clerk assured him. “It’ll be here this afternoon.”
 
Lucas nodded in satisfaction, turned, and walked out the door.
 
***
 
Scott Gibbs walked into the kitchen and leaned on the counter as he kissed his wife on the cheek. “How are you?” he asked as he looked down into the bowl she was mixing.
 
“I’m fine,” Amanda answered with a laugh. Scott smiled at her. She turned and leaned against the counter. “Is there…something you need?”
 
“Yeah. What’s that?” Scott pointed in the opposite direction. Amanda looked in the direction he was pointing, and Scott quickly stuck his hand in the batter and took a lick.
 
Amanda turned back in time to see what he was doing. She put her hand on her hip. “Scott Gibbs, I…”
 
There was a knock on the door. Scott was happy for the visitor’s interruption. The caller had saved him from a tongue lashing. Lucas stepped inside. “Is Margaret here?” Margaret came from parlor where she’d been cleaning. “I was wondering if you could spend the afternoon with me.”
 
Scott grinned and shook his head. “Well now,” he said as he folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t know that I like all the attention my sister’s been getting lately. I just may have to ask you what your intentions are, young man!”
 
“Nevermind the sarcasm!” Lucas grumbled, a bit embarrassed that Scott was poking fun at his ‘romancing’ Margaret. “I think you already know the answer to that.”
 
“Now Scott…” Amanda came in front the kitchen. “You behave yourself or I’ll put you to scrubbing these floors this afternoon!”  She wagged her finger at him.
 
“Why do you want me to spend the afternoon with you?” Margaret asked as she cocked her head to one side and studied him. “I’ve been neglecting my chores around here and really have…”
 
“Well, because I…” Lucas paused and reddened when he saw Scott still watching them. “Because I…” Again, he paused. He rolled his eyes and lowered his lips to her ear and whispered, “I love you!”  Margaret grinned as Lucas pulled back from her and looked into his eyes. “So, can you?”
 
“Well, I…” Margaret again turned and looked at her brother. “Luke, I do have a lot of chores here. I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting…”
 
Scott held up a hand and tried to muster up a serious face. “Now, wait a minute! You’ve been stealing her away every day since…” he started.
 
“Scott Gibbs! You let your sister spend as much time with her intended as she can!” Amanda demanded as she shook the wooden spoon at him. “And you can forget about any cake for supper tonight!”
 
“Oh, but I can’t leave you with all this work!” Margaret argued.
 
“Nonsense!” Amanda gave Margaret a little push toward Lucas. “Rather Scott does or not, I remember courting and how exciting it is. Margaret, Mama Jenny will be back from visiting this afternoon, and she can help me clean. Your Mother would want you with Lucas, and you know it.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Alright. Let’s go, then!”
 
“Wait!” Margaret held up her hand. “Why are you so anxious to take me along? Are you delivering the building supplies?”
 
“The….building supplies?” Lucas questioned as Margaret raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh…well, as a matter of fact…”
 
 “Now Luke, I told you…” Margaret started.
 
“I know what you told me!” Lucas grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door. He snatched her hat off the hook and handed it to her. “But you see…If you are there with me, Abe won’t cuss or throw things…I don’t think.”
 
“I see…” Margaret planted her feet on the ground, refusing to go one more step. “So you have me there as a decoy…is that it?”
 
“Ah shucks, honey! Don’t say it like that! I want you there because I love you.” Margaret raised her eyebrows and licked her lips. “Honest!”
 
“What about lunch?”
 
“I’ll take you to the hotel for lunch.”
 
“Sounds like a bribe, if you ask me,” Scott declared with a shake of his head.
 
“It’s not a bribe!” Lucas declared as he glared at Scott. “It’s a…a…” Lucas shook his head. “Margaret, now will you go with me peacefully before I give that brother of yours a hard smack?”
 
“Alright, Lucas.” Margaret followed Lucas to the wagon he had borrowed from Peter. As they rode along the trail Lucas told Margaret about Abe’s already having ordered the supplies, but putting it on hold. Then Lucas grew quiet. “You know I have no choice in going back.”
 
Margaret turned to look at him. “Of course I know, Luke.” Lucas drove quietly. “Luke, did I say something to make you think that…”
 
“No.” Lucas sighed. “Laura didn’t know I had to go back. Abe…he asked me not to tell her until after Ma’s funeral. But things happened and I suppose we just sort of let it all get away from us.”
 
“How’d she find out?”
 
“I told her.” Margaret turned and looked at him. “Not on purpose, but…she found out just the same. Abe’s upset with me. Laura told me she’d be very angry if I go back.”
 
“She loves you, Luke. She’s so fearful when you’re gone.”
 
“So are you,” Lucas pointed out.
 
“Yes. But I’m an adult. Laura’s a child.” Margaret smiled. “Luke…she’ll just have to be angry. You have to go back.” She put her hand on his.
 
“Oh…I know.” Lucas swallowed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have come back in the first place.”
 
“Don’t say that!” Margaret gasped. “Luke, you came back because your spirit was broken. I wish I could see your Captain and think him for sending you back for us to help you. If he hadn’t…”
 
Lucas nodded. “I’d probably be dead by now.”
 
Margaret turned to him on the wagon seat. “Luke, even if saying goodbye again is going to break my heart…I’ll do it because I know that you’ll come back.”
 
“Margaret…”
 
“No, Luke. I understand the risks. And I hope those risks are the reasons you haven’t…” Margaret stopped, unable to finish her thought. It was too personal. “But I know…in my heart…that you’ll come back.”
 
Lucas sighed. “Margaret, I have nothing to offer you! I’m from a poor dirt family! We struggled from month to month trying to make ends meet while your family…”
 
“Luke, stop the horses.” Margaret’s voice was low, but stern. Lucas pulled the wagon over and put on the break. But he didn’t turn toward her. “Look at me.” He lifted his head. “Luke, you have a lot to offer me. We’ve always been best friends. There’s no one who can understand me like you do. There’s no one who treats me like you do. I…”
 
“I feel the same but…” Lucas sighed. “Margaret, I can’t give you the lace curtains and fancy dishes you’ve always had! I can’t guarantee you that you’ll wear fine clothes or even that our children will always have shoes to wear. I…”
 
“I don’t care about those things, Luke!” Margaret declared. “All I care about is you.”
 
“But that’s not enough!” Lucas declared. “I can’t take you out of the house…from your family into a shack to eat beans for the rest of your life!”
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret laid a hand on his cheek and turned his head to look at her. “I have absolutely NO intention to eat beans for the rest of my life! We will at least have vegetables from our garden and beef from our cattle…”
 
“You know what I mean…”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “I know that Lucas Mark McCain is feeling sorry for himself. I also know that he better STOP feeling sorry for himself right now! You are going to go back to the war and fight until you win. Then you are going to come home and m…” Margaret stopped, suddenly embarrassed.
 
“Marry you?” Lucas chuckled in spite of himself. “Is that what you were going to say?” Margaret nodded. “Well now…when I come back, I just may ask you!” Lucas turned in his seat and smiled into her eyes. “Commere.” He put his arms around her and pulled her toward him. The kiss they shared was very intimate and private.
 
When their lips parted, Margaret blushed. “We shouldn’t…” she started.
 
Lucas chuckled. “You’re right but…I can’t help myself.” Lucas smiled. “Is the fight over? Or do we need a little more making up?”
 
Margaret straightened on the seat and lifted her head to look straight down the road. “I suppose that was sort of a fight, huh?” She smiled. “But I think we’ve done enough making up. Let’s go to lunch.”
 
Lucas rode the wagon the rest of the way into town as Margaret wrapped her arms around his and giggled, just happy they were together.
 
But after pulling up in front of the hotel, Lucas jumped down and started inside. Margaret cleared her throat and folded her arms. Lucas turned, remembering he was supposed to help her down. “Well, seems you’ve forgotten all the manners I’ve tried to teach you!” Margaret declared once she was back on her feet.
 
“Looks like you have your work cut out for ya,” Lucas grinned down at her.
 
“It’s a burden I’m willing to bear,” Margret stated as she smiled.
 
“Oh…well…that’s great!” He smiled. “So…shall we go to lunch?”
 
Lucas put his hand at her elbow and led her inside. He did his best to remember all his manners. He pulled the chair out for her and pushed it in, then he politely asked her what she wanted to eat. Margaret surprised him by stating she wanted a steak. When the waiter came around, Lucas ordered their lunches. They engaged in small talk throughout the meal.
 
After lunch, the couple made their way toward the mill. Margaret stood beside him while Lucas checked on the lumber. Margaret smiled beside him as Lucas and Matt talked. Lucas finally shook his head and assured him he’d be right back. He then tool Margaret’s arm and led her out onto the boardwalk. “Perhaps you’d like to go to the general store.” Lucas took a few dollars from his pocket. “Buy yourself a pretty dress for that dance next Saturday night.”
 
“What dance next Saturday night?” Margaret asked.
 
“Oh…the one we’re having at Abe’s house…only he doesn’t know it yet.” Lucas smiled mischievously.
 
“Lucas McCain, don’t you dare!” Margaret declared. Lucas only grinned. Margaret knew he indeed would do just as he said. She looked at the money Lucas was holding out to her. “Oh, but I can’t take this.”
 
“I’d be very offended if you don’t accept it.” Lucas pinched her chin. “After all, you’re my gal, remember?”
 
“Yes, but Luke….You’ve worked so hard for this money and…”
 
“And I want my gal to have a brand new dress for the wedding,” Lucas answered sternly. “Now get going!”
 
Margaret smiled and took the money. She started to turn away, but Lucas reached out and took her arm. “Margaret?”
 
“Yes?” Margaret’s heart leaped at the prospect of receiving a goodbye kiss.
 
“Uh…Get Laura some candy, will ya?”
 
Margaret rolled her eyes. “Of course.” She turned and hurried into the General Store.
 
Lucas helped Matt load the lumber in the wagon. He then went to the Hardware store to pick up the rest of his supplies. Grabbing his rifle, he made his way down the boardwalk and into the General Store. Margaret turned and smiled at him. She lifted a box, but Lucas promptly took it from her. “I’ve got this,” he said as he smiled at her.
 
They stepped out onto the boardwalk. “So, did you get the dress?” Margaret nodded. “I bet it’s really pretty.”
 
“I think so.”
 
“What color is it?” Lucas asked then.
 
“I’m not going to tell you that!” Margaret answered him shortly.
 
Lucas put the package under the wagon seat then helped her up.
 
They were soon on their way to Abe’s. There wasn’t much talking as they rode along. Margaret hummed softly and Lucas sat back and put his arm around her, enjoying her voice. “La de da La La da…” Margaret sang softly. Then as she turned and looked at Lucas, she sang “Greensleeves.”
 
“That’s always been one of my favorites…” Lucas murmured as he turned and peered into her eyes. His head moved toward hers and he kissed her softly.
 
“Lucas McCain!” They suddenly heard. Margaret broke from his kiss and shot a hand to her mouth as she saw that the horses had stalled right in the middle of the vegetable garden Abe had been trying to work on planting. “What ya doin’, boy?”
 
“I’m sorry…I guess I wasn’t watching where I was going!” Lucas backed the horses up and stopped them. After putting the break on, He stepped from the wagon and helped Margaret down.
 
Abe planted his hands on his hips as he slowly walked to the back of the wagon. He looked at the wood and other supplies. Then he slowly walked up to stand face-to-face with his baby brother. “What is all this?” he demanded to know.
 
“Uh…I’ll go in and see if Julie…” Margaret started.
 
Lucas grabbed a firm hold of her arm and pulled her back to stand beside him. “This, big brother, is for the two bedrooms you need to build.”
 
“The two…” Abe folded his arms. “Since when did you find cause to butt in and…”
 
“Since you chose to stick my money in some bank while Laura Rose sleeps in a room with four boys!” Lucas declared. “Now, we have time to get started tonight then we’ll work on it every day for the next week.”
 
“Now wait just a minute…” Abe started.
 
Julie hurried out the door and through the fence. “What’s all the…” She stopped when she saw the wagon full of wood and other supplies. “Lucas?”
 
“Luke, did you bring me some candy?” Laura asked as she hurried from the house with four little boys behind her.
 
“Well…I did but I wasn’t sure you would want some anymore. I mean…after this morning…” Lucas allowed his voice to die.
 
“Oh, please let me have candy!” Laura begged.
 
“Were you good?” Lucas asked as he looked up at Julie.
 
Julie stood behind Laura and wrapped her arms around the girl. “She was good.”
 
Lucas put his hands to his pockets and felt around. “I know there was some around here…” He gasped and threw a hand to his mouth. “I ate it all!”
 
“Stop joshing her, Luke!” Margaret handed Laura the bag of candy. Laura smiled as she put her hand on it.
 
“Uh…” Julie took the candy from Laura. “You can have one piece now, and one after supper. The rest will go up until later.”
 
“And NO snitching!”  Abe ordered. Then he turned back to Lucas. “Now Luke, about this stuff you bought…”
 
“I’ll hear no arguments!”
 
“Good, because I was just going to tell you that you saved me a trip into town. I was just about to go request the orders filled.” Abe folded his arms. “Well, Laura Rose, it looks like you are going to get your own room very soon!”
 
“Ya mean it?” Laura asked. “Ya really mean it?” Everyone laughed as Laura started dancing around excitedly. “Can I help?”
 
“Well…” Lucas started enthusiastically.
 
“You absolutely may not!” Julie declared. She saw Laura and Lucas both open their mouths to argue. “For two reasons: First of all, you, Laura, are a lady! Second of all it is too dangerous.”
 
“Julie’s right, Laura. “ Laura stuck her bottom lip out. “But I should have the fence done tonight which means you can play with the children outside tomorrow. You can run around all you want inside the fence!”
 
“And you can even do some chores while watching the children!” Julie pushed Laura inside. “But right now you can help me get supper started while these men decide where to go from here.” Julie turned. ‘You staying for supper, Margaret?”
 
Margaret smiled but shook her head. “I’m sorry. I really should be getting home.” Lucas raised his eyebrows, wishing she would stay. “I have to, Luke. I’m teaching Beth how to cross stitch tonight. She wants to learn the craft.”
 
“Alright. I’ll take you home on Thunder.” Lucas took Margaret hand as they started for the barn. When they got inside, Margaret held tight to his hand. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing. I…” Margaret lowered her head. “I guess a girl can get used to this is all…You know…watching the family grow with you by my side. I just realized that in a couple weeks you’ll be facing those guns again and…” Margaret shrugged. “I guess I’m sort of scared.”
 
“Me too.” Lucas smiled as he hugged her. Then he went to saddle his horse.
 
***
 
Peter and Jeremiah joined Abe to help with the buildings of the extra rooms. Julie and Laura watched as the men knocked out the back wall to make more room. Julie kept Laura back at a safe distance then shook her head, declaring her clean floor was being ruined. Abe finally got tired of her complaining and stuck his head inside the wall. “Do you want Laura to have her own room or not?”
 
Julie merely shook her head and turned to make sandwiches.
 
The brothers enjoyed being together again working and laughing together. By the end of the week, the two rooms were really starting to take shape. Laura jumped up and down as Abe allowed her to have a peak. She wondered which room would be hers and Abe assured her the rooms were the exact same size, but Laura wasn’t so sure and declared she would count the paces herself once the rooms were finished. Abe merely shook his head at his sister.
 
Then on Friday afternoon while Julie joined Emily and Tiffany at the main house to fix a hearty supper, Margaret came rushing in with the newspaper. “Have you seen this?” she asked as she shook the paper in the air and burst into tears. “Have you?”
 
Julie wiped her hands and hurried to take the paper from Margaret.
 
Is There Justice?
 
For over two years, the North and South have fought over, what many believe, is a moral issue of slavery rights. Thousands and thousands of men have sacrificed their lives to fight for, what they believe, are their God-given rights. One side believes slaves should be freed and able to live their own lives; yet others believe that states should have certain rights.
 
Both have valid points, yet only one side can win.
 
Three days ago in Southern Tennessee, slave owners put ten negros to death by hanging. Their ages ran from 12 to age 55. Their reason for death was trying to escape when hearing a battle break out between some Union Soldiers and Rebels. Unfortunately, the Rebels were successful in making the Union soldiers back off. The slaves were ordered home, and when they returned their masters hung them in the street while the salves’ wives, children, and loved ones watched. The act was very gruesome. When law enforcement officers found out what had taken place, they called it a strike against mankind. “We have become savage beast, stooping so low as to murder to get our political point across.”
 
Negro children as young as three were forced to watch the hangings. Some screamed while others clung to their mothers and stared in disbelief. The children and mothers who tried to escape were then severely beaten and assured the next time, they would be swinging from a rope.
 
Many are getting tired and discouraged. Soldiers in the paper’s sources’ camp are grumbling, hungry, and very homesick. The Captain wonders how much longer he can keep his troops together. Captain Tom Benton of the 13th Indiana reported that his troops were at Gettysburg. “The causalities were many, and many of my men were injured in unaccountable ways. They are tired, hungry, and discouraged. They are all ready to go home. The drills are difficult because they look at the man beside him and no longer recognize the face. The face that used to be beside him is now gone, buried in Gettysburg or, even worse, home trying to put together his shattered life.”
 
The Captain went on to say that eighteen or nineteen year old boys are suddenly being forced to become men; to witness unbearable things, forced to do things they would never dream of doing.
 
Can we see the end of this war? Is there a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel? One positive note is that the Battle of Gettysburg did a lot to turn this war around. Though causalities on both sides were great, those on the Southern side were very, very bad. This was a great victory for the North. Yet, as General Grant wrote recently, “We still have some key cities to take before we can know this war is coming to an end. We’ll know it’s ending when the South raises its arms and declares they will obey the orders of the President of the United States.”
 
But until then, more soldiers will die. There will be more pain and suffering; and unfortunately, more slaves will be hung to make a political statement.
 
Julie looked up as she finished reading the words. There was a silence in the room as they allowed the words of the paper to sink in. “Captain Benton…that’s Luke’s regiment, isn’t it?” Julie finally asked. Margaret nodded as tears continued to fall down her cheeks.
 
“Why?” Tiffany asked. “Why do so many innocent lives…”
 
The door opened. Julie shot around, hiding the paper and started into the kitchen.
 
“Julie?” Abe called, curious at her sudden retreat. Julie stopped but didn’t turn. “What’s wrong?”
 
“Uh…nothing, Abe. We’re just working on fixing supper. It’s almost ready.” Julie hurried into the kitchen, paper in hand.
 
Lucas saw Margaret crying and had her in his arms in mere seconds. “What is it?” he asked. “What’s gotten you ladies upset?” Margaret just cried in his arms.
 
“Tiffany?” Peter went to his wife. “Are you going to tell me?” Tiffany bit her lip and lowered her head. She shook it. “I can’t.”
 
Abe walked into the kitchen. He saw Julie wipe a tear from her eye. “Alright. Let’s have it,” he ordered sternly.
 
“Have what?” Julie asked without looking up.
 
“What you’re hiding from me.” Julie slowly turned and looked up at Abe. “Come on.”
 
“Abe, I…” she started.
 
“Julie…” Abe warned impatiently.
 
Julie slowly took the paper from under her apron and handed it to Abe. He started reading the article and saw the reason for their upset. He looked up at Julie, who turned and looked away. Abe took Julie’s hand in silence and led her back into the main room. “Where’d the paper come from?” The way he asked the question let everyone in the room know he wanted only straight answers.
 
Margaret lifted her head from Luke’s chest. “I brought it. The article was so very upsetting, Abe. I…Oh, it’s awful!”
 
Abe read the article while the men listened. The women wept as they heard the words again. Margaret lifted her head to look at Lucas. She slowly backed away, and waited until she could trust her voice to speak. “You’ve got to go back and stop this, Luke!” Margaret suddenly announced. “You’ve got to…go…back!”
 
“Margaret, that article in the paper is biased. There are terrible things being done on both sides.  This is war,” Lucas tried to explain gently.
 
“Your troops are falling apart!” Margaret cried. “Luke, your faith has been restored. You can go back and give them faith.”
 
Lucas turned from her. “So more innocent people can die? You want me to go back and take more innocent lives?” He shouted.
 
“You have to go back, Luke! Those poor children…they had to watch…” Margaret swallowed. “I don’t care to know what ‘other’ things are going on, Luke. I want this war over! I want it over!” Margaret picked up the paper and flung it across the room. “My life is standing still until this war ends. Until you help take control, more lives will die; the men will be discouraged. Then they will all die! You’ve got to help! Oh! I can’t STAND this!” Margaret ran out of the house.
 
Lucas hated seeing Margaret like this. He turned and looked at his brothers. “Well…it looks like you will have to finish those rooms yourself.” Lucas started out.
 
“You don’t have to go tonight!” Abe declared. “You can wait.”
 
“Abe…” Lucas turned. “Margaret’s right. Why am I here sitting on my BUTT while my men are still at war? Why am I enjoying my homecoming with my family and the woman I love when…” Lucas walked to the door. “No. I’m going back and I’m giving those rebels HELL!” Lucas picked up his rifle and rushed out of the house.
 
“Abe…stop him!” Julie begged. “He can’t go…not like this!” Julie started forward.
 
“No, Julie.” Abe grabbed her arm. “Lucas is back…the stubborn, ornery, wild Lucas McCain is back. And he’ll go back to Virginia and he’ll give those rebels hell. Lucas McCain will leave his mark forever in Virginia.”
 
***
Lucas hurried to the barn. When he arrived, he found Margaret sobbing as she brushed his horse. “What are you doing?” Lucas asked softly.
 
“I’m grooming your horse, getting her ready for the…” Margaret paused in mid-stroke and turned. “Oh Lucas!” She threw her arms around him and cried.
 
Lucas kissed the top of her head. “Oh Margaret…” he mumbled softly. “My sweet Margaret…I don’t want to leave you…”
 
“And I don’t want you to go…but I do! You have to go, Luke! You have to help stop this war!” Margaret declared as she kept her head buried in his chest.
 
Lucas tightened his arms around her. “I DO have to go. But it can wait until the morning. I can leave in the morning.” Lucas kissed the top of her head. “I want to spend these last few hours with you…laughing and dancing…”
 
“It’s not fair.” Margaret shook her head. “It’s not fair that you can laugh and dance while…”
 
“That’s why I’m leaving in the morning, Margaret. I’m going back to be an…” Lucas swallowed. “…an officer.”
 
Margaret paused in her sobs and slowly lifted her head to look at Lucas. “What?” Lucas nodded. “You mean you…you made Lieutenant?” Lucas smiled. “You didn’t tell me. I mean…”
 
“No.” Lucas sighed. “I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t sure I wanted the job. You see, Simon Lee’s death is one reason I made Lieutenant.”
 
“This is an honor!” Margaret threw a hand to her mouth. “Oh Lucas…you’re an officer! I’m so proud of you.”
 
“I want you to go home and put on your dancing dress now. We’re going to spread the word that there will be a dance here tonight. I’m going to make our last hours together very…” Lucas bent down and gave her a long, soft kiss. “…very memorable.”
 
Lucas led her to her horse and helped her mount. Then he watched her ride away. Peter came to stand beside Lucas. “When are you leaving?”
 
“First thing in the morning.”
 
“Oh. So we’ll have tonight to get used to the idea….just like last time.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Except this time, we’re going to dance instead of argue.” Lucas slapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “You think you can spread the word that there will be a dance here tonight?”
 
“Are you kidding me?” Peter asked with a short laugh. “That will be no problem!” Lucas smiled as he watched his brother let out a loud holler and run to saddle his horse.
 
“Oh…no liquor!” Abe ordered as Peter saddled his horse.
 
“Huh?”
 
“The women and children will be here. No liquor.”
 
“Oh, but…” Peter started.
 
“Okay fine…I’ll go tell Tiffany for ya…” Abe turned to start inside.
 
“Oh…uh…okay, okay…no liquor! I don’t cotton sleeping in that ol’ barn again!” Lucas and Abe laughed as Peter rode off toward town.
 
Abe put his arm around his brother’s shoulders as they started back toward the house. “We all understand why you’re leaving. But Luke…Laura Rose…” Abe stopped, not sure how to go on.
 
Lucas closed his eyes. “Any chance she can sleep in her new room tonight?”
 
“No. It’s too dangerous. It’ll have to wait another week at least.”
 
Lucas turned to see Laura hurrying back from her friend’s house. “Well…I suppose I’ll talk to her now. I’ll be too tired after the party.”
 
“You want me and Julie to…”
 
“No.” Lucas sighed, suddenly feeling very heavy. “Thanks, but I have to do this.”
 
Abe nodded and watched Lucas walk toward Laura. Julie came to stand beside Abe. “He’s telling her he’s leaving,” Julie mumbled as she slipped an arm around him.
 
“Yes. He’s leaving first thing in the morning.”
 
“Oh Abe!” Julie moaned. “I don’t think that…”
 
Abe stopped her. “He has to tell her. He’ll try to make her understand.”
 
“Yes.” Julie looked down at the dishtowel still in her hand. “but I…We’ll have to pick up the pieces of her broken heart tomorrow.”
 
“I know. But we knew it was going to come sooner or later.” Abe sighed. “We just thought it was going to be later. But I think it’s time for him to go. He has a job to do, and he’ll do it.” Abe turned and looked at Julie. “He can’t stand Margaret being upset. That’s what got him…watching her cry over this senseless war. He’ll fight like mad to stay alive now.”
 
***
“Hi, Rosebud.” Lucas smiled down at Laura as she stopped in front of him. “Did you have fun at Jessie’s?”
 
“Yes. Did you get my room done?”
 
“I’m afraid not. It’ll be another week before its ready, Abe said.”
 
“Oh.” Laura lowered her head. “You only have another week. Will you be able to help me move in?”
 
Lucas could feel tears coming to his eyes. He’d rather fight Gettysburg all over again then break his little sister’s heart. He bent down and lifted her into his arms. “Let’s go sit by the creek. We need to talk.”
 
Laura stayed quiet as they made their way to the creek. After they were seated, Lucas looked over the water. “You hafta tell me something you don’t want to.”
 
“Oh? How do you know that?” Lucas asked without looking at her.
 
“Because you’re really sad and you won’t look at me.” Laura stopped.
 
“Yes. Uh…” Lucas shifted uncomfortably. “Do you know what happens in a war, Laura?”
 
Laura nodded. “It’s a big fight between the good guys and the bad guys. They point guns at each other and shoot each other.”
 
“Well…not exactly.” Lucas turned toward her. “You see…they aren’t really bad guys, honey. They are men just like us and they…” Lucas ran a hand through his hair. “It’s just sort of like the north and south are having a big fight.”
 
“Oh.” Laura wrinkled her brows. “Sort of like what Abe and Julie had after ma got sick. They were yelling really loud at each other and everything!”
 
“Well…kinda, but…honey, those men I spent over a year with are out there fighting and they need my good, strong rifle. We have to make the fighting stop all together so I can come home and not go away again. You want that, don’t you?”
 
Laura lowered her head. “You’re leaving sooner than next Friday…aren’t you?” Her voice was so sad, it broke Luke’s heart.
 
“Yes. Margaret asked me to go.” Laura snapped her head up in disbelief. Lucas held his hand up. “She asked me to go because she doesn’t like the bad stuff that’s happening. I have to help stop that bad stuff.”
 
Tears filled Laura’s eyes. “Luke…” she swallowed hard as she spoke. “Julie said that she and Abe sat down and talked calmly about their fight. She said they kissed and made up. Why can’t the North and South do that?”
 
Lucas felt a tear slowly fall down his cheek as he ran a hand through her hair. “Oh Laura…I wish it were that easy. Believe me, honey, I would make that happen if I could!”
 
“When are you leaving?”
 
Lucas closed his eyes. “In the morning.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out the dollar he had held onto for so long. “I know you hate me right now, but…would you hold onto this until I get back?”
 
Laura stood and looked down at the dollar in his hand. “I don’t hate you, Luke.” Tears fell heavily down her cheeks. “I don’t hate you!” Lucas reached out to her, but she turned and ran away as fast as she could.
 
“Laura! Laura!” But she paid no mind as she ran as fast as she could.
 
Lucas wiped the tear from his cheek and stood up. He looked at his rife and lifted it to sling it against the tree. But no…then he’d be unprotected, and he couldn’t do that. He felt frustrated as he walked back to the farm. When he got there, he saw Julie hurry from the house. She lifted her skirts and ran toward Lucas as fast as she could. “Laura…where’s Laura?” she asked anxiously.
 
“She’s not here?”
 
Julie shook her head. “Luke, where is she?” Her voice was panicked.
 
“She ran off. I’m afraid I upset her again.” Lucas sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Julie.”
 
Julie shook her head. “It’s not your fault, but…” She turned and hurried toward the barn. “Abe! Abe!”
 
Abe hurried from the barn and grabbed her arms. “What is it?”
 
“Laura ran away from Luke. Oh Abe, we’ve got to find her! We’ve just got to!”
 
“Alright, calm down now.” Abe put a hand to her cheek. “She’s just upset. She went someplace to think.”
 
“I know, but I’m a mother…I mean I know that she’s…”
 
“I know. You love her like a daughter, and you are her mother in many ways.” Abe took her hand. “Let’s go check our house.”
 
Abe and Julie made their way up the hill to their house. When they walked inside they heard sniffing. Quietly, they walked toward the opening of Laura’s new room and found her sitting against a beam with something in her hand.
 
“Laura?” Abe came to sit down beside her. Julie sat down on her other side and put her arm around her. “I know you’re sad.”
 
Laura nodded her head, but didn’t look up. “What’s that?” Julie asked as Laura toyed with something in her hand.
 
“It’s Luke’s dollar.” Laura answered in a broken voice. “I…I came back to get it.”
 
“Oh.” Julie pressed her hand over Laura’s to stop her nervous fumbling. “What are you going to do with it?”
 
“I…” Laura allowed big tears to crawl down her cheeks. “I’m gonna give it to him and tell him…” She burst into tears. “Oh Julie!” She threw her arms around Julie and sobbed while Abe smoothed her hair softly. He laid his head against Julie’s, allowing his head to touch Laura’s as well.
 
“None of us want Luke to go, sweetie,” Abe mumbled. “We love Luke and want him to stay but…”
 
Laura nodded her head. “He has to help stop the big fight.” Laura sniffed then slowly lifted her head. “Could he…die?”
 
Abe and Julie locked eyes. Abe nodded slightly. “Yes, Laura. He could die.”
 
“Why?” Laura cried as she laid her head against Julie again. “Why does this have to happen? Why can’t everybody just get along?”
 
“Well…” Abe licked his lips and lifted her into his lap for his turn of cuddling with her. “I suppose it’s because God gave us a mind of our own. You and Jessie love each other but you fight.”
 
Laura nodded. “Just like you and Julie love each other and…”
 
Julie smiled. “Yes. Even Abe and I fight.”
 
“But…you don’t shoot each other! Why can’t they just yell and stuff like you and Abe do?”
 
Abe sighed as he tightened his arms around his hurting sister. “It’s hard to explain, sweetie. I reckon because they didn’t sit down and talk in the beginning. Now the fight’s gotten so out of hand that…”
 
“Abe…” Julie shook her head. She looked at Laura. “The truth is, Laura, that there are some things that we don’t even understand as adults. It’s very complicated, but all we need to understand is that Lucas is going to help stop it.”
 
“It hurts so much!” Laura moaned.
 
“I know, honey…I know!” Julie hugged Abe so she could hug Laura against her. “But we both love you very, very much. You know that.” They allowed silence to settle over them as they held Laura.
 
Finally, Abe cleared his throat. “I hope you have a fancy dancing dress.”
 
Laura lifted from him. “Why?”
 
“’Cause we’re having us a barn dance tonight! The whole town’s gonna be there and you…my sweet sister…can even come!”
 
“Honest?” Laura asked as light shone in her eyes. “A dance?” She turned and looked at Julie. “Is my dress fixed?”
 
Julie smiled. “It’s all sewn up and hanging in the bedroom.”
 
“Oh boy!”
 
 Laura started to jump from Abe’s arms. But Abe held her tight. “Hold on there, young ‘un!” He chuckled. “Now…I understand you were upset, but this room is still too dangerous for you to come into. Don’t do it again.” Abe tried to be stern as he shook a warning finger at her, but his dancing eyes gave him away.
 
“Alright.” Laura smiled as she bent up and kissed his bearded cheek. “You know…I’m happy I picked you to be my Ma and Pa…” Laura stood up. “Even if you are my mean ‘ol brother!”
 
“Hey!” Abe started to get up, but Julie pulled on his arm. She turned his face toward hers and kissed him softly. “Well…” Abe grinned. “What was that for?”
 
“That was because I love you, Abraham McCain and…” Julie lowered her head. “I’m sorry for what I did while ago.”
 
“Oh.” Abe put his arm around her and smiled. “You knew what the outcome would be.” She nodded. “And you know, young lady, that I could bend you over my my knee and…”
 
“Abe!”
 
Abe stood up and lifted Julie to stand beside him. They shared one last, long kiss. “How do I look?” they suddenly heard from behind them.
 
They broke their kiss and turned to look at Laura. “Now…you look beautiful!” Julie bent down and smoothed out her dress. “I’d say that was the fastest change of clothes I’ve ever seen!”
 
“Well, when there’s a party to go to, Luke says it doesn’t sit well to waste time about getting to it!”
 
“Yes.” Julie nodded. “But first, I have to get ready then we have to eat supper!”
 
“Oh.” She walked out of the bedroom and stepped into the living room.
 
“Tell me something, honey…” Abe stooped down in front of her. “Why did you go to that bedroom?”
 
“Because that’s the one I want!” Laura declared.
 
“Oh?” Abe raised an eyebrow. “How do you know it’s the biggest?”
 
“I don’t,” Laura shrugged. “But it’s right next to yours and that’s where I want to be.”
 
Abe was speechless as he hugged her. Then he stood and followed Julie into their bedroom to get ready for the party.
 
***
Margaret gasped when she heard a knock on the door. “I didn’t see you make that dress,” Beth said quietly as she stood behind her sister.
 
“I didn’t.” Margaret pinched her cheeks. “Luke gave me some money to buy it the other day.”
 
“Oh.” Beth sat down on her bed. “Are you sad?”
 
Margaret walked over to her bed and picked up her wrap. “Yes. My heart is crying. And smiling tonight will be painful but I’ll do it.” Margaret walked toward the door. “I’ll do it because it’s the only thing I CAN do.”
 
A knock sounded on the door before Jennifer opened it and stuck her head in. “Beth, Paul’s here.”
 
“Alright.” She waited until the door was closed. “Margaret…what’s it like to kiss a boy?”
 
“Well, it depends on the boy you kiss,” Margaret answered.
 
“How many boys have you kissed?”
 
Margaret smiled as she walked back over to her sister. “Only one.” She nodded. “And he’s the only one I’ll EVER kiss!” She raised an eyebrow at her little sister. “Why? How many boys have you kissed?”
 
“Oh none but…” Beth hurried over to Margaret. “Paul’s asked me to kiss him.”
 
“Oh.” Margaret lowered her eyes. “And?”
 
“I don’t know. I’m curious to see what it’s like…you know?”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “But your first kiss should be saved for someone very special. When he asks, you don’t hesitate…either that or there’s no question. It just…happens.”
 
“How old were you when you kissed Luke?”
 
Margaret had started for the door again, but she paused and turned. “We were younger than you, but there was magic there…Something stronger than us pulled us together and we fell in love that night.” Margaret hugged her sister. “Please don’t waste it. Your first kiss should be…magical.”
 
Margaret hurried from the room and smiled at Paul. “Mother didn’t tell me you were here,” she said as her eyes settled on Luke.
 
“I told her not to. I wanted to give you all the time you needed to get pretty.”
 
“Oh?” Margaret turned from him as Amanda chuckled beside her husband. “I need a lot of time to get pretty?”
 
“Sounds like Scott,” Amanda declared.
 
Lucas sighed. “I always get myself in trouble when I try to say pretty things to a girl. What I mean is…I know how much stock you ladies put into looking pretty, and us men we…”
 
“Luke…” Scott cleared his throat. “I advise you to just stop talking.” Scott looked down into his wife’s eyes. “It makes things much more pleasant.”
 
Margaret shook her head as she walked up to Luke. She started brushing his jacket off. “Honestly! What am I going to do with you?” She declared as she worked at straightening his tie. “How do you stay neat and clean at that army camp?”
 
“We don’t.” Lucas answered. “Usually, we’re wearing wrinkled uniforms and are filthy.”
 
“Well, too bad they don’t allow woman folk there to take care of you!” Margaret shook her head. “I declare, I don’t like you looking all wrinkled and…”
 
The men chuckled as Lucas took Margaret’s arm and walked out the door. He escorted her to the waiting buggy. Margaret stopped and stared at the buggy. “Where?”
 
“Well, I’m going to make this night as memorable as I can, my love. I can’t take you to the dance in a beat up ol’ wagon, now can I?” Margaret smiled. “I…want to make you happy.”
 
Scott and Amanda paused behind him. “Perhaps they need my watchful eye tonight, Amanda.”
 
“Now Scott! You just leave them alone! This is their last night together for who knows how long.” She pulled Scott to their waiting wagon.
 
Lucas paused as he stood beside the buggy. He looked Margaret up and down. Her hair was hanging down her back and curled around her face. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes danced with excitement as she looked at him. Lucas allowed his eyes to travel down as he studied the beautiful light green dress she wore with white lace around the neckline. The sleeves puffed out. The skirt of her dress puffed out. “What are you doing?” Margaret asked.
 
Lucas allowed his eyes to travel back up and settle on her face. “I’m memorizing how you look tonight so I can remember,” he answered. “Oh Margaret…I…” He swallowed hard as he laid his hand against her cheek. “You are so…so beautiful.” He lowered his head and pressed his lips around hers. She allowed her arms to go around his back as he pressed his lips firmly against hers. When they parted, their faces were only inches apart. They just stood in the embrace and stared into each others’ eyes.
 
“Margaret…” Lucas brushed a hand against her nose. “My sweet Margaret…” Neither of them knew how long they stood there and gazed into each other’s eyes. But finally, Lucas allowed his arms to fall at his sides as he turned toward the buggy.
 
“Lucas…” Margaret reached out and took his hand. Lucas turned around. “Promise me…” Margaret lowered her head. “Promise me you’ll come back to me.”
 
“I will. And when I come back I’m going to ask you a very important question.” Lucas smiled and held out his hand to help her over the wheel. “Because I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
 
A comfortable silence settle between them as Lucas drove the buggy toward the farm. He allowed the horses to walk as slowly as they could, then put his arm around Margaret. She laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m courting an officer in the United States Army.” She mumbled. “I’m so proud of you.”
 
“But when I come back, I’m going to be a rancher.” Lucas smiled. “I want a wife and some good strong boys!”
 
“What about a little girl?” Margaret asked.
 
“Oh no…I don’t want any good, strong girls. I want girls as pretty and delicate as their mother.” Margaret lifted her head and smiled as they shared one last kiss.
 
They heard music as they pulled into the yard. The barn was full of life. There were so many people that many couples were dancing in the yard. Lucas pulled up and helped Margaret over the wheel. Then he tucked her arm through the crook of his and slowly walked her toward the barn.
 
“Luke, Luke!” Laura hurried out. Julie hurried up behind her and grabbed her. “I was worried.”
 
“It’s alright, Julie.” Lucas bent down in front of his sister. “What? You thought I wasn’t gonna come?”
 
“I knew you’d come.” Laura smiled. “But Abe said you and Margaret were probably having your own private party at…”
 
“Laura!” Julie clamped a hand over her mouth and pulled her back against her. “Your brother shouldn’t be saying such things in your hearing!”
 
“Oh, he wasn’t! He and Peter were talkin’ and I kinda snuck up and…” Laura stopped when she saw Julie lift her eyebrows. “Oh…I mean…” Laura turned back to Lucas. “Ya gonna dance with me, Luke? I put my best dress on.”
 
“Yes, I see.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “But I want to dance the first dance with my gal.”
 
“Oh no! It’s okay, Luke!” Margaret declared.
 
“No it’s not!” Lucas declared. “I’ve not danced with you in a long time.” He turned back to Laura. “I’ll dance the second dance with you. How’s that?” Laura nodded.
 
A song was just finishing as Lucas took Margaret’s arm and escorted her toward the barn. When they were inside, a soft waltz was just starting. He turned to her. “May I have this dance?” Margaret giggled and nodded. “Lucas lifted his arms and waited for her to enter them.”
 
She giggled. “Bullet.”  Lucas looked down at his arms and laughed. Then after he repositioned his arms, she entered them.
 
They gazed into each other’s eyes as he started dancing with her. They were unaware of anybody else on the dance floor. In their eyes, only the two of them existed. They laughed as he swung her around. Their steps were big and deliberate, but their eyes stayed locked together. They didn’t know it, but the others in the barn stopped dancing and formed a circle around the couple. They watched as the couple danced the most amazing, beautiful dance they’d ever seen. Tears formed in the eyes of many as they saw the love the couple shared for each other.
 
Those playing the instruments communicated silently and made sure to extend the number so the couple would continue dancing. They continued to go round and round the barn. The smiles on their faces revealed the love they shared.
 
“Have you ever seen anything like that before?” Tiffany whispered to Peter as they watched the young couple dance.
 
“Never,” Peter answered. “I’ve never seen two people more in love.”
 
Abe wrapped his arms around Julie from behind as they watched the couple. “Do they remind you of anybody?”
 
“Abe…they couldn’t be more in love if they’d been married for thirty years! Oh…this is breaking my heart!” Julie cried.
 
“Breaking? I think it’s beautiful!”
 
“I’m thinking about tomorrow.” Julie turned and looked at Abe. “I can’t imagine ever having to say goodbye to you and wonder if you’ll ever come back.”
 
Abe kissed her then turned her back around and squeezed her tight. “Their love will carry them through.”
 
Jeremiah and Em watched the couple dance. Jeremiah kept his hand on Em’s middle and smiled as the baby leapt again. Their unborn child seemed to be dancing with the couple on the dance floor.
 
Laura turned and hurried to Abe. Abe bent down and picked her up. “Do you see them?” Abe nodded. “What makes them so beautiful, Abe?”
 
“Love, Rosebud. Love.”
 
Julie smiled up at Laura and Abe as they stood and watched the couple.
 
Jennifer stood behind Scott and Amanda. Her eyes filled with tears. “I’ve a feeling I’m about to lose a daughter.”
 
“No.” Amanda answered. “You’re gaining a wonderful son and…” She turned and looked at Scott. “He’s gaining a wonderful mother-in-law.”
 
Lucas and Margaret were growing tired of their dance. Their eyes parted and they looked around at the circle of friends and family just watching. “Somehow, I think we’re the center of attention,” Lucas whispered as he bent close to Margaret’s ear.
 
“What should we do?”
 
Lucas stopped dancing and grinned. “Give them something to stare at.” He smiled as he leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips. The crowd broke into applause.
 
Lucas regrettably let go of Margaret and made his way to Laura. “Can I have the next dance?”
 
Laura nodded as she made her way out into the middle of the barn with Lucas. They danced the next two dances together before Lucas focused his eyes on Lariat Jones, who was dancing with Margaret. He parted and made his way over to the two. “May I have the next dance?” Lucas nodded curtly at Lariat.
 
As they started dancing, Margaret giggled. “I do believe you are jealous!”
 
“Jealous? No! I don’t get jealous!” Lucas declared.
 
Margaret raised her eyebrows. “Well, you certainly weren’t friendly when you cut in on Lariat!” Lucas stayed quiet. “Luke, we were just dancing.”
 
“I know.”
 
Margaret lowered her head before lifting it to look back into his eyes. “Can I tell you something and you not get mad?” Lucas nodded. “Promise?”
 
“I promise.”
 
“Well…Lariat asked me to go courting with him.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas grunted as he turned his head to look towards Lariat.
 
“Lucas.” Margaret pressed a hand against his cheek and turned his eyes back to focus on hers. “I told him no, because my heart belongs to someone else.
 
“Oh yeah?” Lucas raised his eyebrows. “Tell me more.” Margaret smiled, then laid her head against his chest and danced as she talked to his heart.
 
***
When the dance number ended, Abe looked down at Julie as she turned and looked at Laura. “Abe…she has to get to bed.”
 
“Oh, I know Julie but…” Abe groaned. “I sure don’t want her to have to say goodbye.”
 
“Are you sure Luke won’t stay until breakfast?”
 
“No. He said he’s sleeping in the barn then leaving as soon as he wakes up. I suspect he’ll be gone long before we get up in the morning.”
 
Julie bit her lip. “Well…we should get this over with.”
 
“Right.” Abe sighed as he made his way toward Laura. Laura giggled as Jessie and Tommy told her another joke. Abe bent down in front of Laura. “It’s time for you to go to bed, I’m afraid.”
 
“Oh, but I’m having so much fun, Abe! I…” Abe raised his eyebrows and gave her the famous McCain warning look. “Alright.”
 
Laura turned to walk out of the barn. “Wait. I’m afraid there’s more. You’ll have to go say goodbye to Lucas.”
 
“I will in the morning when we see him off!” Laura declared.
 
“He’s leaving before you get up, I’m afraid.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Because he’s anxious to get back and finish the war so he can come back for good.” Laura turned and looked at Lucas who was whispering in Margaret’s ear. He patted Laura’s shoulder. “Go on. Then you can join Mrs. Pritchard in the house.”
 
Abe led Laura over to Lucas and Margaret. They paused in their whispering and looked down at Laura. Laura lowered her head. “I hafta go to bed now.”
 
Lucas turned and sat down his punch cup. He bent down in front of her. “I understand. Thanks for coming to the party.”
 
“Luke…do ya hafta…” Laura lowered her head again.
 
Abe bent down behind her. “You know he does, honey. Don’t you?” Laura nodded. “You see? You are being a big girl. You are trying to understand.”
 
“I’ll be even bigger when ya get back.”
 
“I know.”
 
“Luke?” Lucas raised his eyebrows. “When you come back…will you promise me you won’t go away to war again?”
 
Lucas turned to look at Margaret who nodded her head. Lucas turned back. “I promise. I won’t come home again until this war is over…unless I’m sure I don’t have to go back. I know how hard this is for you.”
 
“But I’m glad you came back,” Laura said quietly. “Cause I really missed ya.”
 
“Commere.” Lucas took Laura in his arms and hugged her tight. “Hey…would you like me to come tuck you in tonight and tell you an adventure story?”
 
“But what about your party?” Laura asked.
 
“Oh, I think they can keep dancing without me.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “Do you mind?”
 
“Of course not!” Margaret answered.
 
“Okay.” Lucas stood and took Laura’s hand. He turned at the door. “But don’t you be dancing with Lariat!” He hurried out before he could get some choice words from his intended.
 
***
 
Lucas looked down at Laura who was finally fast asleep. He stood and walked out into the living room where Mrs. Pritchard was rocking little Ruthie. Lucas bent down beside the chair and kissed Ruthie on the forehead. “I’ve only met you, yet I have to say goodbye.” He looked up at Mrs. Pritchard. “The boys are fine.  I gave each of them a kiss goodnight too.” She nodded.
 
Lucas walked toward the front door. But he paused and turned back to look toward the bedroom where five children were sleeping. “Goodbye, Laura Rose,” he whispered softly before slipping out the door.
 
***
 
Margaret smiled when she saw Lucas come back into the barn. She hurried up to him. “How’s Laura?”
 
“She’s hurting. I hate hurting you all like this.”
 
“Lucas…” Margaret looked around the room. “I’ve loved dancing with you but…can we have some time alone?”
 
Lucas squeezed her hand and made his way over to Abe. He promised Abe he’d come back in time to say goodnight then walked Margaret out of the barn. He helped her into the buggy. “Where to, my love?”
 
“The lake. I just want to sit on the bank of the lake with you. Oh, I know it’s dark and it’s not proper but…” Margaret stopped.
 
“I think they’ll understand.” They were quiet until they settled on the bank overlooking the lake. Lucas sat down and pulled her to sit in front of him. He pulled her back against his chest and kissed the top of her head. “You know I don’t want to leave you.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret sighed. “Lucas…it’s so much harder than I imagined it would be. I wonder why it’s harder this time then last.”
 
“Well…” Lucas found her hands and held them in his. “I suppose because we’ve admitted to our feelings and the fact that we want to get married. And we both know I could leave and never return. And I think…” Lucas lifted her face up and kissed her. “That we’ve fallen more in love with each other than we’ve ever been.”
 
“Oh Lucas, I love you so much!” Margaret cried. “I just love you!”
 
She turned and wrapped her arms around him. In the darkness, Lucas heard Margaret crying. Her tears broke his heart. “I love you too. Oh, I don’t want to go!”
 
“No Luke!” Margaret sat up and dried her tears. “You have to go. This war is senseless…thousands of people dying…people killing innocent people over…Those poor, poor children watching their fathers…Oh Lucas…You’ve GOT to stop this! You’ve just GOT to!”
 
“I’ll do the best I can,” Lucas promised as he took her back in his arms. “I promise you, Margaret. If I’m going to die, I’m going to go down fighting like mad!” Lucas turned and looked at his rifle that lay on the ground beside him. “I certainly WILL fight!”
 
“But don’t do anything…” Margaret shook her head. “I mean…I want you to…”
 
“Honey…” Lucas nudged her face up toward his. “I promise I won’t do anything stupid. I’ll be careful.” He stood up abruptly. “I should get you home.”
 
“Already?”
 
“Just sitting here talking and holding each other is going to make what has to be harder. We should do it now…before I lose my nerve.”
 
Lucas and Margaret rode toward the Gibbs’ ranch. Both were quiet, left to their own thoughts. The moment had arrived for them to part. Lucas helped Margaret from the buggy and walked her to the door. “Well…it looks like some of your family is back,” He mumbled as he looked down at her.
 
The door opened. Amanda stepped out. “Luke, I just wanted to say goodbye. Scott hurt his leg dancing and we had to come back to soak it.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas took off his hat. “Would you like me to look at it? I’ve had to help him with his leg before.”
 
“No, it’s fine. But Scott did want me to tell you goodbye.” Amanda gave Margaret a sympathetic smile then softly closed the door.
 
Lucas looked down at Margaret once again. He put his hands on her cheeks and frowned. “I’ll hurry back, my love. I’ll come back just as fast as my horse will take me.”
 
“I’ll be waiting for you, Luke. Oh…” Margaret lowered her head.
 
 Lucas took her in his arms and squeezed her tight. He put his hand under her chin and nudged her face up to look into his. “Honey…I…I wish I could take you with me.” He swallowed. “I can’t…” He bent down and kissed her once more. The kiss was short, but sweet. Then he pushed her away and climbed back into the buggy. He didn’t turn around again as he quickly pulled out of the yard.
 
Margaret watched him disappear into the darkness then threw a hand to her face. The door opened and Beth stepped out. “Margaret?”
 
Margaret turned and fell into her sister’s arms as she started weeping. “I don’t want him to go! I don’t want him to go! Oh…I don’t…” She cried as her body shook with sobs.
 
Jennifer hurried from the house and sat down on the porch. Margaret and Beth sat on the steps beside her. The three women held each other as Margaret cried. “He’ll be back, honey. And when he comes back he’ll marry you,” Jennifer whispered.
 
It was a long time before Margaret felt strong enough to go inside and go to bed.
 
***
By the time Lucas got back to the farm the party was breaking up. Lucas walked to where his family was standing. All three brothers walked up to him. “Was it hard? Saying goodbye.”
 
Lucas nodded. “It’s late. I have a hard ride ahead of me. It’s time for me to turn in.”
 
“I know.” The wives and Emily came to stand with the group. Abe put an arm around Julie. “He has to say goodbye now.”
 
“How long?” Emily asked. “How long before you come back, Luke?”
 
“I wish I knew,” Lucas answered. “The Rebs…they may be poorly organized, but they fight for what they believe in. They’ll fight for as long as they can.”
 
“You’re okay now, right?’ Emily asked. “I mean…”
 
“I’m okay, sis.” Lucas nodded. “You should go.” He hugged her. Pulling away from her he wiped her tears then nodded toward the house. Tiffany gave him a hug, and smiled as she waved goodbye.
 
Tiffany helped Emily inside then closed the door.
 
Lucas turned toward Em. He smiled down at her belly. “I…guess she’ll be here before I get back.” He kissed her cheek. “You take care of my brother now.”
 
Lucas watched her go climb into the wagon and wait for Jeremiah. “Well…” The four brothers embraced. “I guess this is…goodbye.” Lucas nodded. “You take care.” Jeremiah’s voice broke. He hurried and got into the wagon. Lucas watched him drive away.
 
The three brothers made their way to Abe’s house. Julie walked beside her husband. The group was quiet as they walked. Peter stepped inside and took his daughter from Mrs. Pritchard. “I’ll drive you home once we get the baby back to her mother.”
 
Lucas watched Peter shift from one foot to the other. “I uh…You know…”
 
“Yeah.” Lucas nodded. “Me too.” He looked down at Ruthie. “Take care of the baby.”
 
He watched Peter and Mrs. Pritchard make their way down the hill. “Luke, please come inside and drink some coffee,” Julie pleaded with him.
 
“No.” Lucas fumbled with his hat. “I think it’s best if we say goodbye here. I don’t want to risk…” He nodded toward the house.
 
“Yes. Laura.” Julie bit her lip. “I…Lucas, you know your special to us and well…we love you very much. I…”
 
“Say goodbye, honey, then go on in.” Abe knew she’d stay out there all night if she could.
 
Julie hugged Lucas. “Be careful.”
 
“I will. You help Margaret. She’s hurting. I hated leaving her.”
 
“I’ll take care of her. We’ll all make sure she stays busy.”
 
“Oh.” Lucas chuckled. “Just don’t have any more triplets.”
 
Julie turned and smiled at Abe. “I don’t intend to!” she declared.
 
Lucas nodded. “Alright.”
 
Julie looked up at Lucas as her eyes filled with tears. “Go on inside, honey. I’ll be there in a minute.”
 
Julie threw a hand to her mouth, but obeyed as she hurried inside.
 
Lucas and Abe started toward the barn. “I understand what you’re doing, Luke. But I don’t want you to lose sight of something.”
 
Lucas slowed his steps. “What’s that?”
 
“Your comment earlier today…that you are going to fight like hell…I understand that, but…”
 
“Look Abe, I’m an adult. I don’t need my big brother’s advice on how to fight a war. You’ve never fought.”
 
Abe stopped. “You’re right. Maybe that was selfish of me, but I have a wife and five children to care for. I don’t want to hear about you doing anything stupid! I want you to stay safe. Fight as hard as you can, but don’t take unnecessary risks.”
 
“I hear what you’re saying.”
 
Abe nodded. He stopped at the door. “Well…” he swallowed. “I guess this is goodbye.” He held out his hand.
 
Lucas took Abe’s hand in his and shook it. Their eyes moistened. Lucas pulled Abe into an embrace. “I love you, brother.”
 
“Me too.” Abe pulled from the embrace. “Take care, Luke. Ride easy and stay safe.”
 
“Good-bye.” Lucas stood in the doorway of the barn and watched Abe go into the house. He turned with a heavy heart and walked into the barn. He had no idea how long it would be before he saw his family again.
 
***
Julie softly opened the door to the children’s room and walked inside. She heard sniffing coming from Laura’s bed and quietly made her way over. “Laura?”
 
Laura sat up and threw her arms around Julie. “I wish he didn’t have to go!” Laura cried.
 
Julie held her for a few minutes, then laid her back in the bed. “I’ll sit with you until you fall asleep.”
 
“Will ya sing to me?”
 
Julie smiled. “I would LOVE to sing to you!” Julie cleared her throat and softly sung a sweet lullaby. She stroked Laura’s hair until she fell asleep. Julie bent over and kissed her as the door to the bedroom opened. Abe stepped in and walked over to the bed. “She’s asleep,” Julie whispered.
 
Abe nodded. “It’ll be hard for her the next few days.” He bent over and kissed Laura on the forehead. Then they walked out of the bedroom.
 
***
Laura lifted from the bed. The house was quiet, but she heard a horse whinny. She sat up and looked out the window. The barn door opened and Lucas stepped out. Quickly, Laura leaped out of bed and opened the door to the bedroom. She ran to the front door and opened it in time to see Lucas close the barn door and mount his horse. “Lucas…” Laura whispered as she stood in the doorway.
 
The bedroom door to Abe’s room opened and he stepped out. “Laura, what…” He stopped when he saw Lucas gallop out of the yard. “He’s gone, honey. Lucas is gone.”
 
Laura turned and looked up at Abe. She opened her hand to show him the silver dollar. Abe bent over and picked her up. “Come on. Let’s get you back to bed.”
 
***
Margaret sat up in bed with a start. Something had awaken her, but what, she wasn’t sure. She looked out the window and gasped when she saw the horse and rider in her yard. He just stood and looked at the dark house. Margaret reached for her robe and walked to the living room. She opened the door in time to see Lucas turn in the saddle. Lucas stared at her as she stepped out onto the porch.
 
They stared at each other for only a moment before Lucas said, “I’m going to marry you someday, Margaret McCain.” He put his fingers to his temple and smiled. “Just as soon as I get back…I’m going to marry you.”
 
He turned his horse around. The horse reared back on his hind legs and let out a loud cry. Then both horse and rider galloped from the yard. Margaret smiled as she leaned her head against the post. “Who was that?” Scott asked as he walked out onto the porch.
 
“Lucas.”
 
“What was he doing here?”
 
Margaret turned and smiled at her brother. “He’s going to marry me.” She patted his cheek. “G’night.”
 
***
“Abe, breakfast!” Julie called the next morning. But she got no response. Julie sighed and hurried toward the barn where he had gone to do chores. “Abe, I said…” She stopped when she saw Abe sitting on Luke’s cot. He held the Bible Luke had brought home from the war. “What’s that?”
 
“Where’s Laura?”
 
“She’s eating her breakfast, of course.” Julie came to sit down beside her husband. “Abe?”
 
“He didn’t take this with him.” Abe looked up and stared into Julie’s eyes. “Honey, he didn’t take his Bible.”
 
“He probably just forgot it.”
 
Abe unfolded a note. “No. He didn’t.”
 
Julie picked up the note and read it. “Oh Abe!”
 
“He feels he’ll be able to fight better without the Bible? What’s that mean?” Abe wondered.
 
“I don’t know, Abe…Unless he thinks reading the Bible will make him feel guilty for his killings.” Julie took his hand. “What are you going to do?”
 
Abe looked at her before standing up. He put the bible on top of a shelf where he hoped no one would find it. “I’m going to pray…every day until he gets back.” Abe turned toward the door. “Julie, this war has hurt him in a strange, unaccountable way. I’m afraid he’s going to do more killings…without his Bible at his side.”

The Years Before — On Being A Soldier

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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