The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 25 - Learning to Live Again
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Emily McCain looked straight ahead as Dr. Jason Livingston gently rubbed more ointment on her healing cuts. “They are healing nicely.” His soothing voice smiled as he spoke. Emily tried to focus on his face, but she couldn’t quite force herself to do so. The announcement Dr. Livingston had made earlier in the day still haunted her.
 
“You can go home today.”
 
She didn’t want to go home. She felt safe here with her family around her and Dr. Livingston in the other room all the time. He’d hardly left her side since she was brought in almost two weeks ago. The doctor’s voice had soothed her like the ointment soothed her wounds. He had talked softly and tenderly to her about anything and everything…except what she had refused to face. Up to this point, she hadn’t talked about what had happened to her during that terrifying time two weeks ago. When someone mentioned anything about it, she simply clammed up and pretended to be tired and wanted to sleep..
 
“Now then…” Jason sat back in the chair and folded his hands. “Are you excited about going home?” Emily turned her head away, unable to answer. “I know it’s scary. But you have to face what happened, and as long as you’re here at the clinic…I’m afraid that won’t happen.”
 
Emily slowly stood up and walked to the window without saying a word. She stared across the street at the jail. A shiver ran up her spine. She’d heard her brothers talking outside the door. She knew that monster was over there, and she wanted to burst into tears. But the tears would only bring back the memories that she wanted to forget. So Emily told herself she wouldn’t think about it anymore. “I feel safe here,” Emily whispered without even thinking.
 
“I know.” Jason walked up to stand behind her. “But you need to feel safe in your own home again.”
 
“No.” Emily slowly shook her head. “I…I can’t.” She swallowed hard as she wrapped her arms around herself. “I just…I can’t.”
 
“Emily…” Jason said her name softly. But Emily shook her head. “Your family’s out there waiting for you. You must go with them.”
 
“They know, don’t they? They know what happened to me.” Emily didn’t want to talk about this, but she found herself asking the questions.
 
“Julie does, but I don’t think she’s told anyone else.” Jason answered softly.
 
“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking…” Emily’s voice died as her face warmed and she continued to stare out the window.
 
“They love you,  Emily, and know that you have been very hurt. This man…this monster…he…”
 
But Emily’s bitter voice interrupted him. “Why did you have to tell her?”
 
“Because she is your family. In medical school, we’re taught that, as physicians, we let the one person closest know so they can help you through this. When too many people know, it puts a terrible burden on the person and can impede their recovery.” Silence followed. “Emily, they are worried about you. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. You shouldn’t…”
 
“Have you ever been through what I’ve been through, doctor? Ashamed! That man…I wanted to die!” Emily’s words came out bitterly as she spun around and glared at him. But when she saw the hurt look on his face, she turned back around as she wiped at the hot tears that suddenly escaped from her eyes. “I won’t be sorry…” She whispered. “I’m usually not like this…I…I just don’t feel like me anymore. I feel like a different person.” Emily lowered her head. “I just wish they didn’t know.”
 
 “They don’t, but Doctor Stevens had to tell someone.”
 
“I’m not going!” Emily suddenly turned. Her eyes filled with tears. “I can’t! I just can’t! Please…Please don’t make me go!”
 
Jason reached out to touch her, but she pulled away as if he were a bolt of lightning. He sighed and lowered his hand. Though he’d been the only one who could calm her, his touch still made her flinch. “I guess it will take some time…” Jason nodded. “Alright. We’ll see about getting you a room here at the hotel.”
 
“ALONE???” Emily shuddered at the thought. “I want to stay here!”
 
Jason sighed and slowly walked out of the room. When he returned, he found Emily laying on the cot with her legs drawn up to her chest. “I talked to your family.” Emily nodded without turning towards him. The next words Jason spoke were quite firm. “Sit up here and look at me.” Emily slowly sat up and turned to look at him. “I’ve a condition on your staying. First of all, you’ll take a room at the boarding house.”
 
“No!” Emily shook her head. “I…I can’t!”
 
“You must. I will not allow you to withdraw and stay in this shell. As your doctor, I’m ordering it. No arguments.  Second of all, you talk to someone.”
 
“You. I’ll talk to you.”
 
Jason smiled. “You can talk to me, but I think a woman would…”
 
“I don’t want to talk about that…EVER!” Emily cried. “I can’t…”
 
“You…know the judge will be here Monday.” Emily looked away. “Are you going to be ready?”
 
Emily had heard pieces of conversation as her family spoke outside her door. The man was wanted on additional crimes in other places, but because he had committed a brutal crime in Enid, and it involved a young woman the judge had managed to change his schedule and have the man tried in Enid for his most recent crime. If he remained alive after the sentence, he would be transported back to Arkansas for his crimes there. But she’d heard her brothers declare that he would be killed after the trial…one way or another…for what he’d done to her.
 
Now, Emily shuddered at the mere thought of facing that man again. “He won’t be in the courtroom when I’m there will he?”
 
Jason waited until she turned and looked at him. “He’ll have to be for a moment. You have to identify him, Emily.”
 
“Will you be there, Jason?” Jason lifted his head as he studied her. “I want you there with me.”
 
“Emily…” Jason sighed.  As a doctor, he didn’t care for going to trials of this nature, but when he saw how much his presence meant to Emily, he couldn’t deny her.  Finally, he nodded. “Alright. I’ll be there with you. Monday morning I’ll go to the courthouse with you. But you need to talk about what happened to you. You’ve got to tell a woman…you can’t tell me these things.”
 
“NO!” Emily shook her head. “I…I don’t want to talk about it. .Not now and…not ever!”
 
“I can’t force you to, but I think you should.” Emily turned away. “Alright. Let’s go.” Jason stood up.
 
“Where?”
 
“To the boarding house. We’ll see if you can work there for your room and board.”
 
“Work?”
 
Jason nodded. “You can’t just sit in your room all day. You have to start living again.”
 
“I don’t feel like living, Jason. I…” Emily closed her eyes and put her face in her hands. “I feel…dead inside.”
 
“I know. And that’s exactly why you need to start living again.” Jason gently put his hand to her elbow and led her from the room. Emily bit her lip as he opened the door. She hadn’t been outside since it had happened. She hesitated at the entrance and shook her head. “I’m right here, Emily.”
 
Emily stepped out onto the porch. Jason reached out for her arm, but again she pulled away from him as if his hand was on fire. Jason knew she had so much bottled up inside her. He knew that it was fermenting, and when the cork blew…
 
He stayed close beside her as she slowly walked down the street. She looked over her shoulders and all around every step she took. She was terrified of every noise. Slowly, she made her way inside. He told her to sit while he went to talk to Mrs. Smith who owned the boarding house. Then he came to sit back down beside her. “Did my family go home?”
 
Jason nodded. “It was your brother, Peter and his wife. They were upset that you didn’t want to go; but I explained to them you needed time.”
 
“They’re mad at me?”
 
“No.” Jason toyed with his hat as he answered. “They are worried.” He paused before adding, “…so am I.”
 
“Oh Jason…I don’t want to think...I don’t want to feel…I wish I could stay on the medicine forever and just sleep the rest of my life. I feel so…dead inside.”
 
“If you let it out, you’d feel better,” Jason mumbled. “If you talk about it…just a little at a time.”
 
Emily turned and looked at him. She opened her mouth to speak but then shook her head. “Is my room ready?”
 
“Yes.  Peter said he’d bring in some clothes for you tomorrow. Mrs. Smith said you can help clean the bedrooms and cook the meals.” Emily lifted her head and looked at him. “She was going to let you stay here for free without work; but I insisted she make you work for your room and board. It’s my prescription.”
 
Emily nodded as Jason escorted her to her room. He stayed outside the door and nodded to her. “I have to go now. You’ll start work in the morning.”
 
“Will you join me for supper?” Emily asked in a shaky voice.
 
Jason nodded. “Yes.”
 
Jason made his way back toward his office. He wasn’t surprised when he walked inside to see Abe sitting there. Jason sighed as he sat his hat down and sat down himself. “What’s wrong with her?” Abe asked accusingly.  “Why doesn’t she want to come home?”
 
“Mr. McCain, your sister has been through a traumatic experience. She’s lost something that was precious to her, and that’s the focus of her thoughts right now. She’s afraid to go home…to return to the place where she was taken from.”
 
“But she’s our sister! We can help her!”
 
Jason sighed. “I wish it were that easy. If it were, it would make my job a lot easier. Abe…I won’t lie to you. I’ve seen woman commit suicide after what your sister went through. It tears at their very soul.” Abe started to speak, but Jason held up a hand. “She knows she’s surrounded by people who love her and she’s strong. But right now she feels like she died. Dr. Stevens examined her that night. He said that she was hurt badly. But I think she was hurt worse inside.”
 
“What do we do then?”
 
“Give her space. For some reason, she’s taken to me. It’s odd because women recovering from this kind of trauma usually steer clear of men. She won’t allow me to even touch her arm. She cringes when I had to doctor her wounds. But for some reason, she’s put her trust in me. I’ve told her she needs to talk to a woman; but she’s not ready.” Jason leaned forward and put a hand on Abe’s shoulder. “Mr. McCain, I ordered Mrs. Smith to put her to work. I think she needs to start living again. In the meantime, give her a lot of space and time. Come visit her, but keep the visits short. And for now, neither you nor your brothers should pressure her into telling what happened. Leave that for Julie.”
 
“What about the trial Monday?”
 
“She’ll be there. She wants me to be there with her and I’ll go. I’m not going to lie to you, Mr. McCain. Her seeing that man again can do her a lot of harm. But there’s not much we can do about that.”
 
Abe nodded. He stood and shook Jason’s hand then walked out.
 
***
 
Jason did take Emily to the lunch room that night to eat. They talked quietly about their families, but little more was said. The next day, Jason arrived early and escorted her to the kitchen where she would assist with the morning meal. He watched Mrs. Smith get her started then slipped out. Jason returned for the noon and evening meals. She sat with him while they ate together. But still, even with all the work she was doing, there was no life in her eyes.
 
He didn’t sleep Sunday night. He was worried about the trial; but more so, he found himself worrying about Emily. The bruises on her face had faded to almost nothing and only a few sores remained. He knew one sore wouldn’t heal; and she’d forever have a scar that ran down her right cheek. But he knew the scars inside were much deeper. He wished he knew how to reach her. Jason sighed as he turned over and looked at the clock on his bedside table. It was six o’clock. The trial was scheduled for nine.
 
At the other end of the street, Emily went to the window and looked down on the street. She was shaking with fear at the task she had to perform in mere hours. She was glad Jason would be there, but she wondered what her reaction would be when she came face-to-face with him. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore.
 
By the time Jason arrived at the boarding house, Emily was scurrying around the kitchen fixing breakfast. But her actions were exaggerated. He saw the fear in her eyes and watched how her hands shook as she held a plate. Jason was beside her in two steps. He took the plate from her hand and reached out for her. He was surprised when he grabbed her hand and she didn’t pull away. In fact, she seemed to relax a bit at his touch. “You’ll be okay. Just remember that I’m right there beside you. I won’t leave your side,” he spoke softly to her.
 
Emily grew more nervous as she looked at the clock and saw that it was now 8:30. The door opened and Tiffany and Em hurried inside. They came to sit beside her. Emily didn’t want to talk. She wouldn’t let Jason leave her side as her sisters spoke to her. Jason finally took her arm and led her from the boarding house.
 
Emily sat down in the front of the room. She turned to see her entire family there, less the children and Julie, who were no doubt being watched by Mrs. Pritchard. Emily turned and saw the judge come in and sit at his desk. She looked at Jason who sat right beside her. Then she waited.
 
“May this court come to order.” The room was filled with the loud clang as the gavel hit the desk. “This trial  is being held in Enid because the only surviving victim…Emily McCain…is here. This man has been accused of numerous murders, rapes, and kidnappings. He has waived his right to a jury trial.” Judge Reynolds cleared his throat. “Emily McCain, can you come forward?”
 
Emily turned and looked at Jason. He nodded his head as she slowly stood up. Her feet wobbled so badly she could hardly walk. Tiffany rushed forward and took her arm as Jason held her other arm. Together, they walked her up and stood her on the bench. Emily’s hand shook as she placed it on the Bible and swore to tell the truth. Then she sat down.
 
“Your doctor…has requested that I not ask you a lot of questions, Miss. McCain. And I agree that we don’t need your testimony on what this man did as much as we need you to identify that he’s the man that hurt you. I’ve received reports from both doctors as well as from physicians from the other victims. But Miss McCain, I do need to ask you a few questions. It’s important that you answer them. Okay?” Emily nodded as her hand shook. Tiffany took her hand and squeezed it while Jason patted her other hand.
 
“Before I bring this man in, I want to know if the man who kidnapped you threatened to kill you at any time.”
 
Emily began shaking even harder as she nodded her head. Judge Reynolds cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. You’ll have to answer out loud.”
 
“Y…y…yes.”
 
“Did this man beat you?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Did he hurt you in any other way?”
 
“Yes.” Emily began crying. Her hands shook as she lifted it to her cheek and wiped at her tears. “Yes…yes…yes…” She cried as her voice grew louder.
 
“Okay…” Tiffany patted her shoulder as she bent down beside her. “It’s okay.”
 
Emily quieted as Judge Reynolds nodded to the deputy. “Alright. We’re bringing the prisoner in now.”
 
Emily turned her face away. She buried her head in Tiffany’s shoulder as the door opened. She heard shuffling and wicked chuckling. The voice alone was enough to assure her it was the man. “Miss McCain, is this the man who hurt you?”
 
Emily slowly lifted her head and turned it around. She allowed her eyes to focus on the prisoner. “Yes…Yes…Yes…Oh God please don’t let him hurt me!” Emily bolted from the chair and ran to the corner of the room. “Get him away! Get him away! Oh please don’t hurt me. No….NO….NOOOOOOOO!” Emily fell to the ground and screamed as if he were attacking her all over again.
 
Her brothers and Em ran to her. The entire family huddled around her. “He raped me! HE RAPED ME!!!!!!” Emily screamed as loud as she could.
 
“Get him out of here!” Abe demanded angrily. “Get him out! So help me God, if he doesn’t swing I’ll KILL HIM!”
 
Judge Reynolds banged his gavel. “Order! Order in this court!” He cleared his throat as silence came over. Emily’s muffled cries could be heard as she remained huddled in the corner with her family surrounding her. “Mr. Bridges, do you have anything to say before I pass judgment?” Only silence answered him. “Do you deny any of the crimes that you’ve been accused of…not only by this victim, but from others?”
 
“I did it!” Bridges answered proudly. “I did it all! You best swing me or I’ll come back and get everyone of ya!!!!”
 
“Very well. Earl Bridges, by the authority vested in me by the territory of Oklahoma, I hereby sentence you to be hanged by the neck until dead. The sentence shall be carried out at dawn tomorrow morning. I’m giving you that long to make peace with your maker. May God have mercy on your soul!”
 
“Ain’t no God!” He laughed a vile laugh, “Hey pretty thing, one more time, for old times sake. Haa, Haa, Haa!” Bridges yelled as the deputies struggled to haul him out of the courthouse.
 
Abe bolted forward. “Why you…” he started. He would have made it to Earl and choked him if Marshal Williams and Hal Dodd hadn’t suddenly jumped up and grabbed him to hold him back. “Let me go! I’m going to KILL HIM!” Abe shouted.
 
“He’s going to hang!” Hal shouted back. “Abe, he’s going to hang!”
 
Emily stayed on her knees and sobbed. As Jason and Tiffany helped her to her feet. She gasped and suddenly bolted from the huddle of family. She ran out the back door and raced away from the courthouse as fast as her shaky legs would allow her to. She cried out as she fell to the ground. “Emily!”
 
Emily began crying so hard that her whole body shook. Again, her whole family gathered around her. Jason slipped away to give the family privacy, but to also get a sedative. “Emily?” Abe whispered softly as he brushed her hair back. “Emily, talk to us.”
 
“I can’t!” Emily screamed as she put her hands to her ears as if she were blocking out the noises. “I can’t!”
 
“You have to, Emily!” Em cried out. “You have to tell us what you’re feeling…Tell us what happened!” Emily shook her head violently. “Emily, get it out!” Em begged.
 
“He raped me!” Emily screamed again.   “What more do you want to know? How I wanted to die? How vile he smelled? How he laughed and grunted? Oh, why didn’t you just let me die?!” Emily began shaking violently as her eyes widened with fear.
 
The family waited for a long time in silence. Nobody knew how to help her. Emily began crying hysterically. She grabbed her stomach and doubled over as sobs racked her body. Doctor Livingston returned to the huddled family and slowly administered the shot to Emily. In time, she slowed her breathing and her sobs grew quiet. She relaxed against her brother.
 
Jason picked her up and carried her back to the boarding house, followed by the family. After laying her on the bed, Jason ordered all the men out of the room; but in seeing the look in Abe’s face, he agreed Abe could stay. He ordered, however, that abe had to stay in the corner.
 
Emily woke and saw only Tiffany and Em in the room. She stayed silent for only a few moments before  she spoke in a calm voice. “I had sent Laura in to clean Ruthie’s bedroom when there was a knock at the door. He…he asked me if I had a horse to sell him and I told him that…” Emily shook her head. “Oh, I was so stupid in telling him my brother was gone and wouldn’t be back for two days. Then he took this gun and held it to my head. He…” Emily shook her head again. “I was so scared! I was afraid for Laura and told her to run. She didn’t want to at first. She wanted to help me…but I begged her to get out. Then he…he forced me up on his horse and we rode away.
 
“We rode for a long time. He rode so fast and branches scratched my face. Then I fell from the horse. He got mad and he kicked me hard. Then he tied my hands and dragged me behind the horse. I tried to leave signs.  I hoped the boys would find them…” Emily stopped as she took some deep breaths. She put her hands to her face. “Oh why…why did he do this???”
 
She had made her speech as rapidly as she could. Every word that escaped her lips told those present the horror and terror she had gone through, and was still going through. They hated that her words were hurting her so badly, but at least now she was talking. Now she was admitting to what that man had done to her. Jason stood next to Abe and his expression told Abe to keep quiet or else he would be sent from the room.
 
“It’s okay, honey. You’re doing okay!” Tiffany and Em each sat beside her smoothing her hair. Their jaws clinched as they listened to her speak. “Can you go on?”
 
Emily hiccupped as sobs escaped again. “It was getting dark and I was so tired. I cried and begged him to stop. He got angry and slapped me so hard that I…I fell to the ground! My dress ripped and something inside him…snapped!” Emily shook her head. “He took me to a shack. He laid me on a cot and demanded I stay there. I…” Emily stopped as she put her face in her hands again. “I begged God to help me! I pleaded!” Emily sniffed. “He started slapping me because I was fighting him. He tore my clothes and I kept fighting.” Suddenly, Emily’s eyes filled with terror. “No! No please don’t do this! Please!!!” Emily screamed as she relived the experience. “Oh Please just kill me!”
 
“Honey, calm down…” Abe whispered as he jumped up and bent down in front of her. “You’re safe. You’re safe.” He didn’t care anymore what the doctor thought. His own eyes dared the doctor to throw him out of the room.
 
Emily eye’s held horror as she realized what her brother heard, she bit her lip and cried. She forced herself to go on. “Oh Abe! He kept touching me all over. His lips and his hands…” Emily spoke in disgust as she shuddred. “Then he…he…”
 
“He raped you.” Em said these words matter-of factly. “Say them, honey. Say the words.”
 
“He…he…” Emily choked on her sobs. “He…raped me. He raped me…he raped me…Oh GOD help me!” She clung to Tiffany and sobbed harder than she had sobbed before.
 
“It’s over now, Emily. He can’t hurt you anymore. You’re okay now. We all love you.” Abe continued to speak to her softly as he climbed onto the bed and pulled her into his embrace..
 
“I passed out at some point. Then when I woke up, he was near me again. I fought him with everything I had. I screamed for him to go away and finally…finally, he hit me so hard that I passed out. Oh why didn’t he just kill me?!”
 
“Because God wanted you to be the one to see that he was brought to justice. Sis, you have a life to live, that’s why you’re still alive.”
 
“I don’t want to be. I want to be as dead as I feel on the inside!” Emily cried.
 
“No, you just think you do. Our family will see you thought this,” Tiffany stated.
 
“How did you get away?” Em asked.
 
“I guess he thought he’d killed me.” Emily shook her head. “The next thing I remember…I was waking up in the doctor’s office.” Emily suddenly looked around. “Jason! Where’s Jason?”
 
“I’m here, Emily.” He stood outside the group. “I’m right here. How do you feel?”
 
“Can I go home now?”
 
“You’re ready?” Tiffany asked as she smiled.
 
“No.” Emily shook her head. “I mean to the boarding house.”
 
“Oh. You’re AT the boarding house, honey,” Tiffany said softly. “You’re in your room.”
 
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…I just need…time…I…” Emily started.
 
“No.” Abe shook his head. “Don’t be sorry, honey. If you feel safe here at the Boarding House, then you stay here. Just remember that you’re a McCain. You’ll survive.”
 
“Abe…I..I want to be there tomorrow.”
 
Abe froze and stared at her. “What?”
 
“I want to be at the hanging.”
 
Abe shook his head. “No. Absolutely not!”
 
“I MUST be there, Abe! I must! I have to see it!” Emily pleaded.
 
“NO! It’s no place for a woman.”
 
“Abe…this is something I have to do! I must!” Emily declared.
 
Jason suddenly cleared his throat. “Abe, can I see you men for a moment?”
 
Abe followed Jason out the door where they were met by Jeremiah and Peter. Jason spoke to them softly for a few moments. Finally, Abe turned and nodded his head and re-entered the room. “Alright. You can be there,” he told Emily.  But I don’t want you to watch. I’ve heard talk of enough hangings to know it’s not something you want to see.”
 
Emily nodded. She focused her eyes on Jason. “Will you…be there?”
 
Jason shook his head. “I heal people. I don’t much like watching them hung.”
 
“I need you there.”
 
“Emily…” Jason sighed. “We’ll talk about it later.”
 
Emily allowed Jason to leave while she spent some time with her family. Finally, they left, knowing she needed to get some rest. But she couldn’t rest, so she went to the dining room and sat down. As she sat drinking coffee, Jason came in. He hesitated going to her. She depended on him way too much for her security. But as he turned to leave, Emily turned and saw him. She motioned for him to come over then smiled as he sat down.
 
“Well…so, that’s what it looks like,” Jason declared as he smiled at her.
 
“What looks like?”
 
“Your smile.” Jason’s eyes crinkled as he spoke. “I saw it.”
 
“You did?” Emily smiled again. She took a few sips of her coffee. “I’m sorry if I’m a nuisance.”
 
Jason shook his head.  “You aren’t.”
 
Emily nodded. “I am. But somehow…the pressure seems less now. I don’t know why, but I don’t hurt as badly inside anymore.”
 
Jason smiled at her as he filled his coffee cup. “Then I’ll have the pleasure of seeing you smile again. And every day, you’ll smile a little more.”
 
“I…haven’t seen Dr. Stevens around much.”
 
“He’s around. He’s just really busy. He’s glad to leave the office to me now so he can visit the sick more. That’s why he hired me.”
 
“Oh.” Emily sat down her coffee cup. “Dr. Livingston…”
 
“Emily…Call me Jason.” Jason found himself staring at her. The smile had done something to him. He’s not sure what that something was, but he liked it…a lot.
 
“I’m a bit…embarrassed to ask you this but…for some reason I need to know.”
 
“What is it?”
 
“When I was brought in that night…I mean after it all happened…Did you…I mean…”
 
Jason chuckled softly in spite of the seriousness of the conversation. “No. Dr. Stevens did the initial exam.”
 
“Oh. So you didn’t…” Emily felt her face grow warm.
 
“No. I didn’t.”
 
They both averted their eyes from the other. “I’m sorry.”
 
“No.” Jason shook his head. “Don’t be. I understand.”
 
“And I’m sorry I’ve taken up so much of your time. I think I’m feeling a bit safer now so…you don’t have to eat with me anymore.”
 
“Oh.” Jason leaned back in his chair and cocked his head to one side. “That’s disappointing. I don’t like to eat alone.” Emily lifted her eyes to look at him. “I would like to continue eating with you.”
 
Emily smiled. “Thank you.” She ordered her food. Jason placed his order as well. “So will you go with me tomorrow?”
 
Jason sighed. “Why do you need me there? You’ll have your brothers.”
 
Emily chewed on her lip while she thought on this. “Jason…when I woke up, my sisters were there. But as I remembered what happened to me, I focused on this face in front of me. You weren’t like my brothers. There was something so soft in those eyes…something that drew me to you. The only thing I could picture in my mind at the moment…and even now…is that man coming toward me. His eyes were hard and evil. I felt like I was staring at the devil himself. But then my eyes focused on you. You were everything opposite of this other man. I can’t explain it…in the midst of my pain you were there.” Emily bit her lip. “I love my brothers, but they smother me. You give me room. You let me breathe. You let me have my space, and right now I need a lot of that.” She smiled. “And in a way, you’ve protected me from my family. Does that sound strange?”
 
Jason smiled. “No. Because I know how much your family loves you. I know they have your best interest, yet I know that it’s hard for them to watch you go through this.” Jason paused as the waitress gave them their food. After she walked away, he turned back to Emily. “I have two younger sisters. Throughout my whole life, I did everything I could to protect them. Then one day…my sister was attacked. She wasn’t injured to the extent you were…not even close. But the fact that the attack even happened was enough to send my blood boiling. I did everything to protect her. I smothered her with questions and with love when all she really needed was space.” Jason paused in buttering his bread to look at Emily. “I suppose I saw that in you that first day. I drove a wedge between my sister and me; and I guess in you I saw the opportunity to do things right. That’s why I’ve been so protective of you these past weeks.”
 
“Oh.” Emily took a bite of her stew. “And I thank you for all you’ve done to help me. You really HAVE protected me. I…hope we can stay friends.”
 
“So do I.” They kept the remainder of their conversation light as they ate. In time, Jason walked Emily back to her room and said goodnight. He promised to meet her in the dining room for breakfast.
 
***
Emily turned from the stove and jumped when she saw Jason standing in the doorway. She let out a loud gasp and pressed a hand to her chest. “You startled me!”
 
Jason chuckled as he took the plate of pancakes from her hands. “It’s about time to go.”
 
“Oh…” Emily turned away and looked out the window.
 
Jason slowly walked up behind her. “We don’t have to, you know. If you’ve changed your mind…”
 
“No.” Emily shook her head as she slowly turned around. “No. I have to do this.”  She bit her lip and turned as she took off her apron. Jason cautiously held out his arm to her. He was surprised when she took it. He was even more surprised at the feeling it produced in him. “I haven’t even eaten yet. I’ve been so busy feeding everyone else.”
 
“That’s good.” Jason paused as he looked down at her. “It’s best to do this on an empty stomach.” Emily felt her heart start to beat harder as they walked down the street. Peter saw her and hurried forward. He took her arm from Jason and led her over to Abraham, Jeremiah, and Scott who had also came to watch. Jason stood right behind her.
 
“I don’t like you being here, Emily,” Abe mumbled from beside her.
 
“I know. I don’t exactly want to be here either. But…I must be so I’ll know in my heart that’s it’s really over.” Emily lowered her head, suddenly feeling ashamed. “I’m sorry, Abe, that I’m having such a hard time with this. You just…can’t understand.”
 
“You’re right. And my wife told me that in a no-nonsense sort of way last night.”
 
Suddenly, the crowd grew quiet. Emily turned to see the Marshal leading Earl Bridges to the gallows. The man held his head high and walked straight with his hands tied behind his back. A small grin played on his face. Images, sounds, and smells raced through Emily’s mind. She threw a hand to her mouth and let out a cry. She couldn’t stand the sight of this monster, yet she couldn’t turn away. Jason sensed her mood from behind her and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. “You can leave at any time,” he whispered near her ear.
 
Emily shook her head. She felt her hands suddenly begin shaking as Peter took one, and Abe the other. Her eyes filled with tears as the hangman slipped the rope over his neck. The preacher read some words from his Bible, but the prisoner simply kept a cold grin on his face. Emily saw his eyes search the crowd, then they found her. He stared at her as the hangman slipped the bag over his head. Emily winced as the hangman slowly stepped to the rope and held up his knife. The crowd began cheering as he started cutting the rope. Emily suddenly turned away and buried her head in Jason’s chest. Without realizing, Jason slipped his arms around her to protect her.
 
The sound of death sounded and Emily threw her hands to her ears. “Let’s go.” Jason and her brother quickly hurried her from the sight. Jason knew she would need to heave, so he hurried around some buildings to a wooded area and allowed her to drop to her knees. He held her hair back from behind and allowed her to relieve her stomach.
 
Abe and Peter bent down beside her. Jeremiah and Scott also stood close by. “Are you okay, honey?” Abe asked softly.
 
Emily lifted her head and looked at her brother. “He’s dead. He’s really….” Emily turned her head to see two men carrying his body away. She put her face in her hands and wept bitterly. “God…forgive me!”
 
The five men gathered around her and locked eyes with each other. Everyone wanted to ask, and Jeremiah was finally the one to ask the question. “What are you asking forgiveness for?”
 
“For hating him…for wishing him dead.” Emily shook her head. “I shouldn’t have ever wished that.”
 
“Oh honey…” Abe pushed some hair back behind her ear and smiled at her. “Any woman who went through what you just went through would want the same thing. I don’t think God holds it against you.”
 
“That’s right,” Jason said from behind her. “I live close to the Good Book, and I’m telling you that you had every right to feel and think what you did. In fact…I think you are strong for what you did today. That took a lot of courage.” Emily turned her head toward Jason. “Now you can start living again.”
 
“I have been living.”
 
Jason shook his head. “Not just on the outside, Emily. But on the inside. I saw a smile on your face yesterday. I’d like to see more of that…a lot more.”
 
Abe lifted an eyebrow when he saw his sister blush. He looked up at Jason and wondered if maybe something special was about to happen between the two of them. “Uh…Peter…Why don’t you and Jeremiah escort our sister on back to the hotel? I’d like to talk to…Dr. Livingston for a few minutes.”
 
Abe watched them leave. He nodded to Scott as he made his way down the street. Then Abe slowly turned to look at Jason. “You care about my sister a lot.”
 
“Your sister is a beautiful person. She has an inner beauty inside that I’ve never seen.” Jason answered Abe as he kept his eyes locked with him.
 
“Mm hm.” Abe nodded. “You two spend a lot of time together.”
 
“She took to me after the attack. She said it was my eyes. I don’t know that I’m any more tender than the next man, but for some reason she thinks I am.” Abe again raised an eyebrow. Jason held up his hand. “Now wait just a minute there. I won’t deny there’s a small bit of attraction there but….”
 
“A small bit?”
 
“Okay, okay…Your sister has just been through a traumatic experience. Her attraction could be because I’m the only man she can trust right now. I’m not going to play into that attraction right now. She doesn’t need this. She needs to heal and to return home…to get back to normal. My intentions toward her are honorable.”
 
Abe sighed. “Jason, she may not ever return home. Her life’s been changed forever and my wife helped me see that last night. Now, I agree that she needs to heal before perusing any sort of relationship, but I’ve been in your position. Sometimes it’s the hard trials that bring a couple together.” Abe held up a hand. “Now…I’m not going to go into details about my wife, but she had been through a hard experience and I was there to help her. We married just two months later and it’s been hard at times but…she needed me and I needed her.” Abe nodded. “And that’s as deep in a conversation about ‘love’ I’m going to get!”
 
Jason smiled. “I’m not going to do anything to hurt her. And I’m not going to rush anything, Mr. McCain. I…”
 
“Please…call me Abe.”
 
Jason smiled. “Gee, I thought for a minute you were going to punch me.”
 
“Any other man I would, but I’ve watched you with my sister over the past two weeks and you are gentle. There’s something there…I don’t know what it is, but I like it.”
 
“I was telling Emily last night that I had a sister who was attacked. I tried to protect her…I smothered her and sheltered…tried to force her to talk and the results were disastrous. I guess that when I saw you and your family, I wanted to prevent you from doing what I did. I got…protective. I wanted to do for her what I didn’t do for my sister.”
 
Abe smiled. “And I thank you for that. I know I’m leaving her in good hands. But just so you know, she has four OLDER brothers.”
 
“Four?” Jason raised his eyebrows.
 
“My youngest brother…Luke…He’s at war.”
 
Jason and Abe made their way back to the boarding house. After saying goodbye, Emily announced that she wanted to work. Jason studied her closely, but nodded that working today might be a good idea; but he’d be back at noon to make sure she ate. And he was.
 
All that week, Jason allowed Emily to heal. He continued to dine with her at each meal to make sure she was eating properly and getting stronger. He began seeing more smiles on her face and more life in her eyes. She began talking more about the kidnapping. By the end of the second week, talking about it didn’t bring her to tears. He smiled in satisfaction that she was indeed healing nicely.
 
On Saturday, Jason took her to the office for one last exam. Dr. Stevens, at Jason’s request, performed the exam and announced that she was healing nicely. The bruises on her face were almost entirely gone. All that was left was a faint scar that ran down her right cheekbone. Jason knew it would always be there, and he decided that Emily believed that too. He watched her stare in the mirror as she stood in his office. He decided to wait on saying anything…to let her come to terms with the fact on her own.
 
Sunday morning, Jason showed up at the hotel to have breakfast with her before church. Emily was in the kitchen preparing meals for the boarders when Mrs. Smith hurried in. “He’s here.”
 
Emily felt her heart race, hoping that ‘he’ was Jason. “Who?” she forced herself to ask casually.
 
Mrs. Smith planted a hand on her hip and shook her head. “Oh now…don’t give me that ‘who’ stuff! You know exactly who I mean, young lady!” Mrs. Smith wagged a finger at her. “Now, you just scoot on out there and flash that pretty smile of yours!”
 
Emily laughed as she took off her apron. She turned and saw Mrs. Smith leave the kitchen, then studied herself in the mirror. She smoothed her hair and straightened her dress. But when she looked at the scar, she shook her head. She wondered why anyone would be attracted to her with such a scar. “It’s not as big as you think it is,” she heard from behind her.
 
Emily turned to see Jason standing there. He smiled. “Mrs. Smith…” he motioned toward the dining room. “…she told me you were supposed to be coming out there.”
 
“Oh.” Emily leaned up against the counter as he took a step toward her. “I was just about to…”
 
Jason looked her up and down. “That’s a pretty dress you have on.” He allowed his eyes to lock on her face. “Have I seen it before?”
 
“No.” Emily folded her hands in front of her. “This is my Sunday dress.” She suddenly turned away from him. “I’m a little nervous about this morning…I don’t know if I’m ready to…”
 
Jason put a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned her around. “You’re ready.”
 
“I don’t want people to stare at me. The people here…they don’t much care about what happened to me…some don’t even know. But…” Emily lowered her head.
 
“Your family will be there. Your sister...Laura. She misses you so much. Abe brought her into town yesterday and she said she wanted to see you. I’ll be there with you if you want.”
 
“I do.” Emily bit her lip. “But what if they…”
 
Jason lifted his eyebrows and stared into her eyes. “Emily, if those people at that church are going to judge you for what happened and treat you any differently than before, then they shouldn’t be there. I don’t think you’re giving them much credit.”
 
Emily smiled. “You’re right.”
 
“Let’s get you fed before we go to church.” Emily was quiet as she and Jason ate breakfast. They were almost done when Peter and Tiffany walked inside. Jason stood and invited them to sit. After Tiffany was seated, Jason sat back down.
 
“How’s the family?” Emily asked.
 
“Fine.” Tiffany looked at Ruthie who sat on her father’s lap. “She misses her Aunt Emily.”
 
“How’s Julie?”
 
“Em and Jeremiah brought the children in for church. Julie’s not feeling as well today.” Tiffany turned and looked at Jason. “I…think you or Dr. Stevens should come check on her today.”
 
Jason nodded. “I believe Dr. Stevens is out delivering a baby. I’ll come this afternoon.”
 
Tiffany turned and looked at Peter. Cautiously, she spoke to Emily. “Perhaps you and Jason can come for Sunday dinner, Emily. It would be good to…”
 
Emily abruptly stood up. “I need to get these dishes in the kitchen.” She started to gather the dishes, but Jason gently grabbed he wrist to stop her. They locked eyes. She saw his message loud and clear. Emily shook her head and hurried toward the kitchen.
 
“I’m sorry.” Tiffany apologized to Jason. “I didn’t mean to push her.”
 
Jason wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You didn’t. She’s been heeling so well this week. I think her going to the ranch is a very good idea.” Jason stood. “Excuse me.”
 
When he got into the kitchen, he found Emily with her hands planted on the counter staring into the sink. He walked over to the counter and leaned on it sideways and he looked at her. “Emily…”
 
“I’m not ready. I need more time,” Emily said quickly.
 
“No.” Jason shook his head. “Sunday dinner at home with the family is just what you need today. Everyone will be there.”
 
“I can’t. I…” Emily’s voice shook.
 
“Emily, I’ve watched life come back to you these past two weeks. You seem so much more alive now than you did last Sunday. I thought you’ve come to terms with what’s happened to you but…”
 
“You’re right!” Emily nodded her head rapidly. “I’ve come to terms with it.”
 
“Then go have dinner with your family.”
 
“No.” Emily shook her head. “The dinner crowd is larger on Sunday. Mrs. Smith will…”
 
“No, Emily.” Emily turned and looked at him. His blue eyes were filled with concern. “It’s time.”
 
“Oh Jason…I don’t know if I…” She turned away.
 
“I tell you what…” Jason turned her to face him. “Let’s go to church. We’ll see how that goes then decide. I don’t want to push you, but I don’t want you to live in fear either.”
 
Emily nodded. The feelings she felt when she looked at him were nice. She felt as if he’d given her her life back. She didn’t understand exactly what was going on, but she felt so drawn to him. She wanted him with her no matter where she went, and she wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. “Jason…” Jason paused before returning to their guests. “…if I do go, will you…”
 
“I’ve been invited.” Jason nodded.
 
Emily smiled. Jason smiled back at her and she blushed. They soon made their way toward the church. Jason sensed Emily’s nervousness as he walked beside her. He wanted to take her hand to offer her support, but he decided taking her hand wouldn’t be a very good idea – for either of them. He couldn’t even think of courting her until she was completely healed from her attack. He couldn’t believe he was even thinking about such a thing, seeing as he’d only known her for a little over a month.
 
Emily, however, was thinking about similar things. She wished he would take her hand and offer her comfort. Just being near him made her shaky and her heart beat faster. She really wasn’t sure what all this meant. As far as men, she’d never really had much experience with them. With her plain looks, she wasn’t exactly a lady that men stood in line to dance with. But now she suddenly found herself wanting to dance with Jason.
 
But in truth, Emily wondered if she ever could. She felt very uncomfortable with the mere thought of Jason ever courting her. She didn’t know if she could ever kiss a man or…be a wife to a man after what she’d been through. She wondered how a woman with her experience could EVER love a man and marry him. Or if a man were to find out, would he want a woman, such as her? Yet, here was a man.  Her heart longed for something more than just a friendship. This left her very confused and nervous.
 
Emily stood at the bottom of the church steps and looked up. They were running a little late, so there weren’t people lingering in the church yard. She wondered if Jason had walked slowly on purpose, knowing she wouldn’t want a lot of people stopping to ask her questions. She swallowed hard as she looked up at the open doors. Tiffany turned and looked at Emily. “You two go on. We’ll be there.”
 
Jason felt torn. He knew Tiffany wanted to help Emily go into the church, and he knew that was the proper thing to do. Yet part of him wanted to be the one to help her with this step. Emily sensed his apprehension to leave her. She looked up at him and smiled. “It’s okay. You go on.”
 
Tiffany took Emily’s hand and helped her as she slowly walked up the steps. When they walked inside, several heads turned to look at her. The talking suddenly stopped when they realized Emily was there. Emily bit her lip and smiled, uncomfortable as she started walking up the long aisle. Laura stood up with a smile on her face and looked at Emily. Emily’s heart melted at the sight of the little girl. She realized in that moment that she hadn’t seen Laura since…Laura hurried forward and threw her arms around Emily. Peter stood and hurried forward as Laura started crying. “I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” Laura said.
 
Laura had been sternly talked to by Abe and Julie that very morning that she shouldn’t do what she had just done, but she didn’t have that much control and couldn’t stand seeing the scar on her sister’s face. Nor could she stand the fact that Emily wasn’t close by anymore. Peter took Laura and sat her down. Emily sat down right beside Laura. Jason took his place behind the McCain pew and sat beside Scott Gibbs.
 
Emily had forgotten how much she enjoyed being in church. She felt herself relax as she began singing the hymns. Jason smiled when he heard her singing. She had the voice of a songbird, and he knew he could listen to her sing all day. Emily smiled when she heard Jason’s own voice singing from behind her. He sang the songs with such feeling and emotion. She knew he really believed the words he sung.
 
Emily settled down as she put an arm around Laura and allowed Laura to lay her head against her. The preacher spoke of hope through Jesus. Emily felt herself relax even more.
 
Jason watched her from behind. He could hardly concentrate on the sermon. He watched her relax as the preacher spoke. Her shoulders became less stiff, as she laid her head against Laura. When they stood for the benediction, Emily stepped from the pew and went up to bow at the altar. Jason watched Margaret Gibbs join her. Margaret wept as she prayed over her friend, but when Emily lifted from the alter; she had a smile on her face. And this smile lit her face up like a candle on a dark night.
 
Jason waited until they were outside before stepping up next to her. “So what do you say about going to have lunch with your family?”
 
Emily bit her lip. “If you want me to say I have no doubts about going, I can’t do that. But…” Emily lowered her head then lifted it. “I’m willing to go if…you are.”
 
The way she said it sounded a bit fictitious. Jason raised an eyebrow and questioned her about it. “Well…you may be getting the worst of the deal. You’ll be stuck with my entire family.”
 
“Oh.” Jason grinned. They both knew their relationship was blossoming into something more than friendship. Emily was terrified of the prospect, but something was pulling her to go forward with it. Jason, on the other hand, was a bit hesitant on starting a more ‘personal’ relationship with everything she’d been through. He was afraid he was more of a crutch than a love interest. But he decided he’d go along for the ride and watch her closely to get his answer.
 
Jason was invited to ride along with Peter and Tiffany. Peter had a newly purchased double buckboard, and Jason was forced to sit beside Emily as they rode home. Jason sensed tension come back into Emily as they rode out of town. “Did he take you this way?” Jason asked softly.
 
Emily nodded. “We turned off right there.” She pointed to a path that led into the woods. “We were racing so fast and…” Emily stopped as her mouth became dry.
 
“That beast…” Peter muttered under his breath. “I should have…”
 
“He’s dead now, Peter. There’s no reason to say those things anymore.” Jason smiled at Tiffany’s curt matter-of-fact attitude. He wondered if all the McCain women possessed it. He wondered what it would be like for Emily to boss him like that. Then he blushed for even thinking that.
 
“Jason, I don’t think I can…” Emily suddenly declared as she reached out and took his hand. She put a hand to her chest and started breathing hard.
 
Jason squeezed her hand. “You can do this, Emily.” His voice was soothing as he kept his eyes focused on hers. “Talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling.”
 
“I’m scared…” Emily suddenly cried out. “Oh Jason, I’m so scared!”
 
“He’s dead, Emily. He can’t hurt you ever again. He’s dead.”
 
“Oh…Peter, stop!” Emily suddenly cried out.
 
“No, no…” Jason squeezed her hand even tighter. He touched her face, ignoring the electricity that flowed through his hand. “Talk to me, Emily. Tell me what you feel.”
 
“I can see him. I can feel his hands. He…”
 
“Go past that, honey. Think about all the times you walked this path as a schoolgirl…with some gentleman caller…”
 
Emily suddenly gave him a slight smile. “I’ve never had a gentleman caller.”
 
“Never?” He chuckled. “Your brothers chase them all away?”
 
“No. I guess I just…wasn’t pretty enough.”
 
“Oh.” Jason smiled as he looked in her eyes. “They are all fools. Every one of them.”
 
Emily blushed at the huskiness in his voice. She glanced at Peter and Tiffany who were both looking at each other smiling. Jason chuckled. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but I think you’re beautiful. If I had gone to school with you…”
 
Peter suddenly cleared his throat.  “If you’d gone to school with her, Lucas would have chased you off. No boy from Enid was ever good enough for our sister, according to Luke.”
 
Tiffany batted him lightly and told him to keep driving. They were all happy that Jason’s uncomfortable words were taking Emily’s mind off of her worries. Jason cleared his throat. “It’s beautiful country you live in here. It looks like you have quite the farm.”
 
Emily gasped as she lifted her head. She didn’t realize they had arrived. She shot a hand to her chest. Jason stepped down from the wagon. He put his hands to her waist and swung her down. “Tell me about Sundays at the McCain’s.”
 
“I…I…” Emily swallowed. “Right there…” She pointed to the hitching post. “His horse was right there…I don’t know why I didn’t see it.”
 
“What are you talking about?”
 
“He came in and told me he had lost his horse. He needed a horse, but it was tied up right here and I…I should have seen it but I…I didn’t.” Emily turned and looked at Jason. “Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I see it? I offered him all kinds of information that told him I was alone. I put Laura’s life in danger. I…”
 
Jason shook his head as he rested a hand on her cheek. “No. Don’t think about all that now. It’s in the past. You can’t change it so just don’t fret yourself.” Emily averted his eyes. “Now…tell me about Sundays at the McCain’s.”
 
Emily turned and looked at the door to their house. “Well…we all come here and the men sit around outside and talk about anything…you know, farming and ranching, the weather, politics…And the women all cook a big meal. We get it ready before church and finish when we get home. Then we say a prayer and eat. About mid-afternoon, we all go our separate ways.”
 
“Except you. You stay here and clean.”
 
Emily nodded. “Peter and Tiffany live here with their daughter and…” Emily looked up at the door. “Well…I used to live here. But I don’t want to anymore, Jason.”
 
Jason nodded. “I know. And that’s okay. You don’t have to live here.” Jason saw Emily hesitate as she stared at the front door. He gently took her arm and spoke as he slowly led her inside. “Now, let me tell you about Sundays at the Livingston’s. We would come home from church to a home-cooked meal. My father was very strict and didn’t allow us to do anything on Sunday afternoon. We sat and ate our meal quietly and then we would sit in our rooms or just around the table quietly. We could read. Well, one day we grew tired and decided we’d sneak outside while my folks were sleeping. We went to barn and started swinging on the rope that was hung from the hayloft when my sister got her pigtails stuck in the barn roof. I had to hold her up and my other sister had to scream really loud for my father.”
 
They were standing inside now. Emily was so interested in his story that she didn’t even realize where she was. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing…I didn’t have to worry about sitting down for a week, because even though there wasn’t supposed to be any work or noise on Sunday, my Pa tanned our hides and we cried and hollered for a long time!”
 
Emily put a hand to her mouth and giggled. Jason smiled at her, enjoying the sound of her laughter. “Well…” Jason commented as he stared into her eyes. “I was wondering when I’d get to hear that.”
 
“Hear what?”
 
“Your laughter.”
 
“Oh.” Emily nodded. “It feels so good to laugh again, Jason.”
 
“Well…I’m glad I could accommodate.”
 
Tiffany cleared her throat. “Well…You could give me a hand!” Tiffany declared from the stove.
 
Emily suddenly stopped and looked around. Tiffany and Peter had rearranged the family room. It didn’t even look like the same house anymore. Emily put a hand to her mouth and shook her head. “Why?”
 
Tiffany stood behind Emily. “We thought it would be easier for you.”
 
Emily smiled. “Thank you.”
 
Laura bounded inside with the boys right on her tail. Em and Jeremiah followed close behind. “Aunt Tiffany, is it ready yet?”
 
“No.” Emily turned and smiled at Laura as she skipped around the table and hummed. “Now Laura Rose!” Tiffany put a fist on her hip. “You just bounce right on out that door until I call you for lunch!”
 
“Oh, but…”
 
“Laura Rose!” Jeremiah suddenly called from the doorway. Laura hung her head and hurried outside. Jeremiah gave her backside a firm pat on her way out.
 
Emily smiled as she absent-mindedly reached for Jason’s hand. “Laura’s always felt short-changed. She has four older brothers. Our youngest brother, Luke, is away fighting in the war right now. He’s the only one who never gave her a licking and she’ll tell you she loves him for that. She lives with Abe and Julie since our mother died. I reckon she gets the lion’s share of spanking with three brothers always ready to hand them out.”
 
Jason smiled and shook his head. What had he been so worried about? She was doing fine – just fine! She was having no trouble adjusting whatsoever! It was a good idea to bring her around family again. They could help her forget anything had happened.
 
Tiffany informed Jason that lunch was still an hour away, so if he wanted to go check on Julie, he could. Emily straightened up from setting the table. “Hold up and I’ll go with you.”
 
“Oh no…” Jason plopped his hat on his head. “You stay here. I…”
 
Emily untied her apron and smiled. “No. I want to come. I could help you.”
 
“Oh now, go on with you!” Tiffany declared with a smile. “Let her go. She’ll want to see Julie. And I know Julie could use some cheering up.”
 
Jason and Emily made their way to Abe’s house. Laura walked with them at Emily’s suggestion since she had already been threatened by her brother, Jeremiah. Abe stood from gathering wood and smiled. He sat the wood down and came up to hug his sister. “Dr. Livingston, I’m glad you came.” Abe turned and walked toward the house. “I’m a bit worried about Julie.”
 
They went inside. Julie looked up from the bed and smiled when she saw Emily. Emily sat down and hugged her. “Oh, I heard what happened. I’m sorry I caused so much trouble.”
 
“You didn’t cause any trouble at all,” Julie declared. “I’m not too good at following orders. I pushed myself too hard.” Julie smiled as she looked Emily up and down. “But I’m better now that I see you. You look wonderful!”
 
Emily turned away as she touched the scar on her face. Jason cleared his throat from behind. “Oh…I’ve never been beautiful but…” Emily bit her lip. Again, she heard Jason’s warning. She decided to heed it for now. “Oh Julie…I do hope everything’s alright!” She stood so Jason could sit down and examine Julie. Jason made a few unrecognizable noises once in a while, and Emily and Abe stood back anxiously and watched.
 
Jason stood and walked out of the room to wash his hands. Abe and Emily looked at each other. “Well, doctor?” Abe asked.
 
Jason dried his hands and turned around.  “I don’t think she’s going to hold out much longer, Mr. McCain. She’s dilated some and I believe the baby’s gotten into position. I…think she may deliver early.”
 
“How early?” Abe asked.
 
“Well…” Jason turned and looked at Emily. “It’s nearing the end of March and you believe she’s due around the beginning of May?” Abe nodded. “Then I’d guess that she’ll deliver anytime now. She may be a bit further along they once believed.”
 
“I see.” Abe nodded. “I…thank you, doctor.”
 
Jason turned and looked at Emily. Then he turned back toward Abe. “Could I have a moment of your time?” Abe nodded. Jason turned to Emily. “Uh…if you like, you could go spend some time with Julie. I’ll come for you when I’m ready to go.”
 
It was about thirty minutes before Jason finally knocked on the door and announced he was ready to go. Emily stood and hurried from the room after giving Julie a hug. She walked out with Jason. Jason seemed nervous about something. Emily was surprised when he sent Laura on ahead of them. She waited to see what he had to say. Finally, he sat her under a tree and spoke. “Well…” He stopped to catch his breath.
 
Emily lifted her eyebrows. She nodded slowly. “Well?” Jason didn’t say anything. “What did you and Abe talk about?”
 
Jason turned and looked at her. Then he smiled. “Well now, if I wanted you to know that, I wouldn’t have sent you away.”
 
“Oh.” Emily lowered her head and started to stand up, but she felt electricity shoot through her arm when Jason touched it. The feeling froze her in place and forced her to sit back down. “Emily…” Jason mumbled as he put a hand to her cheek to turn her face around. But Emily brushed his hand away. Jason was a bit startled at first, but came to realize there had been some changes in her since the incident like her brother said.
 
She’d never been self-conscious before, Abe had declared. She’d never had a boy interested in her, yet that didn’t seem to bother her. It never bothered her that she was ‘plain’ looking. But now she seemed so self-conscious. “Is it me?”
 
“Is what you?” Emily asked.
 
“Am I the reason you feel so…uncomfortable?”
 
Emily’s eyes grew wide as she slowly turned and looked at him. “I have to go.” She stood up. This time Jason didn’t stop her. But he stood up and hurried up behind her. He gently grabbed her elbow and turned her. “Just let me go!” Emily suddenly pleaded.
 
“Talk to me, Emily. Tell me what’s wrong?” Jason sighed. “You looked so alive at your home earlier. Now you look as if you’re escaping back into some inner shell inside. You can’t hide, Emily. You can’t!”
 
Emily shook her head. “You’re pushing me! You said you wouldn’t do that!”
 
“No, Emily. I’m not pushing you.” Jason looked down at his hat. “I think I best just go back to town.” Jason turned to leave.
 
“Jason…” Emily called quietly. Jason turned. “It’s…not you. It’s…” Emily turned from him and leaned against the tree as she began sobbing. “It’s me.”
 
Her sobbing did something to Jason. He slowly walked up behind her and gently put a hand on her shoulder. Emily’s sobbing quieted. “I…asked your brother if I could call on you…since I’ve been doing that the past few days anyhow. He told me I could but I should take it easy with your heart. I reckon I’ve already gone against his advice.”
 
Emily slowly turned. “You…you want to call on me?” Jason nodded. “But why? I mean…I’m…”
 
“You’re a beautiful woman,” Jason answered as he smiled at her. “I can see the beauty in your heart as well as on your face. What man wouldn’t want to call on you?”
 
“I’m not worthy, Jason. I…” Emily hung her head.
 
“Why? Because a man forced himself upon you and stole something from you? That’s not your fault. Why would I hold that against you?”
 
“Oh Jason, I…” Emily lowered her head. Without thinking, she pulled her hair over the scar on her face.
 
Jason stepped closer to her. He brushed her hair back and looked at the scar. “It’ll be a constant reminder to you of the dark time in your life. I’m sorry I couldn’t get rid of that. I worked so hard on healing your bruises and scars on your outside. Now I want to try to heal those on your heart.” Emily’s eyes again filled with tears. “I can’t promise I can remove every scar, but I want to take as many of them as I can.” Jason raised his eyebrows. “Will you let me? We’ll take it really slow.”
 
Emily allowed a small smile to play at the corner of her mouth. She nodded slightly. Then she and Jason turned and walked back to the house. Jason silently slipped his hand in hers and he felt some of her tension release.
 
***
As March slowly turned into April, Jason and Emily slipped into a comfortable routine. Emily worked at the boarding house, helping Mrs. Adams prepare the meals and cleaning the rooms. When her work was done, she’d quietly slip away and walk by herself to the lake where she spent so many hours as a little girl. It was hard at first, but Jason assured her it would get easier with each passing day. Emily didn’t know it, but Jason followed her the first few times to make sure no harm came to her that would set her back.
 
There were some days when Emily would slip over to the doctor’s office to assist Jason. Dr. Stevens would smile at her, happy at the love that was forming between the couple very slowly. Jason commented to Emily that she was a big help in assisting him with children who simply didn’t want to sit still for their shots; and helping him set broken legs and arms. She even went on a few house calls with him.
 
Emily and Jason ate practically every meal together. Those meals they missed together were hard for both of them. Emily would always watch for him and become a bit saddened when he didn’t come; but Mrs. Smith reminded her that Jason was a doctor, and if she was going to marry him someday she’d have to get used to such things.
 
That ‘M’ word scared Emily more than she wanted to admit. Since they started courting officially, she really hadn’t given much thought to actually having to marry him. She wasn’t sure if she could…And that thought scared her so much that she pressed it way down deep inside herself.
 
Two weeks into April, on a Saturday night, Dr. Jason Livingston stood her from the table at the boarding house and helped her with her shawl. As they walked outside, Jason led her to a waiting carriage. Emily smiled at the prospect of the two of them going on a carriage ride. She smiled even more when they stopped under the full moon by the lake. Jason turned in the carriage and looked at her. “How are you?” he asked softly as he stared into her eyes.
 
“It’s hard some days,” Emily answered honestly. “I…”
 
Jason waited, but she didn’t say more. “Talk to me,” he whispered as he took her hand and squeezed it.
 
“I enjoy our time together, Jason. And I know you’re working on healing my heart. I can feel it but…” Emily lowered her head.
 
Jason put a hand under her chin and lifted her head back up. “But what?” His voice remained soft and tender.
 
“But…I can’t understand why you think I’m beautiful when no other man ever has.”
 
“Oh.” Jason lifted a finger to touch her scar, but Emily suddenly pulled away. “Don’t do that, Emmy…” he mumbled softly. “Don’t pull away.” Emily stared at him. “This scar on your face is small, Emmy. You want to know why I think you’re beautiful?” Emily nodded. “Because I’m looking at you with my heart.” Jason lowered his head, but his hand continued to linger close to her cheek that held her scar. He raised his head back up to look into her eyes. “That first day when you opened those eyes…I saw something in them. You were so dead inside, but your eyes…they held life. They held the real you and that’s what I saw.”
 
Emily bit her lip as a tear fell from her eye. Jason moved his hand closer to the scar, and again she started to pull away. But Jason put a hand behind her neck to keep her from going too far. His finger gently touched the scar. “You ARE the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, Emmy.” Jason mumbled. “This imperfection...this scar…it will fade in time – in your eyes….if you allow it to…If you want it to…”
 
Emily closed her eyes as Jason traced the scar from top to bottom. She felt another scab fall away on her heart. There were more insecurities, and they both knew it, but Jason had promised he’d take it slow and that was a promise they both agreed to keep.
 
Jason wanted to kiss her so badly. Everything within him yearned to press his lips to hers, but he restrained himself as he simply smiled in her eyes. He could tell she wasn’t ready for that step. The memories of that horrible night were still too alive inside her. He had her heart in his hands and it scared him; but something inside him made him want to hold it for the rest of his life. “Oh Emmy….” Jason mumbled softly. “You ARE beautiful.”
 
Emily’s eyes smiled as they stared into his. The moonlight was doing something to the both of them. Jason allowed his fingers to leave the scar and touch the corner of her lips.
 
But suddenly, they heard a rider approaching them. Jason turned in his seat to see Peter McCain hurry up to the wagon. “It’s Julie! Hurry!” Peter shouted.
 
Jason called to the horses. “Hold on tight,” he ordered Emily as he called the horses to go as fast as they could.
 
When they arrived, every window in the Abe McCain house was lit up. Jason jumped down, then turned to help Emily down. He grabbed his doctor’s bag from under the seat. “Margaret’s in there with her, but she said it’s bad.”
 
Jason and Emily hurried into the house. Jason hurried into the bedroom where Julie was screaming with pains of childbirth. “Margaret, talk to me!” Jason ordered as he started taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves.
 
“She’s been in labor for hours, doctor. Julie wanted me to deliver the baby, but there’s something wrong! I don’t know what it is. She’s hurting too much.”
 
Jason nodded as he washed his hands in the basin. “Alright. Margaret, I want you to get as many lanterns in here as you can. Emily, I want you to assist me with the exam.” Jason dried his hands on the towel. He looked up to see Abe standing in the doorway. His eyes were wide with worry. “Peter, I want you to get Abe out of here. Take him for a walk. “
 
“No! I want to stay!” Abe declared. “Doc, she’s my wife.”
 
“I know, Abe. And I’ll do everything I can. I promise.” Jason laid a hand on Abe’s shoulder. “But you need to go out. Her seeing you in here worrying won’t do her any good.”
 
Peter forced his brother from the room and Jason closed the door. Jason checked the baby and shook his head. “The baby’s stuck. I’m going to have to push it up a bit than pull it out.”
 
“Jason…Julie?” Emily asked suddenly.
 
Jason sighed as he shook his head. “I’ll do my best, Emily.” He looked up at Emily. Julie had her hands on the bars of the headboard as her face was drenched in pain. Margaret came in with the last lantern. “Okay Margaret, you get on the other side of her. I’m going in. “ He called to Julie, “Julie, I’m going to try and get the baby out. You can scream as loud as you want. It’s going to hurt, but then it’ll be over.”
 
Julie nodded as she clinched her jaw. She closed her eyes and reared back on her pillow. Jason locked eyes with Emily. She gave him a small nod, giving him the confidence he needed. Then after sending up a silent prayer to God, he went to work.
 
It took some doing. Julie screamed as loud as she could as he worked at positioning the baby. He knew this was dangerous for both mother and baby; and he wished medicine was better equipped to handle such births. He’s seen many mothers die with less trouble than this, and he’d lost a few babies in his time. But everything in him wanted both mother and baby to live. Jason felt sweat pour down his face. Emily saw it too and, with her free hand, wiped the sweat from his brow. Jason positioned himself better than pulled hard.
 
Julie’s scream was enough to be heard outside. Abe and Peter looked at each other. Abe rushed toward the house, but Peter tried to restrain him. After that last scream, everything was quiet. Abe shoved his brother away and hurried inside. He heard a baby cry. Abe hurried inside the bedroom to find Margaret cleaning up the baby. Jason sat on the floor with a hand to his forehead. He was shaking terribly and crying. Emily sat right beside him with her hand on his shoulder comforting him.
 
Alarmed, Abe looked toward the bed, and was happy to see Julie weakly smiling at him. She lifted her eyes to look at her husband. “It’s a girl,” she whispered as a small smile played at her lips. “We have a beautiful little girl.”
 
“Doc?” Abe breathed his silent, desperate question.
 
Jason wiped his eyes. Emily helped him stand to his feet. He was shaky as he walked to Abe. Emily kept an arm on him to steady him. “She’ll be fine.” Jason nodded. “They’ll both be fine. “ He walked to the basin and washed his hands. After drying them, he turned and looked at Emily. “I’ll be back to finish tending to Julie. I need some air.”
 
“I’ll go with you?” Emily asked hopefully.
 
Jason patted her hand and nodded. They walked out onto the porch. Jason slowly sat down on the steps. “I never saw Dr. Stevens react like that.”
 
“I’m sorry…” Jason swallowed hard. “I…reckon I’m still wet behind the ears myself. It was a hard delivery, and I didn’t know if I could save them both. When I realized they were both okay I just felt…relief.” Jason turned and looked at Emily. “When they brought you in, you were almost dead. Dr. Stevens and I worked all night trying to keep you alive. I cried when I realized you were going to live.”
 
“It shows you have a big heart,” Emily mumbled as she sat next to him. Jason put an arm around her shoulders and laid her head on his shoulder. It felt so right to both of them to share this moment together. Jason could feel the strength returning to his own body. Finally, he kissed the top of her head. “I should go finish. You…stay right here.”
 
“No.” Emily started to stand. “I’m your nurse.”
 
“Margaret can be my nurse tonight. You stay right here.” Emily nodded and watched Jason hurry back inside.
 
By the time Jason was done, it was too late to ride back into town. Jason was given a cot in Abe’s house while Margaret and Emily went down to the main house. Jason walked the women down, then waited until Margaret, who held a big knowing smile on her face, went inside. Jason, holding more confidence that he could do so now, again traced the scar on her face as he stood outside the door. “You were wonderful tonight.”
 
“I just did as you told me to. I’ve helped with birthing before.”
 
“Oh.” Jason shook his head. “I wasn’t talking about the nursing. I was talking about…” Jason grinned as he blushed. “…before Peter interrupted us. You were allowing me inside your heart a little more.”
 
“Oh.” Emily realized that his touching her scar no longer bothered her. In fact, she felt it was an intimate gesture somehow. Jason smiled down at her. “Well…I’ll leave you now. You get a good night’s sleep.”
 
Emily nodded.  Jason allowed his finger to trail again to the corner of her lips. Emily opened her mouth as a small gasp escaped her. Jason grinned as he released her and stepped away. “Goodnight.”
 
Emily smiled as she watched him walk away.
 
***
Things seemed to suddenly get busy for Jason. Dr. Stevens was down with the flu, and his advanced age was making his recovery time rather lengthy. Emily insisted on helping Jason by caring for Dr. Stevens while Jason took over caring for the health of Enid, Oklahoma. Their times alone were few and far between for the remainder of April.
 
Dr. Stevens was recovering as May entered. Jason still wouldn’t allow him to do too much doctoring and Dr. Stevens grumbled the whole time. Finally, on Saturday night in early May, Jason surprised Emily by coming to the boarding house and knocking on her door. She opened it. Jason took up the whole, entire doorframe. “Well, if I’m going to take my girl out tonight, you should put on something a bit nicer than that!” Jason declared with a twinkle in his eye.
 
Emily looked down at her house dress. She blushed. “Well, if my beau would tell me he was taking me out in advance like a GENTLEMAN should, he wouldn’t catch me in such a shabby dress!” She found herself retorting.
 
“Oh.” Jason leaned against the doorframe and looked her up and down. “Well…a doctor doesn’t always get the advantage of giving advanced notice.” He smiled at her as he bent down and picked up a box. “Put this on, then meet me at the hotel dining room across the street.”
 
Emily lifted the lid from the box. “Jason, you…” she lifted her head, but he was gone.
 
Jason had requested a small table in the back of the hotel earlier. He ordered the lemon chicken with baby carrots and broccoli for both of them, after remembering Emily telling him it was her favorite meal at the hotel. He waited nervously for her to arrive.
 
When he heard the noise in the hotel suddenly decrease, Jason lifted his head to see Emily standing in the doorway. The pink dress he had purchased at the dress shop was a perfect fit. It brought out the beauty of her face perfectly. Jason slowly stood and whistled as she came closer. He twirled his finger around, indicating for her to turn around for him. Emily blushed and shook her head. “I can’t do that!”
 
“Yes you can. Now come on…show me.” Jason smiled as Emily slowly turned to let him get the full effect of his good deed. Jason nodded his approval. He came toward her and rested a hand on her scarred cheek. “Emily McCain, you are stunning…” he mumbled.
 
Emily sat down. She gasped when she saw the food in front of her already. “Why this romantic gesture?” Emily asked as she lifted a suspicious eyebrow.
 
“Well…” Jason cleared his throat as he took her hand. “I’ve been so busy lately and we’ve had such little time to spend together that…I just felt I owed something to you to make it up.”
 
Emily shook her head. “You didn’t have to. I understand.”
 
“Yeah?” Jason pulled his lips out into a mock pout. “I sure don’t! I’ve wanted to be alone with you now for two weeks!”
 
Emily blushed at all the attention he was giving her. He bowed his head and blessed the food before they started eating. “So…”Emily started as they ate. “You think a meal at the hotel dining room and a new dress will make up for two weeks of eating alone and spending my evenings alone and…”
 
Jason laughed. “No, my dear. After dinner we’re taking the buggy back down to the lake. Then I have a nice blanket that we can sit on and look at the stars.”
 
Emily suddenly averted her eyes from him. The blanket sounded so…intimate. She blushed at the thought. “Emily?” Emily lifted her eyes to look at him. “I’m not going to press you, honey. I promised I’d take things slow. And I will.”
 
Emily nodded, but remained quiet. Jason allowed her to her thoughts for only a moment. “Talk to me.”
 
“About what?”
 
“That insecurity in your eyes. What’s it all about this time?” Emily heard the sternness in his voice. She knew she had to tell him.
 
“Well I…My heart’s having a battle, I think.”
 
“Oh?” Jason sat down his fork and took her hand. “Against good and evil?” Emily nodded. “You’re afraid to fall in love with me?” Emily blushed. That was his answer. “Why?”
 
“I…I don’t know…”
 
“Oh, but I think you do, Emily. I think you know exactly why.” Jason touched her cheek, forcing her to look at him. “Emily, only time and patience will help you. And I have my whole lifetime. I understand what happened to you two months ago was horrible. I haven’t tried to kiss you yet, have I?”
 
Emily blushed again as she smiled. “No. And part of my heart’s…” She stopped, unable to finish her thought.
 
“…is disappointed?” Jason coaxed. Emily nodded. “But part of your heart is glad because you remember that night?” Emily nodded again. “Emmy, when we first started dining together, you tensed every time I tried to touch you. You’ve let me touch your scar and you seem to enjoy it now. And that night…when I traced your lip you…”
 
“No…” Emily suddenly straightened. “I don’t want to talk about this! It’s embarrassing.”
 
Jason held tight to her wrist and pulled her back down so he could talk to her in private. “Oh Emmy…I wish I could give you a normal courtship where we didn’t talk about such things…where we could just silently fall in love and…But we don’t have that because that man stole something from you. I’m going to help you get that back, Emmy. I promise you, someday you’re going to have it back.”
 
“But Jason, you can’t…I…”
 
“Maybe not physically…But emotionally and…In your heart, you can. I promise you if you’ll just allow me to…I’ll help you get it back.”
 
Emily felt her eyes fill with tears. “Jason…I’ve never met a man like you before. I never knew they existed.”
 
“Oh, hopefully there’s only one of me.” Jason chuckled softly. “I don’t want any competition.”
 
Emily looked down at her plate. “I don’t think I could eat another bite. I think I’m ready for that buggy ride now.”
 
Jason’s eyes sparkled as he stood from the table. He held out his arm to her. As they walked out, the diners stared at the beauty the couple suddenly possessed. They found it truly amazing.
 
***
 
The couple was quiet as Jason drove the buggy slowly out to the lake. Unlike two weeks ago, the moon tonight was only a sliver, which cast a darkness on the couple. A lit lantern swung from the bar on the buggy which gave just a little light. Jason turned and looked at Emily as they approached their destination. “Did I tell you tonight…just how beautiful you look?”
 
Emily smiled. “I believe you did, but I guess I could stand to hear it again.”
 
The buggy stopped. Jason slowly climbed from the buggy and put his hands around her waist to swing her down. He turned and got the blanket then took her hand and led her to the water. They worked together on spreading the blanket out. Jason wasted no time plopping down, but Emily hesitated, again feeling very self-conscious. Jason lifted his arm up and grabbed her hand. “Don’t be shy, beautiful.” He tugged on her hand. Emily slowly sat down on the blanket. She stared out over the water. “Boy…you sure are making me work tonight, aren’t you?”
 
Emily blushed as she lowered her head. Jason sat up beside her and pushed the hair back from her face. “So…how have you been, beautiful?”
 
“Okay,” Emily answered with a blush.
 
“Just okay?” Jason grinned. “Oh right…you’ve been feeling neglected. Well, I’m here now.” Emily turned and smiled at him. “How’s your family?”
 
“They’re all good. Laura’s excited about school being over. Julie and Abe are adjusting to their daughter, Rachel. They were in church last Sunday.”
 
“Oh yeah?” Jason smoothed her hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
 
“Oh, I’m sure important business kept you away…” Emily hinted.
 
“Yes.” Jason nodded as he grinned at her. “I wouldn’t miss church unless I had good cause to. I had a call in the town fifteen miles from here. They don’t have a doctor.”
 
“You don’t have to tell me. I…” Jason pressed a finger to her lips to hush her.
 
They grew quiet as they looked up into the sky. Jason slowly laid down then tugged at Emily’s hand to lay down beside him. “The stars…they hold a lot of magic in them.”
 
“Magic?” Emily asked from beside him. Jason kept his distance while they laid beside each other. “What kind of magic?”
 
“I don’t know exactly…You see, they say that if you stare at the stars long enough you start seeing pictures. And the amazing thing is that people in China see the same thing….the same stars…”
 
“Hm…” Emily grinned as she turned and looked at him in the darkness. “My brother said they’re called constellations.”
 
“Oh.” Jason frowned. “And here I thought I could teach you something tonight.”
 
Emily sat up. Jason slowly sat up beside her. “You can, Jason. You’ve taught me so much. You’ve taught me how to believe in myself again.”
 
“I’ve still a lot of work to do,” Jason mumbled as he again traced her scar. Emily lifted her eyes to him. “I’ve something to tell you, Emily.” Jason hesitated. “Dr. Stevens is retiring.”
 
Emily gasped. “What?”
 
“This last bout with the flu has done him in. He’s almost seventy years old, and he just doesn’t think he has the strength to keep working at delivering babies and going here and there. He hired me with the intention to keep working, but…he feels that he just can’t handle the work anymore. I’m taking over his practice.”
 
“Oh. So you’re going to be pretty busy from here on out I suppose.”
 
Jason smiled. “You know, I can’t help but to be happy you’re so upset about that.” Emily lifted her eyebrows in silent question. “Well…it does a man’s confidence good to know that…well, that you will miss me.” Jason cleared his throat. “I’ve been thinking on something.”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Well…I know that…that you’re used to farming and such, but I was wondering if you ever gave thought to…being a nurse.” Jason grinned. “I’m being a bit selfish here. I don’t want to go days without seeing you and I really could use you to help me. It means Mrs. Smith  would have to find someone else to work her boarding house since you’ll be helping me, I’ll pay for your room and board.”
 
“Oh no!” Emily shook her head. “It’s not your…”
 
“Don’t do that, Emily. You must know by now how I feel about you. That I…” Jason touched her lips with his fingers. He traced the lining of them as his voice grew husky. “That I love you.”
 
“You…” Emily whispered softly. Her eyes grew wide.
 
“I’ve fallen in love with you, Emily McCain. I’m helplessly in love with you and can’t stand to think of my life without you.”
 
“Oh Jason…” Emily breathed. She felt her heart swell, because he voiced the words she wanted to say. She swallowed hard as her eyes focused on his mouth. “I…I love you…too.”
 
“Do you?” Jason asked breathlessly. Emily nodded. Jason wanted so badly to kiss her, but he wasn’t going to pressure her. He didn’t need to worry about that, because Emily slowly lifted her hand and traced his cheek. Then she moved her lips apart and came towards him. Jason moved his face towards her. Their lips met in the middle and they shared a soft kiss.
 
The kiss said everything their lips couldn’t. Their hearts spoke through that kiss. When their lips parted, Emily whispered, “I…I need you, Jason. I’ve known it for a long time.”
 
“And…I need you, Emmy.”
 
***
 
Emily was pleased when Jason came by for her for church the next morning. He agreed to go with her to her family’s for Sunday dinner, leaving word in town of where he’d be just in case he was needed. Jason announced to her family the proposition he’d made with Emily the day before. The family was excited to see that Emily was choosing such a path for herself.
 
Later that day, Jason went to seek Mrs. Smith out and explain the new arrangement with her. Emily started to argue that she would pay her own room and board, but Jason was quite adamant on the way he wanted it to be. He would be paying her for her nursing duties, and decided he would also buy her some pretty dresses and such for her to wear. At first, Emily protested, but Jason told her he loved to see her in them. So in time she gave in and allowed him to have fun.
 
As May grew older, Emily and Jason became the talk of the town. They complimented each other so well, and during the day one couldn’t be seen without the other. Emily and Jason would eat breakfast together, unless Jason had an early morning caller, then she’d stay in the office and work on his records, assisting him when a patient arrived. During the daytime, she would ride with him on his rounds unless he feared there was danger lurking by. In those instances, Emily argued that he shouldn’t go alone. Jason merely chuckled and told her he would be fine – she shouldn’t worry about him so much.
 
They would reserve Saturday nights to their buggy rides. Throughout June, they kept this routine up. Their hearts began to swell with the love they had for each other and everyone wondered when Jason would finally propose to Emily and make her his wife.
 
But Jason could see the restraint in Emily’s eyes. She still didn’t have back what she needed for their marriage. Jason even wondered if a mere proposal would send her running far away from him. He began looking at rings at the jewelers when she wasn’t around, and one day he finally purchased one, deciding the time was right.
 
In early-July, Jason drove the buggy again out by the lake. When they were seated on the blanket, Jason bent and kissed her softly on the lips. Emily immediately felt the tension in the kiss. “Jason?”
 
Jason swallowed hard as he slowly lifted a box from his pocket. He knew it was now or never. All day, he’d been staring at his ugly face in the mirror, trying to get the words he wanted to say perfect. But as he got on one knee in front of her, his carefully rehearsed speech was forgotten. “Emily…” He paused as her questioning eyes clouded. He cleared his throat and again tried to speak. “Emily, I…” He rolled his eyes. “Oh drat it! I had a whole speech ready for you. Emily, I can’t tell you the changes you’ve made in my life. The first day I looked into your sad eyes, I knew that you were the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I…”
 
Emily started to speak, but Jason held up a hand. “Please…just let me get this out, Emmy.” Jason cleared his throat. “Honey, I didn’t think I had a chance with you at first, and I was afraid that you were leaning on me for all the wrong reasons. But over the months I’ve come to realize that you are the woman I want to spend the rest of my days with. And I was thinking that I…Well, that I had to wait years before I could actually ask you for such a thing, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Because together, we can overcome what…”
 
“JASON!” Emily suddenly stopped him. Jason stopped and stared at her. “If you’ll stop you’re babbling and just ask the question, I’ll give you an answer!”
 
“Will I like your answer?” Jason suddenly wondered.
 
Emily smiled. “Just ask the question, then you’ll find out.”
 
“Oh.” Jason opened his hand to reveal the ring. Then he took her hand. “Emily McCain, will you be my wife?”
 
Emily stared at the ring he slipped on her finger. Emily started crying. “Yes, Jason! Yes!” They kissed passionately as they sealed the promise. Emily pulled away from him. “But Jason, there’s something you should know. I…”
 
Jason shook his head. “We’ll take it slow like we have everything else. I want to marry you, Emily.  The rest will come in your time.” He chuckled. “Hey…it only took something like two months to get you to kiss me, so the rest can wait.”
 
“You sure?” Jason nodded. “How soon do you want to marry me?”
 
“Tomorrow?” Jason asked.
 
Emily laughed. “Jason Livingston, now if I’m going to be a doctor’s wife, we’re going to have to have a big wedding! I mean, I want it all!” Then she put a hand to her mouth. “Only…I don’t have that much money saved up and I can’t ask my family to…”
 
“We’ll pay for this wedding on our own!” Jason declared.
 
“Oh, but tradition…”
 
Jason laughed. “I think we can throw tradition out the window, Emmy. What in our courtship has been tradition?”
 
“Speaking of tradition…Jason…have you…asked Abe?”
 
“Abe?” Jason chuckled. “Oh my…I reckon I was so concerned about what you’d say that I didn’t even think…” Jason looked down at the ring. “Well, I guess I’ll have to take it back for now.”
 
“Oh no you don’t, Jason Livingston!” Emily declared. “You can ask him…tomorrow!”
 
“What about the ring?” Jason asked. “Your brothers see that ring on your finger and they’ll nail my hide to the barn.”
 
Emily smiled. “I’ll take the ring off and put it in my pocket, but the minute you step outside with Abe, I’m putting it back on.”
 
The next morning, Jason again met Emily and walked her to church. He reminded her to slip the ring into her pocket before they got into the churchyard, and she did so without incident. Emily and Jason sat together. As they sang the songs, their voices mixed together in a beautiful harmony. The preacher seemed to preach for a long time, however. But Jason figured that it just seemed long because he was ready to get the dirty deed over with.
 
It wasn’t until after they finished eating, this week with the Gibbs family there as well, that Emily lifted her eyebrows to Jason and motioned toward Abraham. Jason cleared his throat in his fist as he stood up. “Uh…Mr. McCain…I mean…Abe, can I see you outside?”
 
Somehow, Emily suspected that Abe had a notion what the conversation was about, because before she realized what was happening, Jeremiah and Peter also stood and hurried out. The women all gathered around Emily and asked her what the conversation was about. Emily looked toward the Gibbs’ men and waited for them to walk outside. Then she pulled the ring from her pocket.
 
Jason swallowed hard as he stood in front of the three McCain brothers. He thought he would just have to propose to Abe…not to all three. He felt worse then a poor man in front of a firing squad. That was less painful, he was sure. Jason put his hands in his back pockets as the men all looked at him. “Well?” Abe asked as he folded his arms.
 
Jason cleared his throat as he tried to find the best way to ask the question. He paused in his task and took out a kerchief to wipe his forehead. “Uh…Mr. McCain…and uh…all…I would like to ask…”
 
Suddenly, squealing came from inside the house. Jason turned as his eyes grew wide. All three brothers hurried toward the house. When they got inside, they found Emily holding up her hand as a jewel sparkled on her finger. Jason groaned. “Oh Emmy! You were supposed to wait until AFTER I asked him!”
 
Emily blushed as her brothers glared at her. She felt as If they all three were about to bend her over their knee. “I’m sorry, Jason. I…”
 
“Now, would you like to ask us?” Abe asked as he turned and gave Jason a hard stare.
 
Emily hurried up to her poor beau who looked as if he was about to croak from embarrassment. “Now Abraham McCain, you stop that!” Emily laced her arm through Jason’s. “Jason was just saying last night that nothing about this courtship was normal! He has helped me overcome a horrid experience, and I…”
 
“But I still expect him to ask my permission!” Abe declared as he folded his arms and shook his head.
 
“Now just a minute, Abraham McCain!” Julie rushed forward with baby Rachel in her arms. “If you think back to your own proposal, there was nothing normal about it! You never DID ask my father for permission!”
 
“Well yeah, but that was a little different! After all…” Abe started.
 
“After all…If Jason asks you, what would you say?” Julie asked as she stood in front of her husband.
 
“Oh uh…” Abe turned and looked at Jason. He held out his hand. “You have my blessing.”
 
Emily smiled. “Oh Abe…” She kissed her brother’s bearded cheek. “Abe, he makes me so happy! I just love him so much.”
 
Jason cleared his throat. “Uh…can I speak to you, sir? Outside?” Jason looked at Peter and Jeremiah. “Alone?”
 
Abe chuckled and motioned for Jason to go outside. Emily folded her arms. “Now what?”
 
***
 
Jason waited until he and Abe were seated comfortable on a bench in the barn. Jason cleared his throat. “Abe, I love your sister very much. It’s difficult to explain…to talk about this with her brother but I’m aware of Emily’s…insecurities.
 
“Insecurities?” Abe questioned.
 
“Yes. Uh…” Jason cleared his throat. “I’ve had to move slow with her…both emotionally and physically. It was only a few weeks ago that she felt comfortable enough to uh…kiss…”
 
Abe smiled. “I understand your being uncomfortable. I reckon it is hard for us men to talk about this stuff.”
 
“Yes. Especially with her older brother.” Jason cleared his throat. “Now…I know Emily’s been through a lot, and I just want you to know that I’m not going to pressure her in any way. She still has healing to do, and I’m afraid some of the healing will have to take place…”
 
Abe nodded. “I understand being intimate will be difficult for her. And you’re right. It’s something that will have to be resolved between the two of you after marriage. I trust you completely with my sister, Jason. She loves you and you love her. You’ve taken such good care of her. I know she’ll survive.”
 
“Well…I may need some advice.”
 
“No you won’t.” Abraham shook his head. “Jason, you are much more tender with Emily than I ever was with my wife. My wife’s always accused me of being a little rough and I guess I’m a bit of a bear. I’ve watched you, and I think you will do just fine.” Abe shook his hand.
 
The two men stood and went back to the house to rejoin the family.
 
***
The next two months were a flurry of activity. Jason allowed Emily to do whatever she wanted with the wedding. His only request was that they were married in the church. Emily met with her sisters and Margaret often to decide just how to decorate the church. Margaret agreed to make the wedding cake. And then there was the discussion of the dress.
 
Jason walked into the clinic one day to hear the tail end of the conversation Emily was having with Julie. “I just don’t think I can wear white. It…”
 
And that’s as far as it had gotten. The next thing Emily knew, Jason had grabbed her arm and dragged her to the back of the clinic. He sat her firmly down in a chair and sat in front of her. Then he shook a stern finger at her. “Now see here, young lady! As far as I’m concerned, you are as pure and innocent as the day you are born and the next time I hear anything opposite come out of your mouth, I’ll personally bend you over my knee and whip you!” And with the tone in his voice, Emily knew he would do just that.
 
The date was set for September 17, 1864 at ten o’clock in the morning. The women worked all week in getting the church ready. They gave the men strict orders on not only the church arrangements, but also on decorating the McCain farm for a reception. Even Samuel Gibbs came to help with the preparations. All week, Jason watched Emily closely. He had noticed a change in her the Saturday before, and it seemed to grow as the date approached. On Thursday night before the wedding, Jason decided to confront her.
 
Emily wondered where they were going as Jason took her hand and led her toward his clinic. When they were inside with the door closed, Jason sat her down than sat down himself.  “Talk to me, honey.”
 
Emily averted her eyes, suddenly feeling uncomfortable with the conversation. Jason stayed quiet and waited for her to talk. “I’m scared,” Emily finally admitted.
 
“Why?”
 
“Well, I…” Emily sighed as she stood and walked to the window. “I’m afraid of…of…disappointing you?”
 
“Are you talking about our marriage bed?” Emily didn’t answer. “Because if that’s what you’re talking about, it’s not important to me.”
 
“It’s part of a marriage, Jason.”
 
“Yes.” Jason stepped up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “You are right, beautiful. It is part of a marriage, and I guess I do expect it. But I’ve told you already that it will happen when you’re ready.” Jason heard Emily sniff. “Come here.” He turned her around and took her in his arms. Holding her close, he allowed her to cry.
 
He pulled her away and stared into her eyes. “Emily…this…” Jason traced the scar on her cheek. “This is the only thing that remains of what happened to you. I told you that man stole something precious from you. I shouldn’t have said that because he didn’t. What you have to give me on the night you’re ready to give it to me…It’s still there. It’s inside you, and no man can take that from you. What that man did was hurtful and you’ll never forget it, but it brought us together. You and I will be husband and wife. And when we share our love with each other that first time, you’ll know that…well, that you still have it to give to me.” Jason sighed. “Oh sweetie...I wish I could explain it to you better…”
 
Emily shook her head. “No. You don’t have to. I think I know what you’re saying.”
 
Nothing more was said as they shared an intimate kiss.
 
***
Emily was nervous that morning as she stared into the mirror and adjusted her wedding dress. She shed some tears as Julie and Tiffany hurried in. When Julie asked her what the trouble was, Emily sniffed. “I wish my mother was here.”
 
Julie smiled as she held out a necklace to her. “It’s the one I wore on my wedding day.” Emily proudly put it on.
 
Tiffany held up her garter and giggled. “And I wore this on my wedding day.” Emily blushed, but Tiffany shook her head. “No one will know you have it on.”
 
Em giggled as she came forward. She reached up and stuck another comb in Emily’s hair. “And this is from me.”
 
Julie hugged Emily. “I want you to know that we will all be there with you in our hearts. I know you have fears about things that come after the wedding, and I sense that you and Jason have discussed it. I’ll only say one thing about the wedding night, Emily. It is what it is…nothing more.”
 
The door opened. Abe stuck his head in. “They’re ready. Jason’s wondering what the hang up is. He’s missing a bride!”
 
“Oh, you men are all alike!” Julie declared as she pushed her husband out the door and shut it. She turned back to Emily. “You just take your time. Forget that brother of yours!”
 
Emily turned and looked at the mirror. Her eyes focused on her scar. She leaned in to take a better look at it. “He was right. It did fade…” She mumbled as she smiled.
 
“What?”
 
Emily shook her head. “I think I’m ready.”
 
As Julie and Em lifted Emily’s long train, Margaret and Tiffany walked in front of her. The girls smiled as they made their way to the front. Then the organ sounded the announcement that the bride was about to come in. “Are you ready, sis?” Abe whispered in her ear as she wrapped her arm through his.
 
“I wish Mama and Papa were here to see this,” Emily mumbled.
 
“I know, honey. So do I.” Abe kissed her cheek. “But you’ll have to settle with me.”
 
Emily smiled as they stepped into the church. “That’s not so bad. You’re a pretty nice guy…for a brother.”
 
Abe chuckled as the guests stood. Emily felt nervous as Abe led her up front. She stepped up onto the platform and smiled into Jason’s eyes. Jason took her hands in his as Margaret took her bouquet. “Take good care of her.” Jason nodded as Abe went to sit down.
 
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony Who gives this woman away to be married?”
 
Abe stood. “Her brothers and I do.”
 
There were some chuckles from the audience. Reverend Gentry delivered the ceremony without incident. The couple exchanged rings. Finally, Reverend Gentry announced, “By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” He paused as Jason wiped a tear from Emily’s cheek. “You may kiss the bride.”
 
Jason reached his hand up and traced the scar on her cheek. “Today, the scar is gone.” He kissed it before moving his lips to hers. They enjoyed a long kiss as Jason allowed his arms to slide around her. The guests cheered and stood to their feet, happy that the couple were man and wife.
 
Julie and Em lifted Emily’s train and helped her to the waiting buggy. Rice was thrown as Jason lifted her up into the buggy. When they were seated, Jason wrapped his arms around Emily and kissed her again. After parting, Emily threw her bouquet over her head. She heard a cheer and turned to see Margaret holding it. “It had to be you!” Emily declared.
 
“I hope so!” Margaret hollered at her friend. “You know what they say about always a bridesmaid…”
 
“If Luke doesn’t come back and marry you, I’ll give him a piece of my mind!” Emily wrapped her arm through Jason’s as the rode off toward the clinic.
 
Jason stopped the buggy and hopped down. He lifted Emily from the buggy and carried her over the threshold and into their new home. They would live in the cottage behind the clinic until they were able to build a bigger home. Neither of them were in too much of a hurry for that to happen.
 
Jason sat her down and kissed her again. “Well, Mrs. Livingston…We have a reception to get to. Then we’ll be leaving town for a few days.”
 
“Leaving town?” Emily stared at him. “Where to?”
 
“That…my beautiful bride…is for me to know and you to find out.” Jason smiled as he picked her up and carried her toward their bedroom. “It’s our honeymoon.” After setting her down in the bedroom, he closed the door and waited outside for her to change. Then they went to the reception where there was cake, punch, and lots of dancing.
 
***
They would leave for Oklahoma City first thing in the morning. Emily turned as Jason closed the door to the cottage. She suddenly felt very nervous as he took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. Jason laid her on the bed as he continued to give her kisses on her cheeks and lips. Then he stopped. “I told you I wouldn’t push you, and I won’t. You just tell me when to stop.”
 
Emily shook as they continued to kiss. She found herself unbuttoning his shirt as they lay together on top of the bed. Jason took his shirt off, his lips never leaving hers. Emily pushed him away a bit and stared at his chest. She lifted a hand and ran it down his chest. She enjoyed the feel of his strong muscles under her hands. Jason looked into her eyes. They were filled with desire. He slowly allowed his lips to travel down her neck. Emily allowed herself to sigh as he began unbuttoning her shirt. She took his hands and pushed them away. Jason feared that was as far as she was willing to go.
 
But Emily stood beside the bed and slipped her clothes off. “Are you sure?” Jason whispered as she took his hands and laid them on her bare skin. Emily nodded as she closed her eyes. Jason stood and kissed her. Her body pressed against him as she wrapped her arms around him and ran her hands up and down his back.
 
He allowed her to slip down onto the bed and Emily slid under the covers. Jason finished undressing and joined her. He caressed her body as they kissed. Jason took his time that night, not getting into any hurry as their kisses became more intense, and their hands caressed harder against the other’s skin. Emily moaned, announcing she was ready to make love to him.
 
Jason lifted, but paused when he saw tears on her cheeks. “Emily?” he questioned as he kissed her tears.
 
“Oh Jason…” Emily breathed. “It’s not what you think. Jason, I was so afraid of this moment, but you were right. That man took nothing from me. I want to give it to you right now. That’s why I’m crying. I’m so happy that I can…”
 
She didn’t finish her sentence as he covered her mouth with his. Soon, they were making love. Emily felt the last scab break away from her heart as Jason made love to her. In time, they laid on their side hugging. Jason caressed the scar on her cheek as she fell asleep.
 
Learning to live again had been on the beginning of her journey, but it’s one that Jason would do all over again if he had to. After one more gentle kiss on her cheek, Jason laid back and fell asleep.

The Years Before — Death of a Lieutenant

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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