The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 1 - The Announcement
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Lucas Mark McCain, now eighteen years old, stopped his horse at the top of the hill and looked down toward the farm he had lived on his whole life. He briefly watched his father working out in the fields. Pushing the plow was something that came hard for him and the doctor had strongly recommended he no longer do such work, but Marcus wasn’t the sort of man who could settle back in a rocking chair, allowing others to do what was rightfully his responsibility. No, he would continue to plow because that’s all he knew, and if he died doing it, then it was God’s wish.
 
Marcus had four fine sons. At 26, the head strong and responsible Abraham had been married to Julie for nearly three years. Their son, Charlie was one and their second child would be welcomed in only a few months. Abraham had taken much of the decision making responsibilities from his father when Marcus had grown ill two years ago. And, much to Lucas’s disappointment, part of that responsibility was keeping a strong hand on him.
 
Jeremiah was the second oldest son. He was 24 years old and was really the mild one of the bunch. He enjoyed making peace among the various family members and held tighter to the Good Book than any of the other brothers. He went to church every Sunday, with a girl named Emily on his arm. The McCain’s were waiting for a marriage announcement from the happy couple.
 
Peter was third in line. At the age of 20, he enjoyed a good visit to the saloon on Friday and Saturday night; and at times he was forced to go to church on Sunday. But, he was responsible and pulled his own weight around the ranch, so Abraham and Marcus simply overlooked his drinking and chalked it up to sowing wild oats.
 
Lucas, of course, was the baby brother of the four and they let him know that every chance they got. Lucas McCain was “wild” and “stubborn as a mule,” as his brothers put it. He just wanted to do his own thing; and unlike his brothers, becoming a farmer wasn’t on his list of things to do at all. At the age of 18, he was quite ready to make his own decision but he was treated like he was still a child at times. Though he could out-shoot all his brothers in a rifle contest, they still insisted he was too young to live on his own.
 
Marcus and Ruth had two daughters. Emily was 17 years old and very loving toward everyone. She and Jeremiah were very close in personality in that they simply wanted to keep the peace. Emily made it her mission in life to worry about everybody, and she did all the time. She always tried to keep her chin up no matter what the problem was. The baby of the family was Laura. At seven years old, she was just beginning to develop a personality, but Lucas was her favorite brother and she enjoyed following him around wherever he went.
 
Lucas looked toward the house again and watched as his mother took clothes off the line. She no longer walked well. The years had been hard on her, and though she was only fifty years old, she looked twenty years older. Lucas worried what would become of her when his father died.
 
Lucas looked down at the papers in his hands. He had just that day finally come to a decision that would affect every member of his family. He knew it was the right decision, but he didn’t relish telling anyone about it. But staying quiet was impossible. He closed his eyes with a sigh. He would have to find a way to break the news to his family, and he knew there would be disappointment at his announcement.
 
Lucas patted his horse. “Well, Thunder, I reckon we can’t put it off any longer.” Lightly, he tapped Thunder’s flank as he moved forward and rode into the farm. After dismounting Thunder, he led him into the barn and unsaddled him without even stopping to greet anyone. He knew he had responsibilities at the farm he’d neglected, and he was in trouble.
 
Lucas prayed that no one would come to the barn to question him, but Peter walked in right behind him. “Where have you been all day?” he questioned in a calm tone of voice.
 
Lucas didn’t look up as he spoke. “In town.” He busied himself with brushing Thunder’s coat.
 
“What were you doing in town?” Peter asked then. His voice held a touch of accusation.
 
Lucas paused in his task. “I believe that’s my business,” he answered gruffly.  As he started brushing again, he heard Peter suck in his breath. Lucas lifted his head. “I’m…sorry. It’s been a long day.”
 
Peter nodded. “I’m afraid it’s only going to get longer,” he announced. “Pa’s been looking for ya. He said something about you planting the potatoes today?” Peter raised his eyebrows.
 
Lucas slowly closed his eyes in regret. “Oh! Dab…” He tapped his fist on the post. “I forgot!” Lucas turned and looked at his brother. “Is he really riled?”
 
Peter nodded. “He…made a few choice comments when Ma wasn’t around. None of them sounded too promising.”
 
Lucas patted his horse as he sat down the brush. He turned to see Abraham standing in the doorway. “Oh no,” Lucas groaned. He knew he was in trouble, but from the look of his oldest brother, he was in more trouble than he ever imagined. Abraham stood there with his arms crossed and his legs spread apart. Lucas could tell he was in the yelling stance.
 
Peter turned and looked at the oldest McCain brother. “Out!” Abraham ordered as he jabbed a thumb over his shoulder and glared at Peter.
 
“Right.” Peter turned and looked at Lucas. “Good luck, little brother.” Lucas just raised his eyebrow at him. Then he watched as Peter hurried out of the barn.
 
Lucas sighed as he busied himself with the harnesses. He heard the door to the barn close. That meant only one thing: Abraham was going to yell, and the things he yelled weren’t things he wanted the other family members to hear. Lucas stared at his brother as Abraham started walking toward him. Lucas could feel Abraham’s eyes on him as he began glaring angrily at him. Lucas took a deep breath of air and slowly let it out. “Luke, you are 18 years old now! That is plenty old enough to…” he started.
 
Lucas whirled around and stared hard at his brother. “Abe, I’ve had a bad day and…”
 
“And you will listen to what I tell you or get a smack in the jaw!” Abraham boomed.
 
“Yes sir,” Lucas said quietly.
 
“Now…” Abraham folded his arms. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing all day, baby brother, but if you were at some saloon I’ll guarantee you that you’ll get the lickin’ of your life…if Pa don’t do it, then I WILL!”
 
“Oh, I was at the Circle-Q, but I wasn’t drinking!” Lucas answered. “I was at a meeting.”
 
Lucas lifted his eyes and looked into his brother’s. His brother was 8 years older than him and had always been bossy. Since he married, his father turned a lot of the “talking’s” over to him, and quite frankly, Lucas would prefer getting talked to and licked by his father than by Abraham who seemed to be much harsher with him. “What kind of meeting?” Abraham asked then.
 
“It’s…” Lucas turned away. “…personal.” He knew he didn’t want to see the look of anger cross his eldest brother’s face.
 
Sure enough, Abraham exploded, just like Lucas thought he would. “What do you mean it’s personal?” Abraham’s voice boomed so loud that the barn shook from his echo. He waited, but Lucas never answered. He just stood with his back to his brother. Abraham reached out and grabbed his arm. He spun him around as he demanded, “You answer me, boy!”
 
Lucas saw the warning in his brother’s eyes. He didn’t quite like the fact that he was actually afraid of his brother, but he was. His brother had whipped him before, and he wouldn’t stop today. “I’m not a boy!” then taking a deep breath, he said “Look…Abe…”  Lucas started, but he stopped knowing that his answer would only get him into even more trouble. He ran a hand through his hair as he became even more frustrated. “I want to get the McCain and Gibbs families together before I say anything. Now, we’re having supper at the Gibbs’ tomorrow night. I’ll make the announcement then.”
 
The Gibbs had a ranch a few miles from their house. Samuel Gibbs and Marcus McCain were best friends growing up, and they had stayed close all these years. They were more like families than friends. The families shared everything together. Holidays were spent at the Gibbs home, and every Saturday night the Families would get all cleaned up then gather together at one of the homes for a night of celebration.
 
Abraham cocked his head to one side as he slowly looked Lucas up and down. He lifted his hand and scratched his beard as he studied his brother, but the scowl never left his face, and his eyes still held anger. When he finally spoke, Lucas could tell he wasn’t taking him seriously. “What…sort of announcement? You getting married or something?”
 
The sarcasm in his brother’s voice irritated Lucas down deep inside. He put his hands on his own hips then glared at his brother as he clinched his jaw. “Of course not!” Lucas answered coldly.
 
Abraham gave him a firm nod. “Good! Because I’d hate for Pa to get all riled up. You know how bad his heart is.” Lucas didn’t need to be reminded. The doctor’s news that his father’s heart was getting worse with all his hard work had made his decision even harder. Lucas narrowed his eyes at his brother as Abraham crossed his arms. “Which brings me back to the reason for my visit.” He paused only for a moment, then asked, “Where have you been? Pa’s been asking you to plant the potatoes now for a week!”
 
“What? Did one of my brothers run over to tell on me or something?” If he expected an answer to that question, he was disappointed, because all he got was a stern look. Lucas shook his head. “I’ll get to it!” He declared as he started to brush past his brother. Abraham grabbed his arm and asked him when. “I said I’ll get to it!” Lucas yelled. He hated being treated like a child.
 
“Now!” Abraham ordered.
 
“Later!” Lucas answered defiantly.
 
Abraham grabbed tighter to Lucas’s arm. There was a warning in his brother’s eyes as he clinched his fist to his side. “No, Luke! NOW!”
 
The two brothers stood glaring at each other. They both had hands on their hips and fire in their eyes. Both brothers were too much alike. They were both head-strong and stubborn as they came. Over the years, Abraham had enjoyed being the oldest brother. Lucas had always been the baby brother and Abraham expected a lot out of him. When his father grew ill two years ago, his brother’s “older than you” attitude had increased immensely. Lucas loved his brother and looked up to him, but at the moment he knew his brother was wrong in treating him this way. Abraham had a few years on Lucas and was stronger than him. Lucas knew this and wasn’t looking forward to the whipping his brother was no doubt about to hand out.
 
“Luke!” Both brothers turned to see their father’s angry stance in the doorway. At 6’4” tall, their father was only a hair shorter than both boys. Marcus crossed his arms as he slowly walked up to the boys. His angry eyes looked at Abraham, then Lucas. His eyes settled on Lucas’s, and they ordered him not to look away from him. As his gaze burned into Lucas’s, he spoke to Abraham softly, but sternly. “Abraham, out. I want to talk to your brother alone.” Lucas heard the disappointment in his father’s voice.
 
“Pa, let me handle him. I…” Abraham started angrily.
 
But sick or not, Marcus was still the head of his family, and he still held the final word. His voice and eyes had not been weakened in the least. As he glared at his eldest son, his eyes held warning and when he spoke, his voice was hard as steel. “I said out!” Marcus pointed toward the door.
 
Lucas did get just a tad bit of enjoyment in watching his brother humbled. He could tell Abraham didn’t appreciate in the least being bossed in front of him that way. “Yes sir.” Abraham’s voice spoke quietly as he turned and walked out.
 
Lucas closed his eyes and waited for his father to start yelling. He knew he’d get a lot of the same he’d just gotten from his brother. Sure enough, when Lucas opened his eyes, his father’s angry expression darkened even more as he started walking around Lucas in a circle. That was a sure sign of a stern and angry lecture.
 
After circling him a few times, Marcus stopped and stood directly in front of Lucas. Marcus’s face was merely inches from his son’s. Lucas knew better than to move. His father expected him to hold eye contact. “I have a few things to say to you, boy!” His father’s words came out slow and cold.
 
Lucas couldn’t stand the disappointment he heard in father’s voice. He wanted to try to explain. If only he could get his family to understand him! “Pa, I…” Lucas started.
 
Markus raised his hand in front of him, indicating him to stop speaking. Then through clinched teeth, he said, “And you will be silent until I’m done!” Lucas closed his eyes briefly before opening them and again looking his father in the eye as expected. “Do…I…make…myself…clear???” Each word held a bit more force in it than before, and each word came out a bit louder than the last.
 
“Yes sir,” Lucas answered confidently. He loved his father and held him high in respect. The truth was, Lucas knew he had been neglecting his responsibilities. He knew he deserved to be lectured by his father; but if his father could just understand him!
 
Marcus began pacing as he clasped his hands behind him.  “Now…when your mother and I married thirty years ago, we were very much in love and had so many hopes and dreams. Together, we bought this piece of land.   Both your mother and I put all our savings into this piece of land. It took EVERY penny we had.“ He stopped and spun around from where he had paced to. “We weren’t GIVEN this land, son. We bought it.” Marcus cleared his throat as he slowly walked toward Lucas. “I’ve poured a lot of blood and sweat into this land. I’ve cried over this land. Your mother buried two babies that died because of the harshness of the land that wouldn’t yield us enough food or water to save them. A few years ago, you stood just outside those doors and watched everything we have burn.” Marcus jabbed a finger toward the doors.
 
Lucas hated being reminded of that horrid day when that man Jamison and his pals had threatened his father. Lucas still remembered watching their barns, house, and fields burn as they stood and watched. Their animals were trapped in the barn and died. His  Pa never did get back the farm he had lost. That day had aged both his parents so much. The event had changed his father. His Pa hardly ever got angry before that event. That event had made him sterner with his children. His Pa got riled easier, and Lucas didn’t blame him. Marcus always told him that a man puts in a lot more than the land ever gives him. Life was cruel and hard, he had a responsibility to prepare his son’s for the harshness the land had possessed. Yet, even though Marcus was more-easily angered and sterner, Lucas saw the love in everything his father did. His harshness hadn’t stopped his father’s physical contact with his children or mother.
 
 Lucas’s mind had drifted off, but he forced it to focus on his father’s voice once again. “…I was finally able to give your brother a piece of this land to raise his family on. Soon, I hope to give Jeremiah, Peter, and you another piece. But farming is hard work, boy!”
 
How many times had he told his father that he didn’t want to be a farmer? How many more times must he tell his father that?
 
“I want to be a rancher, sir!” Lucas announced bravely.
 
“Do you really think it’s any easier than farming?” Marcus narrowed his eyes at his wild, ambitious son. “Just because the Gibbs’ have made a run of it and succeeded, you think you’ll be able to do it? The land is harsh…it doesn’t matter if you’re raising crops or cattle!” Marcus folded his arms. It was now time to focus on the matter at hand – the reason for this latest lecture. “Now then…I’ve been asking you to plant the potatoes for a week. What’s gotten into you, boy?”
 
“Pa, I’m 18 years old!” Lucas reminded his Pa.
 
“Age means nothing to me!” Marcus declared angrily. “You live in my house and eat my food. I expect you to pull your own weight around here, and you haven’t been doing that.” Marcus put his hands on his hips. “Now…do you mind telling me why not?” This question didn’t require a yes or no answer.
 
“I…” Lucas swallowed.  He didn’t want to tell even his father until he made the announcement Saturday Night. If he was going to be tarred and feathered for what he had decided to do, he’d rather get it all done just once instead of a little at a time as he told more and more people. He knew his broad answer wasn’t going to satisfy his father, but it was the only one he could give him at the moment. “I have been wrapped up in some meetings in town, Pa.”
 
Sure enough, his father’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. Marcus took a couple steps forward and sniffed his breath. “Have you been drinking again, boy?”
 
“N…No sir!” Lucas answered. Marcus again narrowed his eyes at him, trying to decide if he was telling the truth.   Lucas lowered his head and swallowed, then he admitted, “Just a beer, Pa! Honest!” His father had learned him well the last time he came home from town drunk. Even at the age of 18, his father wasn’t afraid to whip him when he got out of line. And that night, his father had taken him straight to the barn and used the razor strap on him. It was a whipping Lucas wouldn’t soon forget, but he knew he’d deserved it coming into his folks’ home drunk like he was and upsetting his mother.
 
Marcus nodded, indicating he believed his son. Lucas may have done a lot of things wrong, but he didn’t lie. He had lied in the past when he was quite a bit younger, but his father had learned him against that as well. He watched the anger leave his father’s face. It was replaced by concern. “What sort of meetings were you at in town, son?” Marcus asked in a calm voice.
 
“I…” Lucas swallowed. The last thing he wanted to do was rile his father up again. “I’ll tell you tomorrow night at supper, sir.” He tried to answer his father as respectfully as he could.
 
“Why not now, Luke?” Marcus asked quietly.
 
“I…” Lucas closed his eyes again. “I want to make the announcement when everyone’s together. I think it would be better that way.” Marcus silently studied him. “Pa, it’s the way I want it.”
 
Marcus nodded. “Alright, son.” Then he held up a finger to his son. “But I expect you to pull your own weight around here! And that means you get your BUTT out in that field and plant those potatoes!” His father’s orders were stern, but he once again saw the love shining in his eyes. “And you can forget supper tonight. I want you to work until you can’t work anymore!” Lucas knew this was his punishment for his behavior all week, and he was more than willing to take it over the beating his brother had been about to give him.
 
“Yes, Pa,” Lucas answered with a firm nod.
 
“Now go!” Marcus ordered.
 
Lucas hurried out of the barn. He got the tools he needed and the potato seed and hurried up into the potato patch. His father had plowed it that week. One evening, Lucas had come in from town late only to be gruffly told by his brother that their Pa was in bed after experiencing another attack on his heart. He’d plowed the field for Lucas that day. Lucas had simply stated his father shouldn’t have done that. But the secret meetings he had been attending weren’t meetings he could reveal just yet.
 
As he worked, his baby sister, Laura, walked up to him. “Cen I help?” she pleaded in her sweet little voice that always tugged at Lucas’s heartstrings.
 
Lucas paused as he looked up at her. He nudged her chin with his gloved hand and winked at her. “No thanks, honey. Not this time.”
 
“Why can’t I help?” Laura pouted as her eyes filled up with tears.
 
Lucas propped himself up on one knee and looked into her eyes. “Laura, I’m being punished. This is my punishment. You can’t help me.”
 
“You be naughty?” Laura asked. Lucas nodded. “Pa lick ya?”
 
Lucas smiled. “No, my little Rosebud, Pa didn’t lick me.”
 
“Abe said you are irr…irr…” Laura pressed a finger to her chin and looked skyward as she tried to remember the word.
 
“Irresponsible?” Laura nodded. “Not on purpose, honey. But…I should have planted these seeds when I was told. I WAS naughty for that.”
 
“What does irr…irr…” Laura sighed and rolled her eyes. “What does that mean?”
 
“It means I don’t try to do what I’m supposed to like…” Lucas thought for a minute as he plopped more potato seeds down in the dirt. “Well, like when you leave your doll out in the yard or when you don’t dry the dishes like you should.”
 
Laura thought about that. “Luke?” Lucas looked up at his little sister again. Laura bit her lip. “Do ya know that the other day Pa gave me a whippin’?” Lucas shook his head. He’d been too busy to know anything. “Pa tol’ me ta do my homework but I wanted to play instead. When he came in he gave me a whippin’ and said that I needed to do what I was told. Is that what I was being? Ir-respons-able?”
 
Lucas nodded. “That’s exactly it. Going to school and doing your homework is one of your responsibilities. Like planting the crops is mine.”
 
“Why didn’t Pa lick you?” Laura asked as her brow wrinkled up in confusion.
 
“Well, maybe because I’m 18 years old and there’s other ways to get his point across,” Lucas answered.
 
“Like…yelling?” Lucas nodded. “I heard Pa yell at ya. He don’t yell at me that way.”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Wait until you get a little older, sweetheart. Your day will come.” Lucas picked up his spade and started on another row. “Now, you best get back up to the house before we both get into trouble.”
 
“Yes, Luke.” Laura turned to go but turned back around. “Luke?” Lucas paused and turned to her. He heard the question in her voice. “I don’t understand.”
 
“What’s that, honey?” Lucas asked as he bent down in front of her once again.
 
“Well…when I help plant beans and such, the seeds are really little. You’re trying to grow potatoes so why are you putting potatoes in the ground?”
 
Lucas chuckled. “Well, because…” Lucas picked up the potato. “This piece of potato is a seed.”
 
“You mean…we eat seeds?” Laura screwed up her face. Lucas nodded. “That’s an awful big seed, Luke!”
 
“Laura Rose McCain!” Lucas heard Emily holler sternly from the yard. “Ma said you best leave your brother alone!”
 
Laura turned and looked at Lucas who was still bent over looking at her. She threw her arms around her brother. “I love ya, Luke.”
 
Lucas hugged her back. “And I love you, my Rosebud!”
 
Lucas smiled as he watched her race back up to the house. He shook his head. Laura always had a way to make him feel better.
 
Lucas grunted as he went back to his work. He stood in the field and watched the family go inside for supper. Already, he was feeling the distance that would soon separate them. Already, he felt like a stranger looking in on the family that moved on without him. It was a strange feeling that came from deep inside him. He shuddered.
 
Lucas looked up to see his mother pause on her way inside. She turned and walked back toward the field where he was working. Clasping her hands in front of her, she stood and stared at him. The way she was looking at him…Lucas almost felt like he was a stranger – someone she was trying to understand. Lucas looked down at the spade in his hands. The problem was, he was doing the same thing. He was trying to understand who he was.
 
Lucas sighed as he watched his mother shake her head, then turn and walk into the house. She didn’t always agree with the discipline methods of his father, but his Ma never complained. She stayed silent and allowed Marcus to discipline the children the way he saw fit. Lucas wondered what her just punishment would be. He couldn’t help smiling as he realized she would definitely not be restricting his food intake!
 
Lucas raised the spade over his head and brought it down hard as he let out a loud grunt. He knew he had been a disappointment to his family. He had been letting them down lately. All his brothers seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps. They all showed a lot of interest in farming. Lucas didn’t see anything wrong with the trade, in fact it was a good one; but his heart wasn’t in that sort of work. He loved working with animals of all kinds, and he dreamed of someday being a rancher.
 
Lucas worked on the planting as his stomach began to growl. He could imagine the conversation around the dinner table as his siblings told their folks all about their day. His folks always made sure dinner was eaten together, and that was the time they all resolved any issues they were currently facing. Lucas stopped as he turned and looked toward the house. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe…just maybe…one of the issues brought up that evening was Lucas McCain.
 
Lucas took a big swing with the spade as he dug another hole. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Then he looked up to see his 17 year old sister, Emily, come out of the house. She slowly walked into the field as her skirt fluttered in the breeze. She swished the blond hair over her shoulder and held something wrapped in a dishtowel. “Mama says to eat this.”
 
In spite of himself, Lucas grinned. He could only imagine the sweetness in his mother’s voice and the sparkle in her eye as she took his father’s hand and announced that her boy needed to eat. His mother had a way about her that his father could never resist. She could have used that way to manipulate and hurt his father; but it was only used in love.
 
Lucas took the apple turnover from her and started eating it.   He looked up at his sister.  “Is she upset?” He couldn’t see his mother upset. He had never been able to stand it. Even when he was a little boy, Lucas would cry when his mother raised her voice at him.
 
“The whole family’s upset, Luke,” Emily answered honestly. Lucas saw the concern in her eyes and heard the worry in her sigh. “You’ve been running off every day. Pa’s really mad. He’s disappointed…Says you want to be a rancher.”
 
“I do!” Lucas declared. He took another bite of the turnover. “And someday I’m going to be a rancher! You just wait and see.” Lucas’s own voice held so much confidence.
 
Emily silently watched her brother for a moment. Then she reached out and grabbed his hand. “Yes,” she said with a smile. “But you’re not right now. You’re a farmer and this family depends on you. Lucas, it’s okay to dream, but…” Emily stopped when she saw her brother’s distant expression.
 
Lucas threw down the remainder of his turnover, suddenly not having an appetite. Even his own caring sister didn’t seem to understand. He wasn’t trying to get out of his responsibilities. He was trying to be Lucas McCain and nobody else. “I wish everyone would stop hounding me!” he suddenly shouted. Emily stared at him. Lucas turned from her and ran a hand through his hair before putting his hat back on. “Nobody seems to understand that I don’t want ‘out’ of my responsibility. But I’m EIGHTEEN years old! I’ve got to…Lucas shook his head. From the way his family was treating him tonight, he KNEW tomorrow night wasn’t going to be a pretty experience. “I need to get back to work.” He picked up his spade and started working again.
 
“Lucas, you’re my brother and I love you!” Emily put a hand on his arm. “Please tell me what’s wrong.” Lucas stared at the spade he now held in his hand. “I know something’s wrong.”
 
“I’m just...” Lucas sighed. “I’m under a lot of pressure right now, Em. Between Pa, Abraham, and you I just don’t know…” Lucas went back to work. “I just don’t know that my decision is going to please anyone.” Lucas shook his head.
 
Emily studied him. She knew her brother well enough to know that he was dealing with something inside himself. He always got this way when he was holding something in. She quietly walked away, knowing that trying to force it from him would only drive them apart. And right now, that’s the last thing she wanted.
 
When she got inside the house, her mother and sister were the only two there. Her brothers and father had gone out to do some haying in the cool of the evening. She had heard the three boys mumbling on their way out that Luke should be with them doing the work, but Marcus firmly declared that “the boy” was busy with his own job.
 
“The boy.” Emily shook her head. Didn’t they all know just how much it riled Luke to hear himself referred to as a boy? At 17, Emily could relate with what he was feeling. She would hate being referred to as “the girl.” She was a young lady, a woman, not a girl. She knew that Luke, the youngest of the three boys was treated as such – the baby.  It hadn’t gotten that way on purpose. Being eight years younger than their eldest brother started the process. She could remember when all three of her brothers would shoot a rifle. She and Luke would watch, and Luke got jealous that he couldn’t. Finally, when he was eight years old, Marcus allowed Abraham, at the age of 16, to teach his “baby brother” how to shoot.
 
Emily smiled as she bent over and studied Laura’s math facts she was working on. She nodded her head as she walked toward the kitchen and took down her apron. Luke hated the term “Baby brother” even more than “the boy.”
 
Emily thought on Luke while she was washing dishes. Her mother allowed her to her silence. When Emily finished drying the last dish, she voiced her thoughts.  “Ma, I wish I knew what was wrong with Luke. He’s been acting…different…for…”
 
“Irresponsible!” Laura declared.
 
Emily’s eyes widened as she turned toward the table and stared at her little sister. “What?”
 
“Irresponsible!” Laura repeated. “Brother Abe said that’s what Luke was. I asked him, and Luke said he WAS acting that way!” She started to go back to her math, but then stood up from her chair and planted her hands on her hips. “But…” she began with a click of her tongue as she stomped her foot to drive her point home. “….Luke tol’ me he don’t do it on purpose!”
 
Emily smiled at her baby sister. The reason she and Luke got along so well is because they were so much alike. At seven years old, Emily could see the stubborn streak in Laura. It was this stubborn streak that got her into trouble. Their father was always telling her to act like a lady, but Laura didn’t understand what was so special about being a lady. And she was always being taken to the woodshed. Sometimes she wondered if Laura ENJOYED being in that woodshed! Emily hadn’t visited it too much, but the few times she had been there hadn’t been pleasant experiences.
 
“Alright now, young lady!” Emily declared as her mother laughed beside her. “You just get yourself back to your studies! I’ll be checking those facts when you are finished and they better be correct…every one of ‘em!”
 
“Yes sister.” Laura turned to sit down. “But I still don’t understand why I have to do my math on Friday night!”
 
Emily crossed her arms. “You best not let Pa hear you talk like that. It’s because of your own irresponsibility the other day that got you doing math tonight. Pa would waste no time in reminding you of that fact either!” Emily turned back to her mother. “Honestly, mother! She’s never going to learn to stay out of trouble!”
 
Ruth smiled as she put the cloth over the dough she had just finished kneading for cinnamon rolls. “I suspect not, Emily. She reminds me so much of Luke.”
 
“Which reminds me…I’m worried about him, Ma. He’s been acting this  way for the last week.”
 
Ruth smiled. She laid a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “He’s growing up, Em. He’s not a little boy anymore. He can see it. You and I can see it…”
 
“And I can see it too!” Laura declared from the table.
 
“Laura Rose…” her mother warned.
 
“Yes, Ma…” Laura said meekly as she lowered her head back to her book.
 
Ruth shook her head at her daughter as she turned back to look at Emily. “Your father and brothers got into the habit of him being the little brother.” Rose chuckled softly. “They haven’t noticed that he’s grown taller than them all.” Then she sobered as she laid a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “But it’s not only his brother’s treatment. It’s… Luke is becoming a man and it’s hard. He’s been realizing for the past few years that he’s his own person and sometimes that can be terrifying. I can see the fear in his eyes. I can feel his fears in my heart.”
 
“Why, Ma?” Emily asked.
 
“Because…as a person grows, Em, he…or she…may figure out along the way that he doesn’t want to be the person his parents want him to be.” Ruth turned and walked to the window. She watched her baby boy working in the potato patch. “That’s Luke. I’ve seen it in him for some time. He wants to be his own person, and his dreams don’t match up with those of your brothers and father.
 
Ruth turned back toward her daughter. “Your father is beginning to see it, and he’s really struggling with accepting it. Abraham…” Ruth sighed. “Well, Abraham has always been bossy and stubborn when it comes to Luke. He sees that Luke is straying from what your father’s always wanted for the boys, and he is really really struggling with it. But a mother…she just wants the best for her children.” Emily shook her head. “I just do the best I can to help my men.”
 
“You have a rough job, trying to get those stubborn men of ours to see the truth,” Emily declared.
 
Ruth walked up to her daughter and put an arm around Emily’s shoulder. “Em, as wives and mothers, it’s our job to try and keep the family happy and content. When you see things like this come up…well, the first thing you do is drop to your knees and pray to our maker. I’ve been talking with your father. And I’ve been talking with your brother. We just have to be very patient with them.”
 
“How can we help Luke, Ma?” Emily asked. “I feel like he’s hiding something from us.” Emily shook her head. “It’s more than just wanting to be a rancher. He’s really struggling with something…something he doesn’t want to talk about.” Emily turned toward the window and watched him work as the sun slowly lowered from the sky.
 
Ruth took off her apron and hung it up. Then she motioned for Emily to sit down with her in the living room to work on some sewing. “Luke is hiding something from us dear, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I do know it’s something he’s afraid will disappoint us. A mother always knows when something’s amiss, and something is definitely amiss. We just have to be strong and be ready to face whatever it is. Luke will need us to be strong, dear.”
 
***
 
Lucas wiped some sweat from his brow as he looked up at the sky. Daylight was quickly fading and he felt his back beginning to ache after all that planting. He watched as his father and brothers rode back into the yard with a large wagon of hay. They disappeared in the barn. After a while, he watched them leave the barn.  Abraham mounted his horse and rode toward his own home across the fields. Peter and Marcus walked into the house. But Jeremiah paused outside the door. He watched as his second oldest brother slowly turned and made his way toward him. When he got there, he just stood tall, looking at his brother.
 
Lucas straightened up as he looked his brother in the eyes.  “The only McCain who hasn’t lit into me,” Lucas mumbled as he gave his spade a hard smack into the dirt. He folded his arms and sighed. “Go ahead. Get it over with!”
 
“What?” Jeremiah asked as he held out his hands.
 
“Yell at me. Lecture me. Tell me I’m the ‘bad son.’”
 
Jeremiah stuffed his hands in his back pockets. He looked around to make sure no other McCain was lurking around to listen. “I’m not going to, Luke. I just got home from town…just before supper.”
 
Lucas heard something in his brother’s voice. He let out a small gasp, afraid of what he was going to hear next. “You…” Lucas cocked his head to one side. “You came from town?”
 
Jeremiah nodded. “I ran into Johnny Drako coming out of the Circle-Q. I’d seen you in there with him and some other men earlier.” Jeremiah looked away from his brother. “He…told me what you are planning on doing.”
 
There were a few moments of silence as Lucas came to terms with this fact. He sucked in his breath, then let it out slowly. “Well…” He turned from his brother. “Johnny was supposed to keep his mouth shut!” He mumbled.
 
“Well, I sort of threatened him great bodily harm if he didn’t spill it.” Jeremiah shook his head. “That boy is such a squirt…He’ll never amount to much!”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes. “So…He told you what we’re planning.” Jeremiah nodded. “Are you gonna tell Pa?” Lucas picked up the spade from the dirt.
 
“Nope.”
 
“Are you going to try to talk me out of it?” Lucas asked then. His voice held fight.
 
Jeremiah turned back to his brother. “I thought about it.” Then he bent down and helped Lucas cover the potato seeds. “But I decided that you’re a man now. You can make your own decisions. I’ve watched you struggle with something for quite a while, Luke.”
 
Lucas nodded. “I just don’t see myself being a farmer for the rest of my life.” He watched Jeremiah gently lay more potato seed in the row. “You better not let Pa catch you helping me.”
 
“Aw shucks Luke, Pa don’t scare me none!” Jeremiah declared. “I’m a grown man!”
 
“Jeremiah McCain!” The brothers heard Marcus call sternly from the back door.
 
 Jeremiah straightened up at the sound of his father’s voice. He didn’t turn around. “Yes Pa?” He called.
 
“Get on away from there, boy. That’s your brother’s job.” Both boys heard the warning in their father’s voice.
 
“Yes Pa.” Jeremiah shook his head. “You think I should remind him I’m 24 years old?”
 
Lucas raised his eyebrows. “You think he’d care?”
 
Jeremiah smacked his hand on Lucas’s shoulder. He paused for a moment, hesitating on his next words. Then he spoke them. “I think what you want to do is very noble, little brother. I wish I could say the others will take the news as well. When are you going to tell everyone?”
 
“Tomorrow night.”
 
“Not at the McCain-Gibbs Saturday night supper!” Jeremiah’s eyes widened in surprise. “Luke, Pa AND Abraham will tan your hide for sure!”
 
“They say there’s safety in numbers,” Lucas stated sarcastically. “Besides, Margaret will be there to lend me support.” Jeremiah nodded with a grin.
 
Lucas could see his father still standing in the door of the house. “Jeremiah, NOW!” Marcus demanded.
 
Lucas watched Jeremiah walk away. Then he saw his father fold his arms and lift his head. “Well?” Lucas sighed as he went back to work.
 
***
Lucas woke up with a dread Saturday morning. He hated what this day would entail. He hated that this was the final day he’d have to spend with his family. The house was quiet as Lucas stood from his bed and stretched. His back ached from the work he had put in last night. He hadn’t gotten done either. He HAD to get it done today. He owed his family that much. Lucas turned and looked at his two sleeping brothers in the room. Then he picked up his boots and walked into the kitchen.
 
His mother was up, already rolling out the dough to make cinnamon rolls. She turned as Lucas sat down at the table to put his boots on. “You’re up mighty early, Luke,” Ruth said as she walked over to the table and sat down. “Daylight won’t come for another hour yet.”
 
“Pa still asleep?” Luke asked as he bent over to give his mother a kiss. Ruth nodded. “How’s he feeling?”
 
“He works too hard. It took him awhile to fall asleep last night. I’m not going to wake him.”
 
“It’s because of me.” Lucas hung his head. He really did feel like a heel.
 
“You’ve made your decision, haven’t you?” Ruth asked suddenly. Lucas shot his head up. Ruth smiled. “I’ve watched you struggle with it all week. I hoped you’d come to me with it.”
 
“It’s a decision I have to make on my own, Mother,” Lucas grumbled. He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Ma. I didn’t mean disrespect.”
 
Ruth smiled. “None taken, son.” She took his hands in hers. “Even though you’ve come to your decision, I want to offer you some advice.” Lucas nodded silently and waited. “You are Lucas McCain. You are not Marcus McCain, or Abraham, Jeremiah, or Peter. God has made you different. He’s given you a different set of thoughts and a different body. His ways aren’t always our ways. Your father and brothers struggle with your differences. I’ve always seen them.” She laid a hand on his cheek. “Do you know what I’m saying?”
 
Lucas nodded. As he looked into his mother’s caring, concerned eyes, he felt his eyes fill with tears. He quickly turned his head, not wanting his mother to see them. She reached out and laid a hand on his cheek. Gently, he turned his face back toward hers. “Don’t be ashamed of the tears, son. As long as you have tears, you’re alive. You feel. You REALLY live.”
 
“Oh Ma…” Lucas swallowed emotionally. He lowered his head as a tear slipped from his eye. “It’s just so hard to…I mean the decision I’ve made…I’m afraid that…” He lifted his head and looked into his mother’s moist eyes. “I don’t want them to be disappointed in me…or you.”
 
“I will NOT be disappointed in you. I saw it in your face when you came in last night. There was a peace about you that hadn’t been there earlier. You had come to your decision and in your heart, you knew it was right. I won’t be disappointed, because I’ve seen the torment you’ve been going through all week.” Ruth put her hands on Lucas’s face and smiled into his eyes. “I can’t speak for your brothers or father, but…YOU have to do what’s right.”
 
“I just don’t want to…” Lucas swallowed the lump in his throat. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Lucas shook his head. “Pa’s so sick and the others are…I want them to understand that…”
 
“They will, son. They all love you…very, very much.” Ruth smiled. “Now, go in peace with that.”
 
Lucas stood up and wiped his eyes. Ruth stood up with him. He wrapped his arms around his mother and kissed the top of her head. Then he turned and walked to the door. He stood facing the door as he quietly said, “I’ll get the potato patch finished today, Ma. I promise.” Then he left.
 
Lucas went to the barn and worked on chores all morning. When his brothers got up, they would find that the morning chores had been done. They would be shocked to see the least! Lucas was so busy with doing his chores in the barn, in fact, that he didn’t even realize the sun had risen. “Breakfast!” Ruth called out the door. Lucas hurried into the house.
 
As he sat down, he felt more than saw his brothers’ eyes on him. He looked at his father and saw that he was struggling to sit in his chair. He ran over to him. “Pa, you should be in bed!” he argued.
 
Marcus put a hand to his chest and cringed. “The day Marcus McCain has breakfast in bed…” Marcus took a deep breath and waited for the pain to subside. Lucas held tight to his arm as he sat in his chair. “…is the day Marcus McCain…” Again, he took another deep breath. “…dies.”
 
“Oh, but Pa I hate seeing you suffer like this! If you just stay in bed…” Lucas swallowed. “I’ll do all your chores for you today, Pa. I…” Marcus suddenly grabbed Lucas’s arm. They locked eyes and Lucas saw his father slightly shake his head. Lucas knew his father was prideful and wanted to die with dignity. It was hard allowing him to do that. And now his decision could send his Pa right to his gave. Would this be the last day he’d be able to spend with his father?
 
Lucas took his seat beside his father and took his little sister’s hand. They all bowed their heads as Marcus led his family in prayer.
 
After breakfast, Lucas stood from the table and went to the door. “I’m going to go give the barn a good cleaning,” Lucas mumbled. “Then I’ll get back to work on the patch.” He opened the door then turned. “Pa, would you please take it easy today?” he begged. “Please? For…for me?”
 
Marcus turned and looked at his son. Then he looked at the family around the table. “Alright.” He threw up his hands in defeat when he saw all the hopeful eyes staring at him. “Alright, I’ll act like an old man today!”
 
Lucas smiled. “You aren’t an old man, Pa.”
 
“No.” Marcus grunted as he stood from the table and patted Lucas on the shoulder. “I just have an old heart. Got a young one for me?”
 
Lucas hurried out the door. He felt his eyes fill with tears. He wished he could give his father a young heart. He wished he could do something to make his father better instead of worse. Lucas picked up the pitchfork. What would his announcement do to his family that night?
 
Lucas worked for quite awhile laying down fresh hay, then cleaning out the straw and laying down fresh straw. It was early in the day and Lucas could already feel sweat trickle down his bare chest.
 
Upon completing his task, Lucas walked out of the barn to see Margaret Gibbs  coming to collect her daily ration of eggs.
 
Lucas stood in the doorway and smiled as he watched her dismount her horse and walk across the yard. He should have been a gentleman and help her down, but he enjoyed watching her climb from her horse. She rode like a man, but refused to wear riding skirts or pants to do so. She said riding skirts were very un-ladylike. As if riding like a man in itself wasn’t unladylike! But when Lucas mentioned that to Margaret, she rolled her eyes and declared it was INDEED ladylike. Lucas learned quickly when they were growing up together that even when Margaret was wrong, she was indeed right! Lucas had never seen her not dressed like a lady, and even when she sat down next to a whole mess of new piglets and held one of their little faces to her cheek, she still looked every bit the lady she was!
 
Margaret Gibbs was 18 years old as well. She was actually a couple months older than Lucas, and when she found it convenient, she would remind him of that fact. Margaret and Lucas had been friends their whole life. They’d started school on the same day together at the age of seven. Though they’d have their share of childhood arguments and spats, they’d always managed to make up and become friends again. They considered themselves best friends until Lucas’s brothers began teasing him. That’s when Lucas told Margaret he could be her “best” friend anymore. Margaret got very angry and stomped away from him.
 
That’s when they were eight years old.
 
But soon, they found themselves in a messy situation. Margaret had somehow found herself in the middle of a mud pit and, without hesitation, Lucas had jumped in to save her. They both laid on the bank and laughed over the whole ordeal later. That’s when Lucas decided he wanted to be her friend, rather his brothers laughed at him or not.
 
Then when they were 14, there was a dance. Margaret had been sick all week and Lucas worried about her. He’d never really had any romantic feelings toward her. They were too good of friends for anything as silly as that! At least at the time it had been silly. But then her brother, Andy, had asked Lucas to go to the dance with him since neither of them had a girl. Lucas had come over to the Gibb’s house to see Andy about the dance when he saw Margaret. She was sitting in a corner of the kitchen sobbing because no one had asked her to the dance. She still had some pox on her face, and the boys thought those blemishes were unbecoming for their first dance with a lady.
 
Lucas hadn’t hesitated. He had felt some unfamiliar feeling in his heart when he saw her crying. He’d seen her cry many times before, but it was never like that and it broke his heart. He asked her to the dance that very night. Then, quite unexpectedly, he had kissed her by the corral when he walked her home after the dance. The kiss had scared both of them and they ran, but the next day they talked about it and decided neither of them was ready to pursue their feelings.
 
But Lucas still felt them. He knew he could never have anyone as wonderful and beautiful as Margaret, and he would envy the man who married her. She was much too beautiful to ever be interested in a mean, ornery cuss like him for one thing. And for another thing, her family had money. Lucas’s parents had always struggled month to month trying to make ends meet. There had even been times when all they had to eat was cornmeal.
 
The reason for Margaret’s latest visit was to gather the eggs. She came over every morning to the McCain house and gathered eggs that were laid by the chickens in the night. It was an agreement the Gibbs had made with the McCain’s a long time ago. The Gibbs didn’t have many chickens, and they had a rather large family with five children to feed. So they paid for the eggs she collected.
 
Luke pushed himself off the door to the barn and slowly walked towards Margaret. This was the highlight of his morning – when he could join Margaret at the chicken coop and talk. There was no one he enjoyed talking to more than Margaret. She had a sweetness about her, and he had confidence that she would be no less than honest with him.
 
“Hi, Luke.” Margaret smiled as she stopped in front of him. She watched him wipe sweat from his bare neck with his wet kerchief. “It’s already hot how here, isn’t it?”
 
Lucas looked skyward as he nodded. “It sure is.” Then he smiled down at her as he took the basket from her and walked towards the chickens. This was his favorite part of his day. Margaret worked beside him as they collected the eggs together. “You want to tell me about it?” she asked softly as she picked up an egg and examined it.
 
“Tell you what?” Luke asked as he playfully took the egg from her and gently set it  in her basket.
 
Margaret looked Lucas up and down. She had seen it in his eyes when they came in. The moment he spoke to her, she knew he was quite upset about something. He should know by now that there was nothing he could hide from her. “What’s got you so riled. Did I do something?”
 
Luke paused his hand in the roost. He slowly turned to look down at her. He saw the sympathy in her eyes as he spoke. “You could never do anything to rile me, Margaret.” His answer was passionate as he stared into her eyes, his own eyes widened at the beauty her concerned eyes possessed.
 
“Oh…” Margaret smiled playfully as she shook a finger at him. “Now you know that’s not true.” Lucas relaxed and chuckled. They just looked at each other as she studied him. She finally broke the gaze and went back to her task.  “I saw your sister in town yesterday when she was in the General Store. She told me something’s got you really upset.”
 
“Oh?” Lucas asked as he raised an eyebrow at her. “Just like that? She offered that information?” He allowed a small smile to play at the corners of his mouth.
 
Margaret blushed as she continued working. It wasn’t often that Lucas could make her blush. She was pretty much used to anything that came from his mouth, but it was the confession she would now have to make. “Well…” Margaret paused as she stared into the eyes of a chicken. “You see, I…” Margaret gave an impatient sigh as she rolled her eyes. “Lucas McCain, I’m used to you being here and helping me with the eggs. I hadn’t seen you all week and…” She allowed her words to die.
 
“You…missed me?” Lucas asked with a boyish grin.
 
“Well…” Margaret sighed again as she looked at him. “We’ve been best friends for nearly 18 years, Lucas! I guess I just got used to…”
 
“…having me around?” Lucas finished for her. He laughed at the blush that deepened on her cheeks. He didn’t pretend not to know that she liked him more than just a friend, but he knew she could never be happy with him. He wasn’t the type that married and settled down.
 
Margaret turned toward him again. “If it’s not me, then…what has you so upset?”
 
Lucas lost his smile as he thought on how to tell her. “I’m…not exactly upset. I’ve just had a lot on my mind and…” Lucas paused as he took off his hat and smoothed his hair down. “Everyone’s upset with me, Margaret.” Lucas sighed as he leaned against the coop. “Pa’s got me planting the potatoes by myself. I had to work through supper last night. Didn’t get into bed until very late. I’ll have to be back out there today.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “Your sister also told me you weren’t living up to your responsibilities.” She turned and looked at him. “You’ve always been responsible, Luke. What’s wrong?” Margaret paused in their task and laid a soft hand on his arm. “What is it?”
 
Lucas turned back to the chickens. He closed his eyes. “I ain’t made like a McCain!” He suddenly shot out.
 
“Oh?” Margaret looked over at him again and raised her eyebrows. “What’s a McCain like?”
 
“Willing to farm this hard, dry land that gives back little and take everything in you.” Lucas banged his fist on the side of the roost in frustration. “Do you know that my folks buried two children on this land because of a drought that…” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “Of course you know that.”
 
Lucas turned back to the roost. Margaret stayed silent. She could tell he had something to say that he didn’t want to say. She just looked at him and waited. “I’m leaving, Margaret.” He said this so quietly that she almost didn’t hear him.
 
Lucas saw the surprise…no…shock in her eyes when he made the announcement. “Your…what?” Margaret gasped.
 
“I’m leaving this land. I’m…going to Indiana.” Lucas didn’t take his eyes off of her as he made the announcement. If anyone would understand, it was Margaret.
 
“Luke, what are you saying?” Margaret’s eyes grew wide as she again laid a hand on his arm. He didn’t see disappointment in her eyes – only…sadness and surprise. “Why?”
 
“I’m….” Lucas swallowed. “I’m joining the Cavalry.”
 
“The war?” There was pain in her voice as she spoke. Margaret turned away from him, suddenly overtaken by so many different emotions. She put a hand to her mouth and tried to keep the sobs from coming, but Lucas heard it. The sobs broke his heart.
 
Lucas grabbed her shoulders and turned her back around to face him. “Oh, please don’t cry, Margaret.” As he spoke, he felt his own eyes moisten. He spoke with such a softness as he laid a hand on her cheek. “I can’t stand to see you cry!” He wiped the tears from her cheek. “I…I have to do this.”
 
“Why you?” Her voice cracked.
 
Lucas kept his gaze on her as he spoke seriously. She really, sincerely wanted to understand him. “Our country’s in trouble. We’ve lost so many states because of stupid disagreements. I believe in this country, Margaret. I believe in what we’re doing. This is good country and it’s growing so fast. I just want to see it united again.” Lucas looked toward the house. “And…it will give me time to think on what I want to do.” He sighed. “I feel smothered here. With my family all around me, I can’t think. They put such pressure on me.”
 
“I understand, Luke, but I…I…” Margaret looked down at her basket. “I think I have enough eggs now. I have to go.”
 
“Margaret?” Lucas called. Margaret hurried toward her horse, not looking back. “Margaret!” She didn’t turn as she mounted her horse. She kept the basket firmly in one hand as she dug her heels into her horse’s flank. Lucas watched her ride away. “Oh Margaret.” Lucas closed his eyes as tears slipped from them. She was the last person he ever wanted to hurt!
 
***
 
Margaret quickly rode away from the McCain farm. She wanted to run so far and so fast that maybe…just maybe…the words Lucas had spoken to her could be erased from her mind.  Her eyes burned with hot tears. The wind blew on her face as she dug her heels into Golden’s flank. Still, the words Lucas had spoken echoed in her mind. “I’m leaving, Margaret.” Never had Margaret ever imagined Lucas would speak those words. “I’m leaving, Margaret.” Those words echoed again as tears continued to fall from her eyes.
 
She wasn’t far from the McCain farm when the basket of eggs suddenly slipped from her hand and fell to the ground. She haulted her horse suddenly, causing Golden to rear back on her hind legs. She held tight to the reins and spoke to him soflty as her tears continued to travel from her eyes and onto her cheeks.
 
Quickly, Margaret ran back to the basket and saw that the eggs were broken. Every one of them. Margaret sat down in the grass. She stared at the eggs as tears continued to run down her cheeks. Then she buried her head in her hands and wept. “Luke…Oh Luke…” she moaned softly.
 
His news had come to such a shock to her. She had loved him for so long, and now he was going away. She hadn’t missed the pleading in his eyes for her to understand, and she did. She DID understand the struggles he was going through. She understood that he wanted to take a different route than his family expected him to take. And she understood that Lucas would never be happy being a farmer.
 
And on the war: She understood that too, because she also had a passion to see the country reunited. She had read the articles in the papers about the damage already done to their country, and she respected and admired Lucas all the more for wanting to get in on the cause of fighting for the Union. But…though she understood all of it, she couldn’t convince her heart to stop breaking over the fact that he was leaving. Her heart was broken because the truth was…
 
Maybe he wouldn’t come back.
 
Margaret sobbed even louder as she came to that realization. She threw herself face down in the soft grass and allowed her body to shake with sobs as she allowed herself to accept the fact that he was leaving. She had hoped he’d start calling on her now that they were both 18. She never dreamed he would be leaving!
 
***
The day passed quickly as the McCain family worked hard in the fields and on the farm. Before they knew it, it was time for the McCain brothers to head to the creek to get cleaned up. After grabbing the supplies they would need, Lucas stuck his head inside the house and announced that they were headed down for their baths.
 
It had been another hot day, regardless of the fact that it was only April. All three brothers stripped and jumped into the creek as they began swimming and splashing around. As was the custom, they laughed and splashed for a few minutes before getting down to their task at hand – bathing.
 
When they were young boys, their mother or father had come with them to make sure they properly washed. They were now at the age that their weekly bath was a pleasure, and when the weather allowed, they enjoyed the time to bathe together in the creek instead of having to take turns using the tub. Later, the sisters would come to the creek and bathe. The brothers always teased that the sisters took a lot longer.
 
Finally, the three brothers got out of the creek and began drying themselves off with a towel. Lucas grew quiet as he realized this was their last Saturday night bathing together they would have for a long time. He wondered how much things would change while he was gone.
 
Jeremiah suddenly cleared his throat, breaking into Lucas’s thoughts. “I don’t know if this is the right time to tell you or not, Luke, but…I asked Emily to marry me.”
 
Lucas shot his head up as he reached for his shirt. He stared at his brother and shook his head. That was just another event he was going to have to miss out on. “So…we got a sister Emily, and now you’re going to have a wife named Emily.” Lucas smiled. “Emily McCain number 1 and Emily McCain number 2. But which is which?”
 
“Yep.” Jeremiah chuckled, ignoring his brother’s attempt at humor. “She said it was about time I asked her. She thinks she’s about to become an old maid.”
 
“Hardly!” Lucas declared. “I don’t know any old maid’s that’s as pretty as she…” Lucas suddenly stopped.
 
Jeremiah paused in pulling his pants on and gave his brother a look. “Well, when you and Margaret have your first daughter, you can name her Emily,” he retorted. “Then we’ll have Emily McCain number 3!”
 
Lucas’s head shot up. “Me and…” He allowed his voice to die as he gave his brother a dirty look. “Now look, big brother…Margaret and I are just friends! Nothing more!”
 
Jeremiah cocked his head to one side and studied his brother. “You’ve been telling us that for years. Nobody believes you yet.”
 
“Yeah!” Peter declared as he began drying his hair with a towel. “You two have been destined to marry from the start! It’s in the stars!”
 
“I could never marry somebody like her! She’s so…” Lucas allowed his words to die on his tongue.
 
“I know.” Peter nodded as he came up to the two brothers. “Her family has money and Margaret’s used to that sort of life.” Peter threw the towel over his shoulder as he pulled his pants on. “If you think for a minute, little brother, that Margaret cares about that…She would give up everything in this world for you. That woman loves you!”
 
“Love’s me?” Lucas croaked. “Now you have BOTH gone loco!”
 
“And you love her!” Peter continued. Lucas raised an eyebrow at his brother. “Face it man, the woman’s in love with you!”
 
“Yeah.” Jeremiah shook his head. “And I can’t stop from wondering why. What exactly does she see in you anyhow?” Lucas jerked his head back toward his brother. He saw Jeremiah wink at Peter.
 
“Oh!” Lucas threw his towel at his brother. “Let’s go. We best not be late!”
 
***
When the McCain’s arrived at the Gibbs ranch, Lucas dismounted his horse, Thunder, then took Laura from the saddle. It was always a custom that when the family went anywhere together and Lucas had his horse, Laura would ride with her favorite brother.
 
Being born to her parents later in life, Laura had nobody her age to play with in either family, so she stayed close to Lucas as long as she could. Tonight was different. In fact, tonight, Lucas looked down at his 7 year old sister and picked her up. He hugged her close to him as he watched the activity around him. Ruth and Jennifer Gibbs carried the bread and pies inside from the McCain Wagon. Marcus walked toward the corral with Samuel Gibbs as they pulled out pipes to smoke.
 
Lucas turned to see Margaret and Beth Gibbs, her 16 year old sister, walk towards the tables and ready them for the feast that would be starting soon. Then he watched Abraham and Julie arrive with their little boy. Abraham walked up to the McCain brothers and greeted them as Julie walked inside to tend to her son.
 
Twenty year old Scott and 19 year old Andy Gibbs joined the McCain brothers. They started talking about girls and Lucas quickly looked at his sister. “Uh…go see if Ma needs any help, honey,” Lucas said as he sat her down.
 
“No, Lucas! I wanta stay with you!” Laura declared as she wrapped her arms around his leg.
 
Lucas felt her pulling at his heartstrings again. He knew this was the last evening he and the two families would be together. He had a feeling Laura sensed things were about to change as well. He looked around at the group, most unsuspecting at just how much their lives were about to change.
 
Scott Gibbs cleared his throat. “Did you hear about the latest battle in Tennessee?”
 
Lucas shot his head up, suddenly interested in the conversation. “I heard about it in town, Jeremiah answered. “The Rebs attacked near the Tennessee River. There were a lot of good men killed.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes as he saw the look of sadness in his brothers’ eyes. “They say it’s the bloodiest battle yet. It lasted two whole days.”
 
“Who won the battle?” Peter asked.
 
“The Union.” Andy Gibbs looked around at the men. “You know anyone fighting in the war?”
 
“Nope,” Abraham answered. “And I hope I don’t ever know. This is one war I’d rather my family stay out of.”
 
“Why?” Lucas suddenly shot out without thinking. The brothers all turned and looked at him. They didn’t like his tone of voice. “This is our country, isn’t it?”
 
“Yes Lucas. Of course it is,” Abraham answered. “But we’re fortunate enough to have the option of not taking sides.” Abraham looked toward their father. “That’s how Pa wants it.”
 
“Well I’m not Pa!” Lucas shot out. All the young men turned and stared at Lucas. Lucas turned and hurried away.
 
Just then, Samuel Gibbs put two fingers in his mouth and gave s shrill whistle. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look at him. “Now…” Samuel cleared his throat. “I’ll ask the blessing!”
 
Samuel removed his hat and bowed his head as all the men did the same. “Our God in Heaven, we thank thee that our families can be joined together on a Saturday night. And we’re thankful that we are all once again together. Lord, I pray that we’ll be together for a long time…”
 
Lucas lifted his head and looked around at everyone. He was leaving. He was breaking up the union of the two families. He was going off to fight in a deadly war where more men seemed to be dying than living. Lucas McCain may not ever come back.
 
Everyone chatted as they began filling their plates. The “boys” made their way outside. The four McCain brothers joined Johnny, Scott, and Andrew Gibbs. As they sat down under a shade tree to eat, Jeremiah asked, “So Luke, when are you making your announcement?”
 
Lucas narrowed his eyes at his brother. “You have a big mouth!” He grumbled as he  shook his head. “I’ll make it. Don’t you worry. I’ll make it.” Lucas looked back down at his plate and ate quietly.
 
“What’s the announcement?” Andy asked.
 
Lucas cleared his throat. “I’d rather not say at the moment. You’ll find out soon enough.” The truth of the matter was, Lucas was in no hurry to make the announcement. He knew there would be a civil war battle right here on the Gibbs ranch as soon as he made the announcement, and he already knew the odds were stacked up against him. He was a rebel, and everyone else was a Yankee.
 
The boys continued talking, but Lucas didn’t hear anything. As he quietly ate, he ran the words to his announcement through in his head as he tried to figure out the perfect time to tell the families. So, it came as quite a shock when Johnny Gibbs suddenly spoke.
 
“Have you talked to Margaret today?”
 
Lucas jerked his head up to see Margaret’s baby brother, Johnny, looking hard at him. He wasn’t ready to tell a brother how much he had hurt his sister that day, so he simply swallowed and answered. “Uh…No.” He studied Johnny. At 13, he was trying to act like one of the men. “Why?”
 
Johnny shrugged casually as he took another bite of his food. “She came home crying this morning. She said she was upset because she broke the eggs. She DID break the eggs, that was obvious but...” Johnny cleared his throat as he looked around at the men watching him. “She also spent a lot of time to herself today. Mother tried to get her to open up but she wouldn’t.”
 
Lucas’s heart sank as he looked up toward the house. He closed his eyes in regret. He hated hurting her like this.  His heart was breaking.  “She’ll be okay. She’s tough.” Lucas tried to lighten the dark mood that had suddenly settled around them.  Everyone looked at him, waiting for him to explain. Lucas just gave a nervous laugh. “She has to be with three brothers like you!”
 
Much to Lucas’s relief, the conversation turned to the upcoming dance. He was able to tune the conversation out as he thought on how to break his news to those he loved.
 
The women cut the pies and served the men. After they finished dessert, the men and boys sat outside while the women worked in the kitchen cleaning up. Even little Laura was given some domestic chores to do. But as she walked up to Lucas to collect his dessert saucer, she paused.”Luke?”
 
“Yes, my little Rosebud?” Lucas asked as he bent down in front of his sister.
 
“When you go, will you take me with ya?”
 
“Go where?” Lucas asked as his heart started racing.
 
“Away.”
 
“Who says I’m going away?” Lucas asked as he studied his little sister intently.
 
Laura shrugged. “I heard you tell Margaret this morning. It made Margaret really sad.” She threw her arms around her brother. “I don’t want you to go!”
 
“Did you hear anything else?” Lucas asked then as he pushed her away from him a bit.
 
She shook her head. “Mama told me I had to get right back inside. Your words made me sad.”
 
Lucas stared at her. He picked up his saucer and handed it to her. “Take this inside.” Laura stared at him. “Go on, now!” he ordered.
 
Lucas turned and looked at Margaret who had walked out of the house to collect the rest of the dirty dishes. She stared at Lucas. Lucas saw a pained expression come over her face before she turned and hurried back inside.
 
Lucas felt like his heart was breaking in two.
 
After the women finished their cleaning, they joined the men outside. The men got out their homemade instruments and the families began their evening of singing. The families laughed and clapped as song after song was sang in joyous voices. Lucas sat quietly. He didn’t join in on the singing. He wanted to run away. What he had to do was tormenting him.
 
Jeremiah scooted up to sit beside his baby brother. “You have to tell them, Luke.”
 
“I…I can’t,” Luke said softly.
 
“You have to, Luke. They have a right to know. They need time to understand before they have to say goodbye.”
 
Lucas turned and looked at his brother. He slightly nodded. As he stood up, he caught Margaret’s eye. Margaret turned her head away. She knew the time had come.
 
Lucas cleared his throat as the song ended.  “I have an announcement to make.” He watched as every eye turned to focus on him. They knew the moment of truth had come. Lucas looked at every pair of eyes that were staring at him. He closed his eyes as his heart began beating fast. Then he felt a hand slip into his. He looked down to see his sister smiling up at him.
 
He was so nervous that the words stuck in his throat like dirt stuck to a clod. He tried to shake it, but it was hard to shake. Lucas cleared his throat and continued. “I…” Lucas cleared his throat again as the words continued to lay thick in his throat.  “That is Johnny Drako and I…We have been attending meetings in town this past week with the…” Lucas cleared his throat yet again, trying to gain confidence. “With a couple visiting members of the United States Cavalry.”
 
He paused as small gasps sounded from the group.
 
“Oh…no, Lucas…” He heard Abraham mumble the words under his breath. Lucas turned to look at Abraham.
 
Lucas turned to look at his brother, Jeremiah, who gave a short nod. “We…” Lucas cleared his throat. “That is…Johnny Drako and I…have signed up to fight the great cause.” Lucas paused, allowing his words to sink in. “I’ll be joining up in Indiana. Johnny and I…” Lucas could hear his own heart beating – it was so quiet in the yard. “We will be going to Indiana.” Lucas lowered his head and looked at his sister who was crying. He squeezed her hand. “We’ll be leaving to…” Lucas cleared his throat one last time. “Tomorrow.”
 
Laura began sobbing as she rubbed her eyes with her fists. Lucas bent down and picked her up. Laura clung to him and sobbed even louder.
 
“Oh, Dear God!” Lucas heard Peter moan softly.
 
“Lucas…” his mother cried as she put a hand to her mouth.
 
“No, Lucas…” Emily sniffed on the other side of him.
 
Lucas suddenly heard a loud moan. He turned in time to see Margaret stand up and race out of the yard.  Lucas handed his sobbing sister to Emily as he stared after Margaret. Johnny turned to go after her, but Lucas put a restraining arm on him. “Let her go. Just…” Lucas felt a tear trickle from his eye. “Just let her go.” His heart was breaking a little more as he watched her run away.
 
An uncomfortable silence suddenly fell over the Gibbs/McCain Saturday night gathering. Merely moments before, the air had been filled with the sounds of laughter, music, and dancing. But now there was an eerie silence as everyone stared at him. Lucas felt like he was on trial and he was waiting for his verdict of guilty. As he looked around, he saw sadness in some eyes, in others confusion. Yet in others, disappointment.
 
The first set of eyes he focused on were those of his mother. Actually, he couldn’t focus on her eyes, because her head was down. Just that morning, she had told him she would stand by his decision, but he knew she hadn’t known what his decision had been. The thought of him not coming back from war was enough to cause any mother’s eyes to become downcast.
 
Lucas looked at his father’s eyes. He hated what he saw there. He saw disappointment, concern, and grief. He didn’t understand! He knew his father wanted the family to remain neutral, but how could they when their country was at risk? Were the Confederacy to succeed, their country would be cut in half, then who’s to say there wouldn’t always be battles and such as the Confederacy grew stronger and tried to grow bigger. Lucas loved the United States of America and the principles it had been established on. How could anyone stand by and watch this country being ripped apart? How could they stand by and watch brother fighting against brother without getting involved?
 
Lucas grew tired of standing in judgment and slowly slid to the ground as the eerie silence sat heavily in the air. Laura slowly slid from her sister’s arm and walked over to her brother. It was this little seven year old girl who broke the silence as she crawled upon her brother’s lap, cozied up next to his chest, and said, “Will you promise to come back?”
 
Lucas allowed a tear to fall from his eyes as his arms tightened around her. They shared a private moment together as he whispered the answer in her ear. “I promise I’ll try. As fast as I can, honey.”
 
Then Laura bent up and kissed his cheek. “I want you to be happy, Luke,” she whispered back to him. Then she just clung to him and cried. Lucas felt that he somehow had his little sister’s blessing. That warmed his heart a bit, but he ached, wondering just what she would be like when he returned? Would they be able to continue their close relationship? Would he ever hold her like this again?
 
Jeremiah was the closest to Lucas. He watched the exchange, then slowly stood to his feet.  “I have something to say.” He looked around at the sober group. “Our country was founded on certain principles a long time ago. I think Abraham Lincoln is doing a wonderful job and…Well, Lucas is the youngest McCain and he should be the one to go.” Several sucked in their breath. “It’s a war for crying out loud! Our country needs men like Luke to help get this war over with so we can get our country back! Together!”
 
“You knew about this?” Abraham suddenly questioned in a quiet, angry voice. Jeremiah nodded his head slowly, knowing Abraham would vent some of his anger on him. Abraham slowly stood up and placed his hands on his hips. He glared hard at Jeremiah. “You know about this ludicrous plan our baby brother came up with and you…”
 
Lucas sat Laura on the ground and stood up, fire burning in his eyes. “Stop calling me your baby brother! I’m 18 years old!” His voice yelled.
 
“Well, you certainly aren’t acting it!” Abraham yelled back as they both glared at each other.
 
“Stop it!” Marcus stood up suddenly. “All of you just…just stop it.” He sat back down and gasped for breath. His sons stared at him. Lucas closed his eyes, realizing that his latest announcement had caused his father’s latest attack.
 
He looked around at the others standing there. He saw the accusation and judgment in most of their eyes. He saw Abraham’s angry stance. He knew his announcement had caused the reaction he’d feared. In that moment, the verdict of guilty was handed down and he couldn’t stand the pressure anymore.
 
So he ran. He turned and ran off as fast as he could. He suddenly  needed to be alone. Night had settled on the land. The full moon shined a pathway toward the lake for him as, in the distance, a coyote howled.
 
He stopped, frozen in his spot when the lake came into view. He stared at the small figure of a woman sitting on the bank with her face in her hands and her body shaking with sobs. His eyes filled with tears as he watched her cry over what was to soon come.
 
Lucas hesitated.  He wasn’t sure if he should talk to her or not, but he knew in his heart he could never leave her like this. His heart broke a little more as he slowly walked up to her. “Margaret?”
 
At the sound of his voice, she lifted her face from her hands. But she didn’t turn around. “I…” Margaret wiped at her eyes as she sniffed. “I’m sorry I ran away like that.”
 
Lucas slowly walked over and sat down beside her. He took out his kerchief and gently wiped the tears from her cheeks. Then he smiled weakly into her eyes as he spoke of the past. “Remember when we were seven years old? Remember at school when we were playing chase? I fell and skinned my knee really bad. I cried because it hurt, but I didn’t cry nearly as hard as you did.” Margaret gave him a sad smile. “Remember what you said when I asked you why you were crying?” She nodded and bit her lip as she started to turn away. But  Lucas put a hand on her cheek and kept his eyes focused on hers. “Say it,” he whispered softly.
 
Margaret smiled as another tear slipped from her eye and rolled down her cheek. “The ground hurt your leg, but your tears hurt my heart.”
 
Lucas nodded. He paused in silence for a moment before speaking. “Did I hurt your heart tonight?” His voice was soft and gentle like s spring rain on a field of flowers. Margaret again started to turn her head away. His hand, still on her cheek, nudged it softly and drew her head back around to look at him. “Talk to me, Margaret.”
 
She didn’t immediately obey him, but simply studied his face. Her eyes left his and looked over every inch of his face as if she were memorizing just how it looked. Then she looked back into his eyes and sighed. “I’m being so selfish!” Margaret complained. She started to look away again, but his hand stayed firm on her cheek as he lifted his other hand to her other cheek and raised his eyebrows. “You talk about going to fight in a war. How do I know you’ll come back?” Her voice broke.  Lucas saw what her words had cost her.
 
He dropped his hands from her face and turned from her. He spoke as he looked out over the moonlit lake. “Well…” He sighed as he drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. “You don’t.”
 
A silence fell over them. Lucas turned to look at Margaret who was staring at him as his words sank in. “What?” Lucas asked as he lifted an eyebrow to her. “Do you want me to lie and tell you I know for sure I’ll come back?” Lucas shook his head. “I can’t do that, Margaret. This is war, but everything in me tells me to go. I feel an urge deep inside me.”
 
A silence fell over them again. Lucas watched her as she turned from him and looked out over the lake and thought about everything he said. She lifted a hand to her cheek and wiped the tears. Then she lifted her head up high and forced a smile onto her face. “I’ll worry. You know that.”
 
She was the strongest woman he’d ever known. She was able in that short time to come to terms with his decision. He saw the sincerity of her actions in her eyes. For some reason, having her blessing was suddenly important – more important than anyone else’s. He waited, hoping to receive it
 
He watched as she continued to struggle with something. Then she came to terms as her eyes settled.. She turned and looked at him. “Luke?” She swallowed hard. “I want you to go.”
 
“Do you mean that?” he asked softly. “You’re not just saying it?”
 
Margaret gave Lucas a small smile. “Have you ever known me not to tell you just what I’m thinking?” Lucas smiled. “I mean it, Luke. I think you should go.” She stood up. Lucas stood and looked down at her. “This country is broken. You need to help fix it.” She reached out and grabbed his hand. “You have my blessing.”
 
Lucas smiled down at her. He again lifted a hand and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Margaret, it’s going to be awful lonely there without you. Who will I tell my problems to?”
 
They turned and started walking back toward the Gibbs ranch. “Well…you could write me. I’ll write you if I can, though it will be sort of hard to know where you’re at. But you write me and tell me your problems. I’ll do the same, even if I can’t mail the letters. Maybe this war will be over soon and you can come home.” Margaret glanced up at him and smiled.
 
Lucas held her arm as they walked. Lucas stopped just before they got to the ranch. He heard the pain and worry in her shaky voice. He turned to her and look down at her. “I’ll come back…to you…Margaret. I mean…” Lucas’s eyes widened as he stared into hers. “I mean…I’ll try.”
 
Margaret wanted so much to be happy for him. She lowered her head when she felt her eyes fill again. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
 
Lucas put a hand under her chin and lifted her head up. “I’m not.” He smiled at her. “I’m glad you’ll worry about me and miss me. It’ll give me something to think about…something to…look forward to.” His eyes focused on her mouth. He suddenly wanted to…
 
Margaret lifted her face up to his. She smiled when she saw his head lower. He kissed her softly. She found herself gently responding to his kiss as her heart started beating harder. After their lips parted, Lucas closed his eyes as a sigh escaped his lips. “That will carry me until I get back. When I get back, we’ll have a talk.”
 
Margaret smiled as he took her hand and walked her to her house. When they got to the door, they suddenly realized how quiet things were. The front door opened and Samuel Gibbs looked from Lucas to Margaret. Margaret gave Lucas a sad smile then went inside.
 
“Your family has gone home, Luke.” Lucas nodded.. “You ran off and they couldn’t stay and wait for you, Luke,” Samuel explained.
 
Lucas started to turn away, but Andy walked to the doorway.  “Say Luke, I was talking to Andy here about joining up. He’s the only one of us Gibbs who would be able to do it.”
 
Lucas stared at Samuel. “You mean…You actually want Andy to go fight?” Samuel Gibbs nodded. “I’m sure they’ll let him come tomorrow, but…” Lucas turned and looked at Andy. “Is this what you want?” Andy nodded. But that’s not the answer he saw in Andy’s eyes.
 
“Andy, why don’t you ride Lucas home? We’ll talk when you get back.” Samuel put his pipe to his mouth as the boys walked out.
 
 Lucas could tell Andy’s joining up with them was a dream of his father’s, not Andy’s. Lucas knew that living another person’s dreams could bring heartache. He thought on this as they rode silently. Finally, Lucas formed the words he wanted to say.
 
 “Andy…You know, the war isn’t all about adventure. People are dying. Innocent people. In the war, you’d have to kill men just like you. The last battle…the one in Tennessee?” Lucas raised his eyebrows at his friend. “There was a lot of bloodshed. Thousands of men lost their lives.”
 
“You’re saying I don’t have what it takes?” Andy suddenly asked.
 
“Do any of us have what it takes?” Lucas asked. “Am I going to be able to go up to some young man like me and shoot him? Will I be brave enough to do that?” Lucas shook his head. “You know what Drako told me? He said I’d know I could pull the trigger…when I pulled the trigger.”
 
The boys rode in silence. Finally, Andy sighed. “I don’t really want to fight.” Lucas shot his head around and stared at him. “Does that mean I’m a coward?”
 
“Of course not, Andy. I have a longing deep inside me. My brothers will probably call it rebellion, but…I have this feeling, and I can’t ignore it! Ever since those cavalry men rode into town, I’ve had a longing to join up, and I’ve done a lot of praying and soul-searching to come to the realization that I…I HAVE to fight.” Lucas grew quiet, allowing Andy to think on that. “Andy, this isn’t a decision you come to lightly.”
 
Andy said nothing as they rode in silence for a few more minutes. Then when he finally spoke, he focused on his sister. “How’s Margaret taking it?” Andy asked.
 
“She gave me her blessing.”
 
“And…that’s really important to you, isn’t it?” Lucas nodded. “You reckon you’ll marry her when you get back from the war?”
 
“I don’t think she’d want someone like me,” Lucas declared flatly.
 
“Because you’re the son of a poor dirt farmer who struggles to put food on the table for his family?” Lucas nodded. “Do you think my sister really cares about that?” Lucas didn’t answer. “She loves you, you know. She’s loved you for a long time, and I suspect that…the feeling’s mutual.”
 
“So…” Lucas changed the subject. Talking about Margaret…especially with Andy…wasn’t something he relished. “What are you going to do?”
 
Andy shrugged. “Ever since you made that announcement, Pa’s been hounding me to join up. He really wants me to go.”
 
Lucas slowed Thunder as he turned and looked at his friend. “Your Pa’s not going to fight in the war. You are. He has no right to force you to go.” Lucas sighed. “Look Andy, if you don’t feel right, you shouldn’t do it.” Andy looked at Lucas. “Andy, there are boys being FORCED to fight in this war. You have a choice, living in Oklahoma. You don’t HAVE to join up.”
 
“Don’t I?” Andy raised his eyebrows at his friend. “Do you think it’s easy to say no to Pa? Do you know the guilt trip he puts us kids on when we don’t do what he wants?”
 
Lucas didn’t understand that way of thinking. His Pa wanted him to be a dirt farmer and Lucas had made it very clear he didn’t want to do such a thing. His father had also made it very clear he didn’t want his children involved in this war. They had the freedom to remain neutral, but Lucas didn’t want to do that. He wanted to fight for his country. Lucas knew very well how hard it was to stand up to a father who’s dreams were different than his own. But if he was to ever be his own man, he had to do it. “Andy, you can stand up to your father. Tell him how you feel!”
 
Andy shook his head. “It won’t do any good! He doesn’t care what I think or want. He has dreams…desires for us kids. He has our whole lives all planned out, and they include me fighting for the war.”
 
They arrived at the McCain farm. Lucas dismounted the horse and tied him to the hitching post. “Just think about it.” Lucas turned and looked toward the house. “Right now, I feel like Daniel about to go into the den of lions.” He turned and watched Andy ride out of the yard. Then he slowly walked toward the door and wondered how much fighting he’d have to do that night.
 
***
 
“What I want to know is where he’s at right now!” Abraham boomed out as he paced angrily around the main room of the McCain’s farm house . “He drops an announcement like that then…then…then just takes off!” Abraham’s face was red, he was so angry.
 
“Oh Abraham!” Jeremiah rolled his eyes at his brother. “If you had everyone looking at you like you were guilty of some crime and yelling at you, you’d run off too! Lucas is 18 years old now. He’s not a kid and…”
 
“He still has a responsibility to this family!” Abraham’s voice boomed. “How’s he going to be responsible if he runs off to that miserable war and gets himself killed?”
 
“Abraham!” his wife, Julie shouted as she stood up and planted her hands on her hips. “Abraham McCain, you need to stop yelling! You know you can’t upset your father like this! His heart can’t take it!”
 
Her words just made Abraham even more irate. “I can’t upset my father?” Abraham planted his hands on his hips. He glared at his wife, then he turned and glared at Jeremiah. “I’m not the one who interrupts a nice night to announce that I, a barely 18 year old BOY, am going to go off in some war…some war, I might add, that Pa has asked us to stay out of, and possibly get himself killed!”
 
Jeremiah jumped up from his chair and hurried up to his brother. He didn’t get riled often, but when he did it was usually for a very good reason. “Now see here, Abraham!” Jeremiah jabbed a finger right in his brother’s face. “Lucas ain’t no kid! He’s a man…Barely 18 or not, he’s a man and we should start treating him like that!”
 
“What right does he have to…” Abraham started.
 
“He’s got every right!” Jeremiah declared. “Pa’s always taught us that when we believe in something, we should stand up for it!” Jeremiah calmed his voice down just a bit. “Well, Luke believes in this war, and rather we do or don’t, it’s our God-given duty to stand behind him.”
 
“He’s wrong!” Abraham shouted.
 
“Are you so sure?” Jeremiah asked as he planted his hands on his hips and glared into his brother’s eyes.
 
 “Where is Pa at right now anyhow?” Abraham grumbled.
 
The shouting suddenly stopped as Marcus slowly walked out of the bedroom and sat down in his chair.   It was evident that he was again having a spell with his heart. After he sat down, he cleared his throat and spoke firmly.  “I want everyone to sit down and stay calm about this.” Abraham watched his brother sit down but stayed standing himself. “That includes you, Abe!” Marcus shifted in his chair as he took some deep breaths to calm his heart.
 
Abraham looked from his father to his wife. They both had stern expressions on their faces. “Yes sir.” He sat down.
 
“Now…Lucas is of age. He can make his own decisions.”
 
Abraham jumped up from his chair, anger heavy on his face again. “Oh Pa, he’s just doing it to spite you!” Abraham shouted. “He’s just a boy who’s trying to…”
 
“I said quiet!” Marcus ordered.  He slowly stood up and pointed a finger at his youngest son. “Now, I’ve given you an order. You will not raise your voice to me, and you will follow my orders! I don’t care if you are 6 or 26! As long as I live and breathe, I’m the head of my family and you will obey!”
 
Abraham swallowed. “Yes sir.”  Julie nudged Abraham to sit down. He did so.
 
“Now then…” Marcus put a hand to his chest and tried to stay calm. His wife put a hand to his back and laid a soft kiss on his cheek to give him support. “First of all, I don’t think Lucas is doing this to spite me. He’s always respected me, and he’s never hidden the fact that he doesn’t want to be a farmer when he gets on his own. I know that we all want Luke to stay here. But I also know that Luke is as stubborn as a mule, and when he gets his mind set on something there’s no changing. We don’t have to agree that this is the best choice for him. But…” Marcus looked all five of his children in the eye – from his oldest to his youngest. “…Do we want Lucas to leave thinking we don’t love him?”
 
“We do love him, Pa!” Peter argued. “That’s why we’re so upset. We don’t want him to get killed or…”
 
Marcus held up his hand. “I know that. The truth is…” Marcus gasped as another pain came to his chest. “The truth is that he may not come back.”
 
There was silence in the room as every member of the McCain family allowed this revelation to sink in. They all nodded, except for Laura who was beginning to nod off next to her mother. She wasn’t quite sure what all this meant. “So if we love him and want to protect him, why should we just let him go?” Abraham asked calmly. “Pa, you should…”
 
Marcus again lifted his hand and shook his head. “We can’t protect him, son. He’s not a child who wants to go running off in the woods by himself. He’s a man who sincerely believes in the decision he’s made. And because if we fight him on this, he’ll be more determined than ever to go. And they’ll be nothing but hurt feelings.” Marcus sighed. “No, son…We have to let him go. He’s at the age where he wants to test his wings. You all went through that, though you don’t want to remember. Now, I’ll admit that Lucas is much more head-strong than any of you were, and much to my disappointment he wants to go a different way than I wish…” Marcus stood up and walked toward the window. “But…the truth is, I’d rather part on good terms than have him leave feeling resentful and unloved.”
 
The men had been talking so much that the womenfolk hadn’t had a chance to get a word in edge-wise. But Emily was able to speak for the first time. “Pa’s right!” She stood and walked over to her father. “May…Maybe we don’t agree with what our brother’s doing, but we must support him because we love him.” Emily took a step toward her Abraham. “Even those as stubborn as you, Abraham.” Emily turned back to her father. “Because Luke really, truly believes in what he’s doing.”
 
Abraham stood and went across the room to look out the back window. He was still holding out. He didn’t understand why they had to have this discussion at all. It wasn’t fair of Lucas to do this when he knew how bad their father’s heart was. What would his leaving do to their father? Would he be able to bear watching his son ride off into a dangerous war and very possibly never return?
 
The door opened. Lucas walked in and hung his head as he closed the door. There was a dark silence in the room. He looked around at each family member. He saw his Pa standing at the front window, and his brother Abraham at the back. Abraham’s back was toward him and he refused to turn around. Lucas could tell he had just walked in on a heated discussion. He stood and waited, but nobody said anything. “I know you’ve been talking about me.” He waited, but the room stayed silent. “Well? Go ahead and yell at me. I know you want to.”
 
“Yes. I do!” Abraham declared as he turned from the window and gave his baby brother a hard stare.
 
“Abraham!” Marcus warned as he turned from the window and looked at Lucas.
 
Abraham held up his hand. “But…I’m not going to. Pa’s decided as the head of this family that you deserve our blessing. I’m not going that far. I can’t, Lucas, because I don’t believe what you are doing is right. But…” Abraham sighed as he spoke the next words with a heavy heart. “I won’t stop you either.”
 
Lucas looked around the room. He saw his mother throw a fist to her mouth as she began weeping. Lucas hurried over to her and bent down in front of her. “Oh Ma…Don’t cry!” Lucas laid a hand on her cheek. “Please…please don’t cry!”
 
She lifted her head and took his hand in hers. As she pressed his hand to her lips. “When I gave birth to you, I never thought I’d be watching you go off to war.” She closed her eyes as she whispered her words. “You have my blessing.” Then she began sobbing.
 
Lucas took his mother in his arms and held her while she cried. “I love you, Mother. I love you so much.”
 
“I love you, Lucas.” She pushed him away a bit and laid her hands on his cheeks. “I will always love you!” She kissed him on the mouth. “Oh, I love you, Luke.”
 
Lucas looked down at his seven year old sister sleeping next to his mother. He kissed her on top of the head. Then he turned and looked at Emily. She wept silently beside her father. Lucas stood up and held out his arms to her. Without hesitation, she burst into sobs and ran into his arms. She sobbed loudly as Lucas’s strong arms enveloped her in a brotherly embrace. “I love you, Em.” He pulled away from her just a bit and kissed her forehead. Then he searched her eyes for her answer. He saw her silent blessing. Lucas laid a gentle hand on her cheek as he continued to look into her eyes. “Oh Em, please help Margaret.” Emily nodded.
 
Lucas turned toward his brothers. Abraham turned from him, refusing to even speak. Jeremiah smiled and nodded as he held out his hand for Lucas to shake. Peter looked toward Abraham then nodded his blessing and shook his hand.
 
Lucas knew he wasn’t going to get his brother’s blessing. Abraham had already said so. Lucas turned away from them. “Well, I best get to bed. I have a big day tomorrow.” His voice broke. Lucas turned toward his father. They looked into each other’s eyes Marcus gave his son a sad smile, but it wasn’t quite a blessing. “Pa, I…” Lucas started to speak, but when he saw the hesitation in his father’s eyes, he stopped. “Goodnight.”
 
The family stood in silence as they heard Lucas’s boots walk across the floor, then the door closed.
 
***
Lucas buckeled his satchel and sat it on the table. “Johnny’s outside waiting for us, Ma.” She didn’t turn from her place at the sink. He knew she didn’t want to say goodbye. But he wasn’t sure he could live through the war without it. “Ma, I’ve got to go,” Lucas pleaded then.
 
“I know.” Ruth continued her chore. She never turned.
 
He paused again, waiting…hoping…but she never turned. Tears filled his eyes. He had to leave. “Well…” Lucas picked up his bag. “I love you, Ma.” His voice was sad and broken. He turned and walked toward the door. His heart was breaking.
 
“Lucas!” He turned as his mother rushed into his arms. “Oh Lucas!” She sobbed in his arms. Lucas held her tight as he felt tears running down his cheek. “Was it just yesterday…” Ruth mumbled as her face buried into his shoulder. “…just yesterday we were sitting at the table talking? And now…” Lucas lifted her head from his shoulder and laid one more kiss on her cheek. Then he pulled her away. He looked into her eyes and hesitated. For the first time since he made the decision, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go. He became so overcome with emotions that he quickly turned away and hurried out the door.
 
As he stood in the doorway, he saw Emily standing behind Laura. Her hands were on her little sister’s shoulder. Laura clung to her doll as she looked down at the ground. Lucas walked up and placed a hand on Emily’s cheek. He kissed her softly one last time. “I love you, Em.” Emily nodded as she bit her lip. He looked down at Laura. “Take care of my Rosebud for me.” Emily sniffed as she threw her arms around him.
 
Emily nudged Laura, but she shook her head. She refused to look up at her brother. Lucas bent down in front of her and lifted her head. “Laura, I love you.” Laura tried to avert her eyes from him. “You said you understood last night.” She nodded. Lucas stood and took her hand. He knew she wanted a private moment with him. Their lives had been filled with private moments…just the two of them.
 
When they had gotten around to the side of the house, Lucas sat down on the log. Laura climbed up on his lap and buried her head into his chest. She began weeping as her arms wrapped around his neck. “Who will tell me stories?”
 
“Peter can,” Lucas answered softly.
 
“Who will tuck me into bed at night?”
 
“Ma would love to do that, Laura.”
 
“Who will…” Laura sniffed. Then she began crying. Lucas kissed her cheek as he felt his own eyes fill with tears. “What if you don’t come back?”
 
Lucas pulled her away from him. “Hey, hey…what’s this about my not coming back? I’ll come back! I will!” Lucas dug in his pocket and took out a silver dollar. “Here.” He put it in her hand and closed her fist. “Now, you just hold on to that. Keep it under your pillow. He took out another silver dollar. “I’ll keep this one in my pocket all the time. I won’t spend it. I promise.” He held it up to her. “Kiss it quick.” She did. He kissed the silver dollar she had. “Now, I’ll be right here with you. And as soon as I can, I’ll be back. I promise.”
 
Laura nodded. “Now, I have to get going, honey. Can you be strong for me, my little Rosebud?” She nodded again. “Can you give me a smile so I can put it in my head?” It took some work, but she finally managed to smile.
 
Lucas took her hand as they started around the house. Her mother stood in the doorway and held her arm out to Laura. Then they went inside and the door closed.
 
Lucas looked around, hoping the rest of his family was there. But they were nowhere in sight. He walked toward Thunder. ”Ready?” Johnny asked. Lucas nodded. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t sure he could leave without saying goodbye to his father and brothers. He hesitated before getting on his horse then slowly mounted him.
 
Lucas lightly tapped the flank of his horse as he started out of the yard. He felt his eyes fill with tears. “Lucas.” He stopped and turned his horse around. His father stood with his brothers all around him. Marcus stepped forward. “I wish you Godspeed, son.”
 
Lucas turned and looked at Johnny. Johnny nodded and smiled at him. Lucas jumped off his horse and ran into his father’s outstretched arms. “Pa!” he began sobbing. “Oh Pa, I love you!” He felt his father’s arms go around him as they held each other and cried.
 
In time, Marcus forced himself from Lucas’s embrace. He laid his hands on his son’s cheeks and kissed him. “I love you too, son.” He sighed. “I know I don’t tell you often, but I hope all the hugs I’ve given you over the years…”
 
“I know, Pa. I know,” Lucas whispered as his father began wiping his tears.
 
“I’ve been hard with you at times, and I’m sorry but…you needed it more than your brothers.” Lucas nodded. “Well…” Marcus pushed him away. “We’ll be seeing you.”
 
Lucas stood with his arms outstretched toward his Pa as Marcus slowly walked into the house and closed the door.
 
 “This could kill him,” Abraham mumbled. He turned and looked at his brother. “I…hope you know what you’re doing.” Lucas nodded, but couldn’t speak. “Jenny and I talked for a long time last night. She helped me see some things.” Abraham stepped forward. “Luke, if this is how you really want it…” Abraham paused. He was having to swallow his pride, and that wasn’t one of his strengths.
 
“It’s the way it has to be, Abraham. I wish I could convince you…”
 
Abraham held up his hand and nodded. “That’s all I need to know.” Lucas waited. “You have my blessing.”
 
Suddenly, the brothers were overcome with emotion. They gathered together and hugged each other as they cried. Jeremiah led the brothers in prayer and prayed God would soon send Lucas back to them. Lucas again felt tears laying on his face as they broke the embrace. He watched his brothers turn and walk away.
 
With a heavy heart, Lucas turned and mounted his horse. He and Johnny Drako rode away in silence. Neither spoke. Each held a lot of emotions about what they were leaving behind. They were just passing through town when Margaret and Andy rode up on horseback. Lucas stopped and watched the two get closer. Andy stopped his horse right in front of Lucas. “Don’t tell me you’re going after all,” Lucas mumbled quietly.
 
“Looks that way,” Andy smiled nervously.
 
“Andy…” Lucas started.
 
“Luke, I told you this is the way it has to be. Now…” he moved his eyes sideways, indicating that Margaret didn’t know the truth. “We best get going.”
 
Lucas hesitated. He didn’t feel right about taking Andy with him. If he was afraid to fight, it was a sure death sentence. But what could he do? “Alright.”
 
Andy put his horse in line with the others. Lucas locked eyes with Margaret as she sat quietly on her horse staring at him. He looked at Johnny. Then he handed Johnny his reins and dismounted his horse. Walking over to Margaret, he lifted his hands and placed them on her waste as he  helped her down. “I didn’t expect to see you again.”
 
“Well…” Margaret smiled timidly. “Papa told me I could see Andy off. I…think he knew I wanted to say goodbye to you as well.”
 
“I thought we said goodbye last night.”
 
Margaret blushed as she looked down at the ground. “Well…after that goodbye, I thought one more might be in order. I…want to make sure you come back.” She lifted her head and smiled again.
 
Lucas turned and looked at his friends. They grinned, but slowly turned their horses around to give them privacy. “You’ll write to me?” Lucas nodded. Margaret bit her lip. “I’ll worry until I hear from you. Then I’ll worry until the next time.” Her voice cracked at the end and a tear slipped down her cheek.
 
Lucas lifted a hand to her cheek and brushed the tear away. “I know.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Margaret said quietly in a shaky voice. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry.”
 
Lucas softly nudged her head upwards as he bent down and kissed her. This one was deeper and longer than the first one. He wrapped his arms around her as their kiss became even deeper. Her kiss did things to him he’d never felt before.
 
As they kissed, they heard Johnny clear his throat. “The war will be over before that kiss!” he declared. This time they both blushed as Lucas pulled away from her. “And remember, her brother’s right here!”
 
“Goodbye.” Margaret nodded. Lucas turned and mounted his horse without looking back.
 
Margaret watched the three men ride out of sight. “Goodbye, my love.” She sniffed. “Come back soon.” She allowed the tears to freely fall then. As they turned out of sight, she whispered, “I want to marry you.”

The Years Before — The Letter

 

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

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