The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 2 - The Letter
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Margaret sighed as she lifted the eggs from the roost at the McCain farm. When she had ridden in, she had automatically looked for Lucas to hurry from the barn or the fields to help her dismount her horse. That’s what he used to do, every day when she came. The one person she could always count on being there to greet her was Lucas McCain. And when he wasn’t helping her dismount, he would cross his arms and grin that silly grin as he watched her dismount herself.
 
But now, Lucas was gone. Margaret actually felt her heart sink when she had to make her way to the chicken coop alone.  Lucas had always been there to greet her. They looked forward to this time every day when she would come to the McCain Ranch to gather eggs for her family. She and Lucas would talk. He’d always smile at her.
 
But those days were gone, at least for now. It had been a week since Lucas, Andy, and Johnny Drako had ridden out of Enid toward Indiana to join the Cavalry so they could join the fight in the Civil War. Margaret had avoided gathering the eggs last week. She’d asked her sister, Beth to do the egg gathering for her because she simply couldn’t stand coming to the McCain Ranch and being reminded that, not only was her brother gone, but her best friend as well.
 
But that morning at breakfast, her father had cleared his throat and…Margaret always knew that when he cleared his throat like that he was about to lay down a law. He had turned to her and said, “Now Margaret, I know how worried and sorrowful you are about those three boys riding off to war, but that’s no reason for you to mope around. They just went off to war. They’ll be back – all three of them!”
 
“My heart’s just so heavy, Pa!” Margaret had said quietly as she looked towards the empty chair that now sat at their table.
 
“It’s best to get back to your normal activities, daughter. That includes gathering the eggs.” Her father had left no room for argument. So, here she was.
 
“Hi, Margaret!” Emily McCain, Lucas’s seventeen year old sister, hurried from the house. “Do you need help?” Margaret shook her head as worry lines stretched across her forehead. Emily gently picked up an egg as she studied her friend. “We’ve been missing you around here.” Margaret turned and smiled at her friend as Emily gently laid the egg in the basket. “I know I’m not Lucas, but I’ll listen if you need someone to talk to.”
 
Margaret gave Emily another small smile then went back to her task. Emily looked at the egg in her hand.  “You’re worried about them, aren’t you?”
 
“I’m worried about ALL of them,” Margaret answered. “I’ve a bad feeling about this. Way down deep inside, I have this feeling that…” Margaret shook her head, but she couldn’t shake the thoughts that plagued her.  “…that one of them won’t come back.”
 
Such words spoken by Margaret Gibbs was shocking. Margaret was always the strong one – the one that tried to see the good in people. But, she was always overly sensitive as well.
 
“Oh Margaret!” Emily grasped her friend’s hand. “You mustn’t think like that!” She shook her head. “Listen, why don’t you join Claire, Ann and I? We’re all going to make care packages to send to the soldiers. We’re gathering at the town hall later today. We’re just sending stuff like beef jerky, paper, books, and some old magazines…stuff like that.” Margaret paused in her task and looked up at Emily. “We haven’t seen much of you since those young men left for war! Ann’s worried about you!”
 
“I’m surprised you aren’t more worried yourself. After all, it’s your brother and…” Margaret started.
 
“Oh, but I AM worried!” Emily declared. “You should have seen how much I cried after Luke rode away! But Mama just brushed my hair back and held me while I cried. Then she lit a candle and put it in the window. She said she’d let a candle burn until Luke returned.” Emily smiled. “Why don’t you come with us?” She smoothed her friend’s hair back from her face. “It would do you a lot of good.”
 
“Okay.” Margaret smiled. “I just wish I’d hear from him.” She turned back to her task. Then she turned and looked up at Emily again. “If something happens…”
 
“They’d send a telegram right away.” Emily smiled. “Besides, it’s too early to worry yet. They’ve probably just started their training! My brother is as tough as they come. He’ll come back.”
 
“And Andy?” Margaret asked as she raised her eyebrows at her friend. They both just looked at each other. They both knew Andy had always been weaker than her older brother Scott. But Scott’s leg was injured during a wagon accident at the age of six, which left him with a limp. Since then, Samuel Gibbs had expected more from his son, Andy.
 
“I’ll ask Peter to ride over and tell your folks where you are,” Emily said as she avoided answering Margaret’s question.
 
“Alright,” Margaret finally agreed.
 
After the girls got started on the way into town, Margaret asked Emily about her folks. “Pa’s not doing too well. Luke’s leaving has put quite a strain on his heart. He hasn’t been able to work much…Stays in bed most of the day.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Margaret sighed as she shook her head. “What does the doctor say?”
 
Emily slowed as they got closer to town. “Well…” She sighed as she tucked some loose blond hairs behind her ear. “He said Pa’s heart’s giving out fast. I watched Pa and Lucas say goodbye in the yard that day he left. Pa kissed Lucas and when he came inside, I think Pa knew he’d never see Lucas again.”
 
Margaret turned her head to look at her friend. She knew Emily was worried about it. “You’re so cheerful…even knowing your father’s…” she stopped.
 
“I got that from you, you know. No matter how bad things get, you always have a positive word and a smile.” Emily raised her eyebrows at Margaret. “What’s different this time?”
 
Margaret shrugged. “I just have this feeling that…This war is going to steal so much from my brother and Lucas and…” Margaret stopped, unwilling to voice the rest of her fear.
 
“You?” Emily smiled at her friend. “You love him, don’t you?”
 
Margaret smiled, glad she’d used the word ‘him.’ “My brother? Of course I do!” she declared.
 
“That’s not who I’m talking about, and you know it!” Emily acknowledged as she rolled her eyes. “I’m talking about Lucas McCain.”
 
Margaret smiled as they arrived at the Town Hall. She turned and looked at her friend. “I know who you’re talking about.” She shook her head. “He can be impossible sometimes what with his stubborn ways and being insensitive, but…”
 
“But?” Emily smiled.
 
“But he DID kiss me before he left. You think…”  Margaret stopped when she saw the disgusted look on Emily’s face. She couldn’t help laughing as Emily shook her head in disgust.
 
The girls walked inside. Ann Pritchard and Claire Wheatley hurried up to Margaret and hugged her. They hadn’t seen her in a whole week and knew she had suffered a loss as her brother and best friend rode off to war together.  As they sat down and started working on the care packages, Emily cleared her throat. She knew just what Margaret needed! “Ladies, do you remember the dance when we were fourteen years old?”
 
“Do I ever!” Claire declared. “I had to go with Herbert Barslow! That was so humiliating!” The ladies giggled. “He has a great big wart on his forehead and…”
 
“Claire!” Anne and Margaret snapped out at the same moment.
 
“And he has a dirty mind…trying to kiss me…” Claire shuddered at the thought.
 
Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Well, one of us at this table almost didn’t get to go at all. Seems she was just getting over chicken pox. You remember that, Ann?”
 
“Indeed I do!” Ann giggled. “Lucas McCain showed up and saw you crying, Margaret. He asked you to the dance!”
 
“I know,” Margaret answered with a nod of her head. “I was there, remember?”
 
They ignored Margaret’s sarcasm. “And you said your feelings for him changed that night!” Clair reminded her.
 
“I should have never told you that!” Margaret blushed as she stuck the card in the box and closed it. “You’ll never let me forget it!”
 
“And…” Ann smiled at Emily. “You said you were going to marry that boy someday.” The girls giggled as they all agreed she had said that.
 
“I was still getting over Chicken Pox. I must have been feverish…or something!” Margaret tried.
 
“And regardless of what my brother says, he IS going to marry you someday because he loves you!” Emily assured her friend.
 
“How do you know he loves me? Did he say so?” Margaret suddenly asked.
 
Emily shrugged. “He doesn’t have to say so!” She looked around at the other ladies and smiled. “Besides, you said he kissed you before he left.”
 
Margaret gasped as she put her hand on her hips and declared, “Emily McCain!”
 
Suddenly, the door opened and male voices could be heard. “Well, hello ladies! Let’s see which one of you will be lucky enough to go with me to the dance Saturday night!” Tom Birch walked in with a big grin on his face.
 
Emily rolled her eyes. “Oh please!  I don’t think anyone in THIS room is in the least interested in going to the dance with YOU!” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, if any of my brothers caught me anywhere near you they’d tan my hide for sure!”
 
“What’s your brothers got against me anyhow?” Tom asked as he stood over her and grinned down at her.
 
“You remind them of a bank robber the way you have that easy smile.” Emily stood and turned to glare at him. Then she looked behind Tom. “Now Richard here…” She smiled as she put a hand on her hip.
 
“It’s Lariat!” the man reminded her.
 
Emily smiled. “Lariat! Oh, that’s right. That’s your ‘NEW’ name!” Emily cleared her throat. “Lariat here will probably play a hand of poker with you to see who will take me to the dance.” For the last couple of years, Richard…er, Lariat as he loves to be called, had really taken a shine to poker. Emily remembered her brothers, Lucas and Peter, coming into town one evening each with a dollar burning a hole in their pockets. They did a little bit of drinking and a lot of gambling before they found themselves owing Lariat two dollars apiece. Since they didn’t have the money, they had to admit their transgression to their father. What followed was not pretty for either one of them!
 
Tom put his hands on his hips and glared at Emily. “Now aren’t you just a little spit fire!”
 
Emily smiled mischievously. “You know, my brothers tell me the same thing ALL the time!” Emily shrugged. “It must be true.”
 
“What about you, Margaret?” Tom walked up to her. “Who‘s taking you?”
 
Margaret didn’t look up. She concentrated on the magazine she held in her hands as she stared at the cover which read “The Truth About Outlaws.” She bit her lip. “Not me, no…” she spoke softly.
 
“You mean to tell me you’re not going to the dance?” Tom asked with a chuckle. “You HAVE to go to the dance! You’re the most beautiful gal in town!”
 
Margaret lifted her head and gasped. His words stung her. She’d remembered another man who always told her she was the most beautiful girl in town. Then she threw a hand to her face and ran out the door. She ran to the edge of town and soon found herself at a brook. Margaret unlaced her boots then dipped her bare feet into the cool water.   She stared into the water as she remembered back to the last dance.
 
 She heard someone behind her but didn’t turn. Ann sat down next to her. “I’m going with Tom to the dance,” She announced quietly.
 
“You?” Margaret shot her head around and stared at Ann. Ann nodded as she smiled. “Why?”
 
Ann sat with her back to Margaret. She turned her head sideways to look at her best friend. “Oh…because I don’t want him to bother you.” Ann smiled.  “You’re already upset enough now that your beau isn’t here to take you to the dance.”
 
“He’s not my beau,” Margaret mumbled.
 
“I’m sorry. We shouldn’t tease you.” Ann turned to look at her friend. “You know, you could do a lot worse than Lucas McCain.”
 
Margaret smiled. She knew that. She wondered how long it would be before he came back. He said they’d talk when he came back, but so much could happen between now and then.
 
“What about Hal Dodd?” Margaret asked. “Seems to me your sort of sweet on him.”
 
“Well…” Ann lifted her head and stuck out her chin. “Hal is skirting the issue. He keeps hinting that he wants to go with me, but he won’t come out and ask.” She folded her arms. “So…”
 
Margaret raised her eyebrows. “If you’re trying to make him jealous…” she started.
 
“I’m indeed not trying to make him jealous!” Ann declared. “I’m trying to teach him that if a man wants to take a lady to the dance, he just comes on out and asks her.” Ann smiled. “I think he’ll dance with me. He’ll be there to protect me from the beast.”
 
Margaret shook her head. “You’re playing with fire. Tom Birch is nothing but trouble!”
 
“Oh?” Ann turned to face her friend. “Lucas McCain’s good friends with him.”
 
Margaret nodded. “Yes. He is.” She rolled her eyes. “Tom got Lucas out of sticky situation a couple years ago. Lucas was almost killed. I’ll be forever grateful for that, but I still don’t trust him.”
 
“And I know your instincts are always right.” Ann smiled. “I’ll be careful.” She took her friends hand in hers. “Now…what about you?”
 
“Me?” Margaret turned from her. “I’m not going.”
 
“You’re not…” Ann turned her friend around to face her. “What do you mean you’re not going? You HAVE to go! You’ve gone to this dance every year since you were 14 with…” Ann stopped.
 
Margaret stood up and walked away from her friend. She lifted her arm to a nearby limb on the tree and stared across the brook. “I don’t feel much like dancing these days.”
 
Ann stood and walked up behind her friend. “You really love him don’t you?” Margaret didn’t answer. She just stared out over the brook. “He’s so wild. Why do you care so much for him?”
 
“When I was 14 years old, Pa announced that that year I’d be able to go to the dance. I was so excited, but when I came down with chicken pox, I heard that Steve, the boy who WAS going to take me, promised to take someone else. No other boy wanted to take me, not with those spots on my face. When Lucas saw me sitting there crying in the living room, he…” Margaret bit her lip. “He said, ‘I don’t see anything wrong with your face. In fact, I would have asked you if I knew…’” Margaret turned and smiled. She leaned her back against the tree. “Then he asked me to the dance.”  Margaret laughed. “And he couldn’t even dance! I had to teach him.”
 
Ann giggled. “I remember that! He looked awful funny out on the dance floor.” Then she sobered. “But by the end of the night, we were watching you both. You danced so…” Ann shivered. “There were stars in your eyes.” She narrowed her eyes at Margaret. “There still are.”
 
Margaret turned away from her friend. “Yeah.” She sighed. “But I’m worried. I’m afraid that things will never be the same again.”
 
“Well…” Ann slid down to the ground again as she pulled her knees up to her chest and tucked her dress under her knees. “From what Pa says…this war will be going on for quite some time, so I suspect things WILL be different.” She turned and smiled at her friend. “A good friend told me once that the world doesn’t stop spinning just because we ask it to. People keep on living and changes keep on coming.”
 
“Hm…” Margaret smiled. “That sounds familiar.” Then she shook her head in frustration. “I wish it were just some childhood carnival we wanted the world to stop spinning for! When I said those words, I…”
 
“…You never thought you were going to be saying them about the man you love?” Ann raised her eyebrows. “About…Lucas?”
 
Ann turned to her friend. Margaret hesitated before she finally nodded. “You see? That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
 
“But what if he doesn’t love me?” Margaret moaned. “What if after the war…”
 
Ann chuckled again. “A good friend also told me that we can’t go through life on ‘what if’s’. Oh, he loves you alright. Everyone knows it. You two fell hard for each other when you were 14 years old.”
 
Margaret turned and looked at Ann. “If I tell you a secret, would you promise not to tell anyone? I mean NO ONE!”
 
“Sure!” Ann promised.
 
“After the dance…when he walked me home?” Ann nodded. “He kissed me,” she whispered.
 
Ann’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her friend in shock. “He WHAT???????” Margaret nodded as she blushed. “And you LET him?”
 
“Well…” Margaret smiled. “It sorta just…happened.” She laughed as she remembered. “You should have seen the look on his face afterwards! He was petrified!”
 
Ann bobbed her head up and down in surprise. “I’d say so! He was probably afraid your father was going to come out of that house with a shot gun!” Ann giggled. “And…he probably realized that he loved you and it scared him to death. After all, a 14 year old boy doesn’t quite understand what that’s all about.”
 
“Neither does a 14 year old girl!” Ann declared. She laughed at the memory.
 
“You see?” Ann grasped her friend’s hand. “Those are the things that will get you through. You HAVE so many happy memories with him. I want to see you smile…and dance.”
 
“It just won’t be the same without Lucas there…” Margaret moaned.
 
“I hope not!” Anne declared. “Because if it was, you wouldn’t be in love with Lucas.”
 
Margaret laughed in spite of her mood. She knew her friend was right. And she knew she couldn’t force her world to stay still as she waited for Lucas to return.
 
Anne grinned. “Rich…” She cleared her throat. “Lariat Jones wants to take you.”
 
“Lariat?” Margaret gasped. “He and Lucas have always been good friends.”
 
“Yes.” Ann nodded. “And he wants to take you as a friend. He said he has no intention of stepping on Lucas’s territory.”
 
Margaret screw up her face. “I don’t know if I like that way of putting it!” She giggled. “MEN!” Then again she sobered. “If only I’d hear from him. If only I could write him.”
 
“Why can’t you?” Ann asked.
 
“Well…” Margaret shook her head. “I have no way of knowing where to send it.”
 
“Then give it to him when he gets back.” Ann smiled. “Who says you have to mail the letters?”
 
Margaret bit her lip as she stood up. “I’m going home!” She declared.
 
“Why?” Ann asked.
 
“I’ve a letter to write!” Ann smiled at her friend. It was good to see the spring back in her step!
 
***
Lucas, It’s been a week since you left me beside my horse. I watched you and Andy ride away with Johnny Drako. I couldn’t help but wonder how long you’d be gone. Oh, I wish there was some way of knowing how long this war will last. I heard Papa and Scott talking a while ago, and they said things are really heating up. They think this war will go on for years.
 
I worry about you and Andy. Johnny…well, he can take care of himself. He’s always been a bit more wild than you. And I know you can take care of yourself also, but you’re such a good friend that…Well, I don’t know if putting those words down on paper is such a good idea right now. But Lucas, I worry for Andy. Andy has had a hard place to fill. I know that you’ve had to go against what your father wanted for you and I admire you for standing up for yourself. But Andy, well Andy is weaker. He’s afraid of hurting Papa and Ma. He’s never stood up for himself like the others have. I’m just afraid. I know Papa forced him into this war.
 
Lucas, would you protect Andy for me? Would you watch out for him and try to keep him safe?
 
The annual dance is Saturday night. I know if you were here you’d ask me, because you always have. But you aren’t here. Richard, Lariat rather, has asked me to the dance. I’m thinking about going with him, but I hope you know that I’ll be thinking about you every step of the way. Lariat promised he’d be a perfect gentleman.
 
I’m worried, Lucas. I hope all three of you can come home soon. Please hurry home.
 
Margaret
 
***
 
Margaret looked down at her desk as she got ready for the dance. The letter she had written to Lucas five days ago was still sitting there. She picked it up and held it close to her as she wondered if she’d ever be able to mail it to him.
 
Margaret heard the door to their house open and close. She hurried out to see Scott back from town. “Well?” she asked anxiously. Scott looked from his mother, Jennifer, then to Beth, then to Margaret. He shook his head.
 
Margaret forced a smile on her face. “Well…they must be really busy with training and all.” She turned to the mirror and smoothed her dress.
 
Her mother walked up behind her and put her hands on her shoulders. She gazed at her daughter’s reflection in the mirror. “I’m sorry, honey,” she said softly.
 
“Sorry?” Margaret asked as she fought back tears. She turned and looked at her mother. “I should be the one telling you I’m sorry. Andy’s your son. You must be beside yourself with worry.”
 
Jennifer smiled at her daughter. “I am, sweetie. And so are you. But I only have one son to be worried about. You have a brother and a…good friend…to be worried about.” She looked into her daughter’s eyes as she pressed her hands to her cheeks. “Especially tonight.”
 
Margaret turned and looked into the mirror. “Well, I’m not. I…” Margaret could feel her tears coming. She hurried into her bedroom and closed the door.
 
Margaret sat down at her desk and opened the drawer as tears began to fall down her cheeks. She slowly took out her stationary and began writing another letter.
 
***
 
My dearest Lucas, I hope you don’t mind my starting the letter that way. This is just a really hard night for me. I’m remembering four years ago when you showed up at my door to take me to the dance. Oh, I was so nervous as I wondered if you would indeed take me. Then my brothers…Oh, how I laugh remembering how my brothers warned you to be respectful of me.
 
I don’t really want to go to this dance, but Anne, Claire and Emily all think it would be good for me. Emily assured me you wouldn’t mind, but I’m not so sure. For some reason, I almost feel like I should be asking you permission to go to the dance with Lariat, yet we don’t own each other – not even a little bit. So why does my heart feel like it’s breaking? Why do I feel this ache deep inside me?
 
Lucas, I…
 
A knock suddenly sounded on the door. “Who is it?” Margaret asked as she sat her pen down and wiped at her cheeks.
 
“Lariat’s here, honey,” Jennifer called through the door. Margaret didn’t say anything. She stood and walked over to her bed. She grabbed the rail at the foot of her bed as if it were a lifeline. “Margaret?” She heard the door open as her mother came inside. Then she heard the door close. She heard her mother’s footsteps cross the room. “Come here, darling.”
 
Margaret suddenly turned at the invitation. “Oh Mother!” She threw her arms around her mother and cried. “Why do I hurt so bad? Why do I feel so empty?”
 
“Because you love him, Darling.” She took her daughter’s head in her hands and lifted her face to hers. “You’ve loved him for four years.”
 
“But I’ve never felt like this before!” Margaret declared. “These feelings are so much stronger now. I don’t understand, Mother!”
 
Jennifer smiled down at her daughter. “They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I never really understood that, but watching you…it makes sense.” She sat down on the bed and patted the bed beside her for Margaret. Jennifer took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her daughter’s face. “As long as Lucas was here, you had confidence of seeing him. There was no reason for those feelings to come to the surface because you two were already courting, and for now that was enough.”
 
“No Mama!” Margaret argued. “We weren’t courting!”
 
Jennifer smiled. “You were, my darling. You were.” She pressed her hands to her daughter’s cheeks and kissed her forehead. “Love comes in all different shapes and sizes. You and Lucas have always had a special relationship. In the beginning, it was a friendship. You needed someone to care for and worry over, and he needed someone, in his own special way, to worry about him. Then when you were fourteen he took you to the dance…”
 
Margaret lowered her head as the memories flooded her. “Oh darling, I watched you at that dance. I just stood beside your father and watched you and Lucas McCain fall in love. It did my heart proud, because underneath that rough exterior of his, Lucas is a wonderful, gentle man. Then when he walked you home…” Jennifer smiled. “I saw him kiss you.”
 
Margaret lifted her head and stared into her mother’s eyes. “You…you did?????” She asked in shock. Jennifer nodded. “But you never…”
 
Jennifer shrugged. “I also saw the look on his face when you parted. He was so terrified! I wasn’t sure if he was scared of you or of your father!”
 
Margaret blushed. “I had no idea you knew that.” Then her eyes filled up with tears again. “How do I make the pain go away, Mother?”
 
“Well…” Jennifer wiped her daughter’s eyes again. “You can’t make it go away. But you can just keep on living.”
 
“But what if…” Margaret lowered her head.
 
“What if he doesn’t come back?” Jennifer smiled. “Then you get over that as well. You go on living.”
 
“That’s not what I was asking…” Margaret sighed. “Mama, what if…” She looked toward her bedroom door.
 
“Oh.” Jennifer nodded as she placed a hand to the back of her daughter’s head. “If your heart changes and you drift apart?” Margaret nodded. “Well, don’t you think it’s better you find that out now?”
 
“I don’t want to, Mama.” Margaret shook her head. “I…” she swallowed as she said the words out loud for the first time. “I love Lucas McCain.”
 
Jennifer smiled. “Then you have nothing to worry about.”
 
“Mama?” Margaret looked her mother in the eyes as Jennifer lifted her eyebrows. “Do…do I have to go tonight?”
 
“Well, you already told Lariat you would go.” Margaret saw the sternness in her mother’s eyes.
 
“Yes, Mama.” She stood up and walked to the mirror. Her eyes were red from crying and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. She looked down at the unfinished letter and wondered when she’d see Lucas again.
 
***
 
Indiana
 
Three Privates sat chatting around a campfire. Johnny Drako took a long puff from the cigar then passed it to Lucas. Lucas was getting used to the smoke entering his lungs. He had coughed the first few times and Johnny laughed so hard, he decided he wouldn’t do that anymore. Andy shook his head and declined the offer to smoke – for now anyhow.
 
“So,” Johnny threw the coffee from his cup and made a face. “Ya wanta tell me what’s got you so moody tonight?”
 
“Just missing home,” Lucas grumbled as he stared into the fire.
 
“Missing someone in particular?” Andy teased then.
 
Lucas turned and shot Andy a dirty look. Andy lost the teasing smile on his face, but Johnny wasn’t so smart.  Lucas narrowed his eyes at him. “As a matter of fact,” Lucas grumbled quietly, “I miss everyone. It’s a bit lonely out here. Never really been away from my family before.”
 
“He means,” Johnny mumbled to his friend. “…he’s never been too far away from Margaret Gibbs before!”
 
Lucas stood up and glared at his friend. “You just hush your mouth!” he suddenly shouted.
 
Captain Benton ran up to the group. “Is there a problem here, Privates?” Johnny and Lucas continued to stare at each other. Captain Benton raised his voice. “I said is there a problem here???”
 
“No sir,” Lucas answered. “My friend just doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”
 
“Training starts at 4:00 AM. I suggest you men sleep it off!” Captain Benton ordered. Lucas slowly sat down and took another drag off the cigar as he stared into the fire.
 
Johnny laid down on his bedroll and looked at Lucas. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so mean. I miss my family too.” Lucas nodded. “But Lucas…tell me the truth.” Lucas turned and looked at Johnny as he turned on his side to go to sleep. “It’s the dance. It was tonight.”
 
Lucas turned and stared into the fire. “Yeah…” He closed his eyes and pictured his beautiful Margaret twirling around on the dance floor. He longed to feel her in his arms. That’s exactly where she would be, had he not left her.
 
***
 
“Would you like some punch?” Lariat asked as the music ended and they made their way to some chairs. Margaret nodded and watched Lariat make his way to the refreshment table.
 
“Oh!” Ann sat down and laughed. “That Hal…he sure can dance!”
 
“Yes.” Margaret looked toward Tom Birch. “But what about Tom?”
 
“Tom?” Ann smoothed her hair as she looked at him. “He does look like he’s about to start something.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret nodded. She stood up. “And it looks like he’s about to start it with Lariat Jones!”
 
“I was in line first!” Tom declared as he stood face-to-face with Lariat. “And I want the punch!”
 
“I just watched you dump something from a flask in that punch!” Lariat shouted at Tom. “And I want to know what it was!”
 
Margaret watched as Marshal Williams hurried up to the two. “Alright, what’s going on here?”
 
“Marshal, I saw Tom put something in this here punch!” Lariat declared. “He spiked it!”
 
“You’re out of your mind!” Tom declared angrily. “Marshal, he’s just jealous!”
 
“Jealous?” Lariat laughed. “Jealous of what?”
 
“You know darn well Margaret doesn’t want to be here with you! You’re just trying to…” Suddenly, Lariat punched Tom.
 
“Alright, both of you…out!” Marshal Williams declared.
 
Margaret watched as both Tom and Lariat were escorted outside. “Well…” Ann shook her head. “I guess now I can have Hal all to myself!” Just then, Hal grabbed Ann and pulled her out onto the dance floor.
 
Peter came up and asked Margaret to dance. She smiled her acceptance. For the next hour, Margaret danced. She danced with every McCain brother, including Abraham, and several other boys. But her heart wasn’t in it. She felt like she was being smothered with the memories of the dances she and Lucas had come here on.
 
She looked around to tell someone she was going outside. But everyone seemed busy. Grabbing her wrap, she quietly made her way out the back door so she could get some fresh air. “Well…well…well…”
 
Margaret turned to see Tom Birch walking towards her. He took a deep puff on the cigar he was smoking. “Fancy finding you out here all by yourself.” He grinned. “Say, you wouldn’t mind having a private dance out here with me…just the two of us?”
 
Margaret stared at Tom as he started toward her. “No. I…” Margaret swallowed. “I just came out to get some fresh air.”
 
Tom grinned as he walked toward her. Margaret began backing up against the wall. “Fresh air, huh? Well…you know Luke and I have always been good friends, huh? While he’s gone, I’d like to keep his girl…”
 
“Birch!” Margaret and Tom both turned to see Jeremiah coming toward them. He put his hand on his hip where his gun was holstered. “Get moving.”
 
“As a matter of fact…” Tom threw his cigar in the dirt and smashed it. “I was just leaving. Meeting up with some fellas down south a ways.” He tipped his hat to Margaret then turned and walked away.
 
“Probably turning him into a regular bank robber or something,” Jeremiah declared. He turned toward Margaret and folded his arms. “Now, what are you doing out here by yourself, young lady?”
 
“I just needed some fresh air,” Margaret mumbled.
 
Jeremiah gently took her arm. “Yes. Well, we best get you back inside.”
 
“No!” Margaret gasped. She pulled her arm away. “I’m..sorry. I just…The memories…” Margaret swallowed. “Can I please sit out here?”
 
“Alright.” Jeremiah motioned for her to sit on the bench. He sat down beside her. “Emily had to go home. She wasn’t feeling well.”
 
“I’m sorry.” Margaret knew he was talking about his fiancée, not his sister. “When’s the wedding?”
 
Jeremiah smiled. “In a couple months. I want to get a house built first. Pa gave me a piece of land on the south side of the farm.”
 
“That’s great.” Margaret smiled. Then she grew quiet.
 
“Do you want me to tell you what my brother would say right now?” Margaret turned and looked at him. “He’d say you should get back inside and have a good time.”
 
Margaret smiled. “Have you heard from him?”
 
“No.” Jeremiah leaned his head back against the wall and sighed. “It’ll be awhile for him to get settled. I’m sure this is like an adventure to the three boys.” Margaret turned and looked at him. “Well…anyway, I know it’s hard to wait for his letter, but he’ll write when he can.”
 
“I know.” Margaret looked down at her dress. “He helped me pick out the material for this dress, you know.”
 
“Oh?” Jeremiah raised an eyebrow. “You actually dragged him into the General Store and made him pick it out?”
 
Margaret giggled. “I didn’t ‘MAKE’ him.” He turned and lifted an eyebrow. “I just used a little friendly persuasion.”
 
“Uh huh.” Jeremiah chucked. “I’ve seen you use that on him before. You MADE him.” They both chuckled. Then they grew quiet again.
 
“You think this war will go on for years?” Margaret asked then.
 
Jeremiah turned and studied her. Then he stood up with a sigh. “What I think, young lady, is that you better get back into that dance and stop worrying about things you can’t change! God’s in control.”
 
Margaret did manage to dance a few more dances, but she refused the last dance as she followed her brother Scott outside. She would never dance the last dance again – not until she was back in Lucas McCain’s arms.
 
***
 
Indiana
 
As Lucas lay staring up at the stars, he thought about his sweet Margaret at the dance. Lucas sighed as he put an arm behind his head and remembered back to the year before. He and Margaret had had a bit of a spat over a dress. This year, Margaret had assured him they wouldn’t have the same problem because he would help her decide what to make the dress from! She had cornered him inside the General Store one day. She had laid three different materials in front of him and asked him to choose the one to use. Lucas smiled as he remembered his reaction to that question as he raised his eyebrows and asked, “What are you asking me for?”
 
“Because,” Margaret had declared as she planted a fist on her hip and gave him a hard look. “It just so happens I’m making a dress for the dance, Lucas McCain!”
 
“Oh.” Lucas had grinned at her. Then he studied the material. “Why do you need a dress at all? I’ll only be staring at your beautiful face the whole evening!”
 
“Lucas McCain!” she gasped in horror at his words.
 
It had taken Lucas several moments to figure out what he had said. “OH!” His eyes suddenly grew wide in horror. He held up his hands as she continued to glare at him. “I didn’t mean for you not to wear a dress. I just meant…” Lucas looked down at the material again and pointed to the middle one. “I think this one would look beautiful on you!” Then he had picked up the keg of nails and started for the door. “I take it I wasn’t being romantic in the least?”
 
Margaret just shook her head at him. The look she shot him was enough to make him turn and run.
 
Lucas sighed as he looked up at the stars. He wondered who was escorting her to the dance in that beautiful dress tonight. He wondered if she was thinking about him that night. Ever since they were 14, they had gone to that dance together, and last year was the only year he hadn’t kissed her goodnight after the dance. Lucas turned on his side and closed his eyes. As he fell asleep, he remembered their spat and wondered if Margaret was thinking of the same thing.
 
***
 
Margaret sighed as she closed the door to her room and leaned against it. She remembered the last dance she had been on with Lucas. She laughed to herself as she remembered him not even helping her from the wagon. Margaret had sat still in the seat while he looked at her. “Don’t you have any manners?” she asked then.
 
“Huh?” Margaret had raised her eyebrows at that. “I mean…what?” She continued to stare at him as she pressed her lips together in a thin line. “Oh.” Lucas took off his hat. “Ma’am?”
 
“That’s better!” Margaret shook his head at him as she folded her arms and sat up straighter in the seat. “I thought we went all through this last time!” Lucas just raised his eyebrows in confusion. She shook her head at him. “Lucas McCain, you are about as romantic as a chicken!”
 
“A chicken???” Lucas had questioned, a bit offended.
 
“Can you help me down?” Margaret asked then.
 
“Oh, of course!” Margaret hadn’t missed the blush on his face as he jumped from the wagon and put his hands around her waist. She didn’t pretend not to know exactly why he had been so nervous. He was afraid of touching her. She could tell by the way his hands shook when he did so. As he twirled her around and sat her down on the ground, he started to remove his hands from her waste, but he suddenly stood still and stared at her.
 
Margaret saw the look in his face. Her heart soared. She kept her eyes fixed on him before finally lowering them. “Did you like my dress?”
 
“Huh?” Lucas raised his eyebrows. He saw some of the light leave her eyes and suddenly wanted it back again. “I mean…what…I mean…ma’am?” Her eyes smiled at him once again.
 
“I said did you like my dress?”
 
“Your dress?” Lucas’s gaze stayed fixed on her eyes. “I didn’t even notice it.”
 
“Lucas McCain!” Margaret suddenly grabbed his hands and removed them from her waste as she turned and hurried into the house. She had been furious with him! How dare he say such a thing to her. She had spent weeks making the dress just for the occasion of pleasing him. He always told her green made her eyes shine, and she had ordered the material all the way from Kansas City! She had worked on perfecting the dress with the anticipation of Lucas seeing her in it.
 
The next day, she had gone to collect the eggs. She’d seen Lucas stop his work in the field and turn to stare at her, but she didn’t even acknowledge he was there. She was still angry with him about the night before. Of all the nerve of him! As she concentrated on gathering the eggs from the roost, she suddenly felt a presence behind her and watched a strong, familiar hand reach into the roost and lift out an egg. “Hi.” Margaret said nothing as she snatched the egg from his hand. “I…guess I’ve got a lot to learn about women.”
 
She forced the smile to stay hidden from her face as she continued working silently. He finally leaned against the chicken coop and put a hand under Margaret’s chin. Then he lifted her face to look at him. “Alright, alright…so I AM as romantic as a chicken!”
 
She couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “Yes. You are.”
 
Lucas cleared his throat. “I’m…sorry.”
 
“You should be.” Margaret turned and started gathering the eggs from the roost again. “Do you realize I worked on that dress for a whole month just for you?”
 
“For me?” Lucas’s voice cracked. “Why would you make a dress for me?”
 
Margaret paused again and stared at him. She rolled her eyes. “Because, Lucas McCain, I wanted to look beautiful for you.”
 
“Oh!” Lucas chuckled as he thought on that.
 
His laughter just riled her even more. “I don’t see anything funny, Lucas McCain! I ordered that material three months ago…had to do a lot of sweet talking to my folks to let me order the material for that dress. Then I worked every single evening…not to mention every Sunday afternoon… on it for a whole month!   I just…”
 
Lucas suddenly pressed a finger to her lips to quiet her. “The reason I was laughing, my sweet Margaret, is because I didn’t notice your dress because I couldn’t take my eyes off this beautiful face of yours.”
 
Margaret narrowed her eyes and tipped her head to one side as she studied him. “Hm…” She put a finger to her chin as she thought about it. “I’m not sure if you’re telling me the truth or not.”
 
“You think I’d lie?” Lucas asked her in a husky voice.
 
“Maybe…if you were trying to get back into my good graces.” Margaret smiled at him. “But if you’re telling me the truth, it may be that you aren’t as romantic as a chicken after all!”
 
“Oh.” Lucas smiled. “Then…I’m forgiven?”
 
Margaret stared into his eyes. “Lucas, you best get back to the field!”
 
Lucas had been interrupted by his sister just in time. He turned and hurried away. That was the year she didn’t get a kiss after the dance, and it was her own darn fault for being so hot-tempered!
 
Margaret smiled as she slipped her dress off her head and hung it into the closet. There had been another dance just a couple months later, and Lucas had taken her to that one as well. He had made a point to admire her dress, not even realizing it was the same dress they had fought over. She had simply swallowed hard and thanked him for noticing.
 
Margaret hung the dress up in the closet she had worn to the dance that night. It wasn’t the green dress. But now, she ran her hand down it and promised herself that the next time she put the green dress on, it would be to dance with Lucas McCain.
 
Beth walked into the room then. “How was the dance?” Beth hadn’t been able to go that year. She had stayed out too late with a boy the last time and was restricted from dances until she turned 17.
 
Margaret walked over to her desk and sat down. As she dipped her pin in the ink well, she answered her sister. “I’d rather forget about it.”
 
Anything else her sister had to say was blocked out as she once again began writing a letter to the unromantic Lucas McCain.
 
 
Lucas, I…I don’t even know what I was about to say. I’m home from the dance now and must go to bed, but I wanted to finish this letter tonight. I don’t know if I’ll even be able to mail it, but I just had to talk to you, even if it is just in my heart.
 
Lucas, I…Well, there I go again. I was thinking about the dance we went to last year. You know, the annual sweetheart dance? Do you ever think about the first Sweetheart dance we went to? Then you asked me again when we were 15, and again at 16. Then last year you just simply announced that we were going to the dance together. You didn’t even ask me.
 
I was thinking about the dance you took me to last year and the spat we had over the dress. So, Lucas, do you remember what color the dress was? Do you, Lucas? I didn’t wear it to the dance this year. I’ve decided the next time I wear it is when you come back.
 
You will come back, won’t you? I mean, you aren’t going to get to liking the East so much that you just never come back. Oh, I’m so afraid for what the future will hold! Why did we have to have this war anyhow? Things were going so wonderfully!
 
Oh, I need to stay positive for you and Andy.
 
Stay safe, Lucas.
 
Margaret
 
***
 
Indiana
 
A cold rain poured down on the training camp. Captain Tom Benton yelled at his troops to keep on moving, crawling, and sliding. He yelled for them to fire at moving targets. The days of training were long and hard. The cold rain stayed a whole week. Lucas worked just as hard as the others. In the evenings, he tried to sleep but sleep was hard to come by. He was getting chills and feeling feverish.
 
By the fifth day of training, Lucas had developed a cough. Captain Benton studied him and noticed that Lucas looked pale and feverish. He had been getting worse. The Captain then asked Lucas if he needed relieved to get checked out by the army doctor. “No sir,” Lucas had answered as he coughed again.
 
But Captain Benton studied him even more. He looked Lucas in the eye and saw how sick the boy was. “I can see a good Private in front of me, and I can’t afford for a good private to get sick on me!” Captain Benton yelled at Lucas. “Private McCain, I’m ordering you go to the army quarters outside Corydon! I’m ordering Private Gibbs to escort you!” Captain Benton turned back toward Andy. “When he’s escorted and the doctor checks him out, you get back here on the double!”
 
“Yes sir, Captain Benton!” Andy answered.
 
Lucas started to argue, but Captain Benton held up hand. “You do not argue with a Captain, Private McCain! You are dismissed!” Lucas turned toward his horse. “Private McCain!” Lucas turned back. “Hurry back. We need you.”
 
Lucas got on his horse and he and Andy went on their way. Throughout the rough ride across the country, Lucas’s cough grew worse. During his coughing spells, Andy would take the reins and guide the horse toward Corydon. Andy worried about him, but Lucas just held up a hand and assured him he was okay.
 
Before they got to the Army doctor’s camp, he was weak to the point that he could hardly sit in his saddle anymore. The cold rain continued to pour down. At one point, they rode into a flash flood and Andy had to take the long way around. This just made Lucas’s condition worse. By this point in the trip, Lucas was unable to lead his own horse. Andy pulled the boy’s horse behind him along through the cold rain as he tried to hold Lucas in the saddle.
 
But before they got there, Lucas fell out of the saddle and landed face down in the cold, wet mud.
 
Andy jumped off his horse. “Lucas!” he yelled through the rain. A large clap of thunder was his only answer. “Lucas!” he tried again. But Lucas was out cold. Andy desperately looked around, searching for some sort of shelter for Lucas. The land was dark with the rain still coming. A large bolt of lightning lit up the sky and Andy saw a group of trees off the road. He quickly grabbed Lucas by the shoulders and dragged him off the road. Thunder sounded and the rain poured as Andy dragged him under the trees. “I’ll be back!” Andy cried, though he knew Lucas couldn’t hear him. “I’ll be back! I promise!”
 
Andy took off his coat and gently laid it over Lucas. The trees weren’t of much shelter, so Andy had to hurry.
 
Then he jumped on his horse and rode like the devil.
 
It was two hours later when a wagon driven by a Lieutenant and his Privates from the camp came. From the sound of Andy, the doctor had to assume there wasn’t much hope for Lucas, but Andy couldn’t believe that. Lucas was like a brother to him. They lifted the sick, tall man into the wagon and hurried back to camp. Andy sat beside his friend as Lucas moaned. “Mama, help me!”
 
“You’re going to be okay!” Andy hollered as another loud crack of thunder sounded. “You’ll be okay!” Andy grabbed onto the side of the wagons as the driver hurried over bumps in the road.
 
“Margaret, oh my sweet Margaret!” Lucas moaned then.
 
“Margaret’s fine, Lucas! She’s just fine!” Andy leaned over Lucas, trying to shelter him from anymore rain on his face. He could hear Lucas wheezing and felt the heat pouring from his face.
 
Andy jumped from the wagon the minute it pulled up beside a tent. He and another private carried Lucas inside. The doctor hurried over to the cot they laid him on and immediately began examining him. Andy stood patiently, waiting…watching…The doctor straightened up from the cot and walked over to the table as he sat his medical instruments down. “Where’s the boy from?”
 
“Our hometown is in Enid, Oklahoma Territory, sir,” Andy answered.
 
The doctor turned toward Andy. “You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’ son.” He scratched his stubby chin as he turned and looked at Lucas again. “I’m afraid the news isn’t good. He’s got pneumonia in both lungs.”
 
A large clap a thunder sounded, rocking the tent. Andy stared at the doctor as he allowed the words to sink in. “Pneumonia?” He felt his heart sink. He didn’t want to ask the next question, but he had to. “Is he going to…” Andy swallowed. “…die?”
 
The doctor turned to look at Andy. “Right now, son, I’d say his chances of dying are a lot greater than his chances of living. The boy’s in a bad way.” The doctor could see the pain and sorrow in Andy’s eyes. “Does he have a family?”
 
“A very large family,” Andy answered. “We both do. And his girl is my sister.”
 
“I think you best contact them and let them know, Private. You’ll have to go into Corydon to send the wire.”
 
“What about ice for the fever?” Andy asked then.
 
“Ice?” the doctor lifted his eyebrows and stared at Andy. “We’re in the middle of a bloody war, son. Even if they gave you ice, you’d never make it back here with enough to help the boy.”
 
“But his fever…” Andy started.
 
The doctor shook his head. “I’m sorry, son. I’ll do all I can.” He patted Andy’s shoulder. “But right now, it looks bad.”
 
“Uh…uh…Margaret! Don’t go, Margaret!” Lucas moaned as he began tossing in the bed.
 
The doctor turned and looked at Andy. “That his girl?” Andy nodded. “He must really love her.” The doctor walked toward the entrance. “You best warn his family, Private.”
 
“Help us, Mama!” Lucas yelled again.
 
Andy nodded. “I will.” Without turning toward Lucas again, he left the shelter of the tent and rode into the dark, dangerous storm to send the wire he didn’t want to send.
 
***
 
Two weeks passed. May slowly crept upon the land. The crops Lucas helped plant were growing. They were getting an abundance of rain that year and that made the families happy. It was a sunny Friday morning in early May when Margaret rode up to the McCain house when she got some news.
 
She had just started toward the chicken coop when Laura rushed outside. “Margaret, Margaret!” she called.
 
Margaret turned and bent down to hug the little girl. “How are you today, Rosebud?” She enjoyed using Lucas’s pet name for his sister. It made him seem closer then he really was.
 
“I’ve got a secret!” Laura declared with a mischievous grin.
 
“Oh?” Margaret asked as she raised her eyebrows at the little girl. “And am I going to get to hear about this secret.”
 
Laura bobbed her head up and down as her smile widened. “It’s about Luke.”
 
At the mere mention of his name, Margaret’s heart fluttered. “Luke?”
 
“Luke sent a letter!” Laura declared. “I had to leave the room. Papa made me. But Luke sent a letter!”
 
Without a moment’s hesitation, Margaret jumped up and rushed toward the McCain house. No one had heard a word in three weeks. For three weeks, Margaret had desperately been looking for a letter. Each day, her heart sank more and more and she became more and more worried about Luke. But today…finally there was a letter! Laura led Margaret inside the house where she found Emily sitting at the table snapping beans. “Is it true?” Margaret asked as she rushed inside. “You heard from Lucas?”
 
Emily stopped snapping the beans as her eyes registered surprise. Then she narrowed her eyes at her seven year old sister and quickly stood from her chair and hurried over to Laura. “Laura Rose, you march right into that room! And don’t you come out until I tell you!” Emily gave Laura a hard swat on the backside as Laura hurried toward her room. Laura let out a loud cry of protest.
 
“I declare!” Emily untied her apron and sat it on the table. “I told her not to say anything! I was going to tell you myself!” Emily hurried over to the fireplace and took a piece of paper from off the top of the mantle. “It’s not a letter, really. It’s a…” Emily‘s voice cracked as she turned away from Margaret.. “Let’s go outside.” Emily turned her head toward her parent’s bedroom door. Mama’s in with Papa. I’m afraid he’s taken a turn for the worse.”
 
Margaret stared at the closed door of the bedroom wondering what had caused this turn for the worse. She suddenly got a bad feeling deep in the pit of her stomach. Margaret turned and walked outside, closing the door to the house behind her.  Emily walked Margaret away from the house before turning to her and holding up the paper. “It’s actually a telegram from your brother. Luke is…” Emily swallowed. “He’s ill, I’m afraid.”
 
“Ill?” Margaret tried to grab the telegram from Emily. “What do you mean he’s ill?”
 
“Well…” Emily hesitated as she looked back toward the house. “When Papa read the telegram, it gave him some awful pains. Peter’s gone for the doctor.” Emily’s voice died in grief.
 
Margaret shook her head. “What do you mean he’s ill?” She asked again.
 
Emily sighed as she handed Margaret the telegram. “ “Margaret, he has a terrible case of pneumonia!”
 
“So, then he’s coming home?” Margaret asked. “He’s…”
 
Margaret’s voice died as she read the telegram:
 
Lucas has developed double pneumonia.
Doctor says his condition is critical.
In Army camp in Corydon.
Pray for him.
Send family my love
Andy
 
Emily’s eyes filled up with tears. “Margaret, he may not…” She stopped as she began sobbing.
 
“No!” Margaret grabbed Emily by the arm as if she suddenly needed strength. “No! He’ll survive! He’s strong!”
 
“I hope so.” Emily’s sobs became deeper then.. “Margaret, I’m afraid Pa doesn’t have long for this world. He told Ma this morning shortly after we received this telegram that he’s ready to meet Jesus.”
 
Margaret suddenly threw her arms around Emily.  “I’m sorry! Oh, I’m sorry!” They wept in each other’s arms for a bit, then Margaret lifted from her friend. “Will Lucas come home after he’s better?”
 
“No, Margaret. If he recovers, they’ll put him back to work.”
 
“But they can’t!” Margaret declared protectively. “It’ll take him a while to get his strength back. They need…”
 
Emily shook her head. “He signed up to be in the army, Margaret. If he gets better, they expect him to continue his service.”
 
“And if he doesn’t?” Margaret asked.
 
“Well….” Emily swallowed. “I guess no one will need his services.” She sat down on a stump in the yard. “Oh Margaret…First Papa and now…Luke…” Emily again threw her hands to her face and cried.
 
***
 
Margaret quickly made some sandwiches and packed them in Abraham’s saddlebags as he hurried into the house. “It’ll take a week’s hard riding to get there,” he announced as he grabbed the bag from Margaret.  Then he stopped when he saw Margaret’s concerned eyes. “How’s Pa?”
 
Margaret shook her head. “He’s very ill I’m afraid.” Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears. “Abraham…” Abraham paused from filling his saddle bags and turned back to her. “Abe, I know you want to get to him as fast as you can, but…don’t kill yourself in doing it. Your family’s already suffering enough.”
 
“I know.” Abraham looked towards his father door. “How long does he have?” Margaret heard the crack in Abraham’s voice. “I mean, when I get back…”
 
“I’m sorry, Abraham, but you should say goodbye now,” Margaret whispered. She watched as Abraham went toward his parent’s bedroom to say goodbye.
 
It was some time later that he came out. Margaret saw the pain in his eyes as he reached for his saddle bags. “Abraham…” Margaret took the letters from her pocket. “Could you…” she stared at the letters. Pressing them to her lips, she asked, “Would you take these to Luke?”
 
Abraham nodded as he grabbed the letters. “I’ll be back as soon as I can!” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll…tell him you love him…” Margaret nodded.
 
“Abe?” Laura called from the door. “Ya goin’ to see Luke?”
 
Abraham bent down in front of his sister and nodded. “Yes, honey.”
 
Laura held up the silver dollar. “Kiss it quick.” Abraham did as instructed. “Will you kiss his for me?” Abraham nodded. Then he gave her a kiss. “And I’ll give him a kiss for you.” Abraham stood up. “You mind your Ma and sister while I’m gone.”
 
“Abraham?” Margaret called as he started out the door. She took his hand. “Godspeed?” Abraham nodded then he hurried out the door.
 
***
 
The next days passed slowly for Margaret and the McCain family. They spent a lot of time together praying and waiting for word on Lucas. They prayed for Marcus who was still in bed very ill. The doctor said his heart was quickly giving out. In fact, he wasn’t sure why Marcus was still alive.
 
Margaret would come to sit with Marcus quite often so the family could do their chores. It had been two weeks since they received the telegram about Lucas. Margaret finally got the courage to write a third letter to Lucas. She had sent the first two with Abraham when he left to travel to Indiana to be with him during his illness.
 
My dearest Lucas,
 
My heart is so troubled. As I sit here beside your father listening to him breathe, I’m thinking about you in that army camp suffering from pneumonia. I begged Pa and Abraham to let me go, but neither would permit it. I so wanted to be there and see you. They said the trip is quite dangerous, even for Abraham. I do hope you were able to visit with him. I hope he was able to care for you the best way he knew how.
 
As I sit here, I’m remembering the kisses you gave me. I remember the way I felt when you kissed me late Saturday night, then Sunday when I just had to see you again. I wanted you to know that they meant a lot to me. I think of it often and hope that someday I’ll again feel your arms around me.
 
I pray that by the time you get this letter things will already be improving for you. I…Well, I just hold you close in my heart and can’t wait for you to return.
 
Margaret
 
Margaret heard Marcus groan. She reached for the water on the side of the bed. “Luke…Luke…” he mumbled weakly.
 
“Abraham’s not back yet, Uncle Marcus. You just lay there and rest.” Marcus gasped for breath. He lifted his head to take a few sips of water as he pressed a hand against his chest.
 
Margaret gently laid his head back onto his pillow as she allowed a tear to slip from her eye. She ached for the family. She couldn’t imagine how she would feel if something were to happen to her father. In fact, Marcus McCain was like a father to her. The two families were so close that at times it felt like they were all family.
 
“Luc…as…” Marcus mumbled. He opened his eyes and looked at Margaret. “He loves you.”
 
Margaret smiled as she smoothed back his hair and straightened his blankets. “I hope so, because I love him.”
 
“I pray…” Marcus swallowed hard. “…he lives…for you…” He gasped for breath.
 
Margaret tried to stand, but he grabbed a firm hold of her hand. “No, don’t…don’t go!”
 
“I should get Aunt Ruth!” Margaret whispered.
 
“No…” Marcus shook his head. “No…You stay with me.” Marcus swallowed. “I’m not going yet.”
 
Margaret sat back down beside him. “When Luke comes back…” Marcus swallowed. “…You marry him…Have lots of babies…”
 
“I don’t know if he loves me, Uncle Marcus!” Margaret felt tears in her eyes. She felt Lucas’s father was giving her his last wishes.
 
“He loves you.” Marcus turned and looked at her. He lifted a hand and wiped a tear. “He loves you like I love Ruth.” He lowered his hand and reached for her hand. “I see the…” he swallowed. “…the same light in his eye that I had for his mother. I see…his smile when he says…says…Margaret…” Marcus smiled faintly. “So you marry him! You become a…a…rancher’s wife.”
 
Tears fell from Margaret’s eyes as she smiled down into Marcus’s eyes. He’d finally accepted the fact that Lucas wanted to be a rancher. She licked her lips as her tear fell onto his cheek. “I want you to be there to see us married.”
 
Marcus smiled. “I’ll be there.”
 
He fell asleep. Margaret stood from her chair and walked out into the living room. When Emily and Ruth saw her tears, they jumped up. “He’s not gone,” Margaret shook her head. “But I don’t think it’ll be long. I think he’s waiting.”
 
“Waiting?” Emily asked. “Waiting for what?”
 
Ruth smiled sadly as she walked toward the bedroom. “To see if your brother’s going to be joining him,” she answered in a broken voice as she walked inside and closed the door.
 
***
Indiana
 
Abraham pulled his horse up outside the army camp. Two privates hurried up to him and restrained him from going any further. Abraham tried to break away, but their grip was strong and forceful. “My name’s Abraham McCain!” Abraham gasped breathlessly. “I’ve come from Oklahoma Territory. I’ve ridden a horse, traveled by train, and ridden a horse some more to get here!” The men only stared at him. “Lucas McCain!” His head quickly jerked back and forth as he looked from one man to the other. “Is Private Lucas McCain here?”
 
“At ease, men!” A Lieutenant slowly walked up to the group.  Abraham straightened up as the men let go of him. “He’s in here. Follow me.” Abraham didn’t like the cold sound in the man’s voice. He wondered if he was already too late.
 
Abraham followed the Lieutenant toward the tent. “I’m glad you got here so quickly. He hasn’t much longer.”
 
“Then he’s alive?” Abraham felt his heart leap inside his chest. “My brother’s alive?”
 
The Lieutenant nodded as he motioned toward the doctor. “Barely.”
 
Abraham stopped at the foot of his brother’s bed. He threw a hand to his mouth as he listened to his brother struggle through his breathing. The gurgling sound was loud. Lucas’s face was blue. He turned and looked at the doctor. “Doc?” he asked desperately.
 
“I’m sorry. He’s gotten worse in the three days since he got here.” The doctor turned and looked at Abraham.  “I…didn’t expect you so soon.”
 
“I was able to catch a train for most of the way,” Abraham answered. He sat down in the chair at the head of his brother’s bed. The doctor slowly walked away. “Luke!” Abraham swallowed hard as he grabbed his brother’s hand and held it up to his face. “Luke, this is your big brother talking. You can’t die! You can’t die!” Lucas struggled to breathe. His breaths were becoming shallower.
 
“He should be gone in mere minutes. Be glad you got here when you did,” the doctor announced.
 
Abraham turned and stared at the doctor, not quite believing the little faith he seemed to put in miracles. Abraham leaned forward. “Lucas Mark McCain, now you listen to me!” Abraham swallowed as his eyes filled with tears. “Margaret Gibbs loves you! That woman is crazy about you! You must live for her! You hear me, baby brother? You must live for Margaret!”
 
Lucas’s breathing slowed. “Mar…ga…ret…” Lucas mumbled. “Mar…ga…ret.”
 
“That’s right!” Abraham pressed a hand to his brother’s forehead. “That’s right, Luke! Margaret is waiting for you! She loves you so very much. You must live! You must live so you can go fight in the war then move back home and marry Margaret!”
 
Abraham continued talking to him. He reminded Lucas of Margaret, Emily, Laura and their brothers waiting for him at home. Abraham spoke softly to Lucas all through the night.  He read Margaret’s letters to him, then he told Lucas story after story of all the things he and Margaret had done together. He reminded Lucas of the dances, the church socials, and even the trouble they got into.  At some point, they both fell asleep.
 
As the sun shone through the tent the next morning, Abraham lifted his head from his brother’s chest. He stared into his brother’s face. “Oh, Dear God!”
 
***
 
Margaret had just gotten to the McCain Ranch on Sunday morning to sit with Marcus again when she heard a horse racing up. She turned in the yard to see Abraham returning. Margaret dropped what was in her hands and raced into the McCain house. “He’s here! Abraham’s here!” she shouted.
 
The family was at the table having breakfast. Abraham hurried up to stand behind Margaret. He had a tired expression on his face, but the news he was carrying was hard to see. He laid his hands on Margaret’s shoulders and pushed her inside. “Pa?” he questioned.
 
“Pa’s still alive.” Jeremiah stood. “He’s…waiting for the news.”
 
Abraham nodded as he took his hat off and slowly walked towards the bedroom. Margaret stood back watched the McCain family walk toward Marcus McCain’s bedroom. Abraham paused at the door and turned. He looked at Margaret. “This news concerns you too,” he stated softly. Then he held out an arm to her. Margaret hurried forward and allowed him to put an arm around her shoulders.
 
The family gathered around the bed of Marcus McCain. “Pa?” Abraham swallowed as he sat down on the side of the bed. Marcus barely opened his eyes. Abraham turned and looked at his family with a look of sadness, realizing his father was barely alive.
 
“Abraham?” Marcus questioned as he tried to lift a hand from the bed. Abraham reached down and grabbed his father’s hand. “Abraham, is that…you, son?”
 
“Yes, Papa.” Margaret saw tears slip from Abraham’s face and mix into his beard as he stared into his father’s face. “Papa, I’ve brought news.”
 
“He’s alive?” Marcus swallowed. “Is my boy alive?”
 
“He lives, Papa.”
 
Margaret threw her hands to her mouth as she started weeping with relief. Her heart swelled in love. She dropped to her knees and thanked God for the news. Emily moved to Margaret and dropped to her knees as well. They held each other and cried in relief.
 
“My…boy…lives…” Marcus mumbled. “He…lives…”
 
Then a slow breath sounded as it was released from the man in the bed.
 
Then everything was quiet. Not a sound could be heard for several moments.
 
Then suddenly…
 
“Papa?” Marcus almost whispered the word. “Papa!” Margaret lifted her head when she heard the desperate question in Abraham’s voice. “Papa, don’t…don’t leave me! Please, Papa!” Abraham begged as if he were that six year old little boy again.
 
Everyone began weeping as they slowly came to the realization that Marcus McCain was now in the arms of Jesus. Emily and Margaret clung to each other and wept tears – happy tears for Lucas, yet mournful tears for Marcus. Peter and Jeremiah dropped to their knees at the side of the bed and laid their head on their father’s lifeless body. Abraham wept as he laid his head on his father’s chest.
 
“Pa? Pa?” Laura cried suddenly.
 
Ruth picked her daughter up and clung to her. “Papa’s with the angels, darling. He’s in heaven with Jesus.”
 
“I don’t want him to go!” Laura cried. “Papa, please don’t go! Please!” she pleaded.
 
Margaret lifted her head from Emily’s shoulder and wiped her eyes. “He was holding on for Luke. Emily, he wants Lucas to be a rancher. He told me.”
 
They hugged again as the room was filled with quiet sobbing as the family mourned the passing of Marcus Luke McCain.
 
***
 
Margaret quietly stood and left the room, leaving the family to grieve. She began gathering up the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Her hands shook. She wanted to drop to her knees right there and cry, but she forced herself to work. It wasn’t long before she heard the door open and close. “Margaret?”
 
Margaret turned to see Laura wiping her eyes. She bent down in front of the little girl and put her hands on the little girl’s cheeks. “What’s heaven like?”
 
Margaret fought back her own tears. She knew Laura needed her right now. “Well…” Margaret stood and took Laura’s hand. They went to sit down at the table. Margaret propped her head up with her hand and thought. “Heaven is so wonderful that once you’re there, you will never want to leave.”
 
“You mean…” Laura bit her lip. “Papa won’t come back to visit?” Margaret shook her head. “He’s there for…forever?” Margaret nodded. Laura looked toward the room. “Mama says that Jesus came and took his soul.”
 
Margaret nodded. “And the soul, Laura, is the source of life. Without it, you can’t breathe and your heart can’t beat.”
 
Laura looked down at the table. Then she looked back up to Margaret. “Is Jesus going to take Luke’s soul?”
 
Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears. She scooted her chair out and tapped her legs. “Come here, honey.” Laura crawled up into Margaret’s lap and laid her head against her chest. “I know it’s really hard to understand because…well, it’s hard for grownups to understand.” Margaret smoothed Laura’s hair down. “I don’t know how long Luke has on this earth. I don’t know how long I have. But…God knows.”
 
“Abraham went to see Luke. He wouldn’t let me go.”
 
“I know. That’s because Luke was really, really sick,” Margaret stated quietly.
 
Laura lifted her head from Margaret’s chest and hung it down. “Papa was really sick.” Laura raised her head back up to look at Margaret. “Why’d God take Papa and not Luke?”
 
“I don’t know, honey,” Margaret answered as she pressed a hand to the little girl’s cheek. “I don’t know.”
 
The door opened. Margaret stood as the family started exiting the bedroom. “We’ll burry him up on the hill, Mama. I think he’d like that.”
 
Margaret turned to leave. Abraham stopped her. “We’ll have a small funeral for him this afternoon. Can you ask your family to come?” Margaret nodded. “Margaret…” She turned back to look at Abraham. “Uh…I have to burry my father now, but tomorrow, we have some things to talk about.”
 
Margaret nodded as she hurried out.
 
***
 
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.”
 
Abraham’s voice died, leaving an eerie silence in the air. Everyone kept their heads bowed as they stared at the coffin that would soon be lowered into the ground. No one spoke. Each member of the Gibbs family squeezed Ruth’s hand as she cried softly. Her black dress set the mood for the whole group who had gathered to say goodbye to Marcus McCain.
 
“Why don’t you take your family and go home, Abraham. You’ve been awake for days,” Jeremiah mumbled.
 
“No, no…” Abraham wiped the remaining tears from his eyes. “I have to do this…for Luke.”
 
Margaret turned and stared at Abraham. Her eyes grew wide at the statement. Abraham lifted his head and looked at her. “Tomorrow, honey. I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”
 
Margaret said nothing as she quietly walked away. She saw Laura standing beside the coffin. Her hand was pressed to the top as she silently whispered, “Papa…Papa…” Margaret saw tears resting on the little girl’s cheeks as she tried to wrap her mind around the fact that her father was gone.
 
“Come on, honey. They need their privacy.” Margaret felt Scott’s arm go around her and she turned and walked away.
 
When the Gibbs got home, no one wanted to do anything. Losing Marcus was like losing a close member of their own family. There was such a deep, mournful feeling in the air. Scott and Johnny helped their sisters from the back of the wagon, then they drove the wagon toward the barn. Beth slowly walked inside and, without a word, went to her bedroom and closed the door. But Margaret slowly sat down at the table as her knees gave out.
 
Now she could grieve. Now she could let her tears flow. Her tears started slowly. She could feel the concerned eyes of her parents watching her as they stood in the living room. Margaret suddenly began shaking with sobs. Jennifer lowered herself down beside Margaret and took her daughter in her arms. “There, there,” Jennifer soothed her. “Let it all out, my darling. Cry it all out.”
 
From experience, her parents knew that Margaret had to cry in her own time. She was very sensitive and had a big heart.
 
Finally, Margaret’s sobs subsided. “I…can’t believe he’s gone,” Margaret said as she sniffed.
 
“I know, honey.” Samuel sat down beside her. “We’re only guaranteed today. We don’t know if we’ll be here tomorrow or not.”
 
“I can’t imagine…” Margaret closed her eyes as more tears slipped down her cheeks. “I can’t imagine a child having to grow up without his or her mother or father. It’s hard for Laura to understand why. Why would God take a father away like that?”
 
Jennifer continued to smooth her daughter’s hair. Margaret had always been sensitive. She was really struggling to understand all this. “He was sick for a long time, honey. Now his suffering has ended.”
 
Margaret lifted her head from her father’s shoulder and looked at her mother. “And Laura’s has begun. She has to grow up without a father.”
 
“She has four brothers that will raise her right. She’ll never lack love.” Samuel put a gentle hand on his daughter’s shoulder, while her mother laid a hand on her other. Margaret closed her eyes and cried. Together, both parents sat with Margaret as she grieved.
 
***
 
The next day, there was a knock on the door of the Gibbs’ house just before it opened. When the McCain’s came to visit, they didn’t wait permission to enter, and it was the same when the Gibbs’ went calling on the McCain’s. The families were too close for that.
 
Margaret turned from kneading the bread. She wiped her hands on her apron and gave Abraham a sad smile. There was still so much sadness in his eyes. “Can we talk?”
 
Margaret nodded. “But if you need to wait longer, I…” Margaret paused when she saw a pained expression on Abraham’s face.
 
“No.” He took his hat off. “Um…I promised myself I’d talk to you as soon as I got back.”
 
“Alright.” Margaret untied her apron and walked toward the door. Abraham took her arm and led her behind the house as they made their way to the pond.
 
There was silence between them while they walked. Abraham didn’t speak until they were actually sitting on the bank looking out onto the water. “Does Luke know about his father?” Margaret asked quietly.
 
Abraham nodded. “He knows.” There was a sadness between them. Marcus’s passing was still very difficult to accept. He had been a Patriarch between the two families for so long.   Margaret could tell Abraham was struggling with his words. His voice was so raw with emotion when he finally spoke. “I didn’t figure he’d still be alive when I got back.”
 
“He was waiting for you.” Margaret announced this softly. “He was waiting for you to get back.”
 
“I know. And I’m everlastingly grateful I was able to be there when he died. I never expected it.” Abraham turned to her. “Margaret, Luke was really, really sick. He almost…” Margaret lowered her head and slowly closed her eyes. “If I hadn’t come, I really believe…”
 
“How…” Margaret stopped, allowing the rest of her question to lie between them.
 
“I told him that…” Abraham swallowed the tears that were coming in his throat. “I told him he had to live for you.”
 
Margaret allowed a tear to slip from her eye and roll down her cheek as she allowed the thought to wrap around her heart. “Live for me?” she questioned.
 
Abraham reached out and grabbed Margaret’s hand. “Honey, you are like a sister to me, you know that. I’ve known for quite some time that Lucas is in love with you, though he would have never admitted it…” Abraham looked her in the eye. “…before.”
 
“Before?” Abraham nodded as he told her about his reunion with Lucas.
 
***
 
Indiana
“Oh, Dear God in heaven!” Abraham lifted from the chair as he stared into his brother’s wide eyes. “Lucas, you’re alive!”
 
Lucas’s face held a look of surprise. Weakly, he said his brother’s name. “What are you…”
 
“Luke, you almost died last night. You were…you were…Oh, Luke!” Abraham’s eyes filled with tears as he stared into his brother’s face.
 
“What happened?” Lucas asked as he licked his lips. “I remember me and Andy traveling to…but I don’t remember…” Lucas stopped to lick his lips again.
 
Abraham hurried and gave him a drink of water. “You developed double pneumonia. You were high with fever and they didn’t think you’d pull through. I arrived last night.”
 
“Did you come by yourself?” Lucas looked around the room as he tried to sit up, but he was still so weak. “Didn’t she come with you?” Lucas suddenly became agitated and confused.
 
“Who, Luke?”
 
“Margaret. She was here last night. She was right here.” Lucas patted the side of the bed. “She kissed me and told me I was okay. I…” Lucas stopped when he saw his brother’s raised eyebrows. “I was hallucinating.” Lucas shook his head. “She was so real…”
 
Abraham shook his head at his brother. He couldn’t help riling him just a bit. “And you say you’re not in love with her.”
 
“I’m not! I…” Lucas stopped and looked up at Jeremiah. He tried sitting up again. This time he was a bit more successful. “I’m glad she’s not here. I would have had a few things to say to her.”
 
Abraham smiled. “Is that before…or after…you kissed her?”
 
“Oh, stop it!” Lucas grumbled. “I’m never going to live this one down!”
 
Abraham sobered. “Look, Luke…You were almost gone last night. When I got here, the doctor said you only had a few minutes to live – that’s how bad you were. I said Margaret’s name. All night, I talked to you about how much she loves you. I reminded you of all the things you have been through together, the dances you’ve gone to, and the kiss you shared after each dance.”
 
Lucas turned and narrowed his eyes at his brother. Abraham shrugged. “You just thought you were alone.” Abraham sighed. “Anyhow, she’d written you two letters and I read them to you several times last night. That helped get you through.”
 
“I…” Lucas sighed. “I can’t believe they sent word to you. I can’t believe they allowed you to come.”
 
“Well, first of all, Luke, Andy sent word. He knew we’d want to know. Andy had to go back to his camp afterwards, I’m sure. Second of all, nobody can stop a McCain! I rode like mad getting here, had to jump on a train and hide in the stock car, then rode like mad to get here the rest of the way.”
 
“Pa would lick you if he knew you’d stolen a ride!” Lucas declared. Abraham’s eyes suddenly averted from him, but not before Lucas saw the pained expression come over his face. “What?”
 
Abraham stood and turned from Lucas. “Is it Pa?” Luke sat up even more. He groaned at the pain he still felt in his chest. “Abraham, is it Pa?”
 
Abraham nodded without turning. Lucas watched his eldest brother lift his head sideways. He saw his brother’s shoulders rise then slump. Finally, Abraham turned. He had tears on his cheeks. Lucas’s eyes suddenly clouded. “He’s gone? Pa’s…gone?” Lucas’s voice was mixed with grief and disbelief. Abraham didn’t say anything as he allowed the realization to sink in. “Oh God, no! Papa! Papa!” Lucas buried his face in his hands and began sobbing.
 
Abraham sat down on the cot and took his brother in his arms. He allowed him to cry. Abraham’s heart broke as he held his brother. He hated doing this. He hated telling Lucas their father had already passed, but he couldn’t send a cold letter and allow Lucas to mourn alone. Lucas needed someone there to help him through this ordeal. Abraham allowed the tears to fall down his own cheeks as Lucas wept like a child for his father.
 
Abraham was relieved that Lucas didn’t ask any more questions. Maybe he was afraid of the answers. Finally, Lucas lifted from his brother’s shoulder and wiped at his tears. “I knew…” Lucas swallowed hard. “I knew he was saying goodbye that last day. He knew that…” Luca’s eyes clouded with tears again. “Even then, Pa knew….”
 
“Yes.” Abraham nodded.
 
Lucas looked at his brother then. “Are you going to blame me for this?” Lucas asked. “After all, it’s my fault.”
 
“Pa’s heart’s been bad for two years, Luke. It’s not your fault. We all knew he was living on borrowed time already.” Lucas could hardly believe his brother’s words. He had expected Abraham to blame him. “I think…you and I need to have a little talk, Luke.”
 
***
 
Margaret sat quietly listening to everything Abraham said. His words left her stunned and in shock. She could feel a hundred emotions boiling up inside her. “Before I left, he had me write this letter for him. He was still too weak to…Well, by now he’s probably on his way back to his post.” Margaret stayed silent as she continued to take in Abraham’s words. She felt him slip the letter in her hand. “He loves you, honey. He said some pretty important things in that letter.”
 
Margaret stared at Abraham. She finally found her voice. “You lied to him?” She  whispered these words angrily. “You told him your father was…” she swallowed. “…was dead?”
 
“I had to, honey,” Abraham answered quietly as his eyes filled with tears. They pleaded silently for her to understand. “I had to.”
 
“You had no right!” Margaret cried. “You had no right to say that!”
 
“I had to, Margaret! Don’t you see I…I had to?” Abraham grabbed her hands. “The doctor…”
 
“No! No, you didn’t have to!” Margaret cried. “You should have told Luke the truth – that his father was dying.”
 
“And then send him a cold letter or telegram that his father has died? No, Margaret, it was better this way.” Margaret stood up. She shook her head in disbelief. “Margaret, you’re like a sister to me, so I’m asking you to trust me. I did what I thought was best for my family. After all, with Pa gone…”
 
“…You’re the head of the family.” Margaret looked away from him. “Are you going to tell him the truth?” Abraham studied her silently. “Are you?”
 
“It’s better this way.”
 
“What if he hadn’t died? What if God had chosen to give him longer and make him better for a spell?” Margaret shook her head. “You were wrong, Abraham. You were wrong and nothing will ever make you right.” She wiped hot, angry tears from her eyes. “Do you…I mean…does the family know?”
 
“No.”
 
“Then why did you tell me?” Margaret asked then.
 
“I…think you’ll understand once you read the letter why you are the one I told.” Abraham stood and looked down at her. “Margaret, I had to do it this way. Maybe someday you’ll forgive me.”
 
“Maybe.” Margaret looked down at the letter. She was a very understanding and forgiving person, but this…this was going to take some time. “I guess you should know that your father gave me his last wishes.”
 
Abraham stared at her. “What do you mean?”
 
“I was sitting with him three days ago. He told me he knew Luke loves me and that I love him. He wants me to marry him.”
 
Abraham grinned as he dug his hands in his front pockets. “Oh.” He pointed to the letter. “Then read it. I think Pa would approve.”
 
Margaret watched Abraham walk away as she sat back down to read the letter.
 
***
 
Margaret, I don’t know where to start. There’s so many things I have to say to you. By now, I’m sure you know just how close I was to death. You know that when Abraham got here, the doctor had pretty much declared I was dead. Well Margaret, getting that close to death…it gets a man to thinking about things.
 
There are some things I should have told you before I left you. I had no right to leave you the way I did – not when I knew the truth about things. But, well I guess I just always figured you were too good for me. When I took you to the dance at 14, I never thought you’d entrap my heart the way you did. We’ve always been best friends, and you know that. Ever since we were in diapers, it seems like we had this bond between us, and it’s only grown stronger with age.
 
I must admit, Margaret, that I’m a bit embarrassed at some of the things I’m saying, but they are things that must be said, so here I go. I fell in love with you that night of the dance. As you patiently taught me to dance, you were so patient with me and your eyes…they sparkled. You didn’t want to embarrass me about my lack of training in certain areas, and you even formed a code-word, “Bullet,” to keep my secret. But it was the moment that we stood by the corral and I kissed you that I knew. You had captured my heart.
 
Margaret, I wish I could tell you these things in person instead in a letter. Things are said so much better in person. But…well, I just can’t leave you like this. The truth is, I’m fighting in a war; and though we don’t like to talk about it, there’s always the chance that I won’t come back. After almost leaving you last night, I just couldn’t…I couldn’t leave things like that. Because in that instance when your brother told me I almost died, the one thing I regretted was not telling you how I really felt.
 
I love you, Margaret Gibbs. I love the way you wear your hair down even when you’re working out on the ranch. I love the way you look for me when you come to gather the eggs. I love the way your hand brushes against mine as you playfully take an egg from my hand and pretend my touch doesn’t make you shiver. I love the way you get riled when I don’t remember my manners. I love the way you sit in church and glance at me from the corner of the eye, thinking I don’t notice.
 
There are a million things I love about you, my sweet darling. I shiver when you say my name. I smile when I see you in places that I don’t expect to see you. But one thing I hate is having to leave you. It breaks my heart every time I have to say goodbye to you. On Sunday’s when church is over, I simply wave to you and ride off, but in truth it pains me to do that. Every day after you gather the eggs, I hate watching you mount your horse and leave me. I often let you mount your own horse, my sweet, and it’s for reasons a man doesn’t like to think about. Touching you…it scares me in ways I can’t explain.
 
But Margaret, in everything, I LOVE YOU. I can’t imagine my life without you. When I picture my ranch, I picture you there with me. I can’t see my future without seeing you. I love you, and when I get back, we’ll talk about our feelings. But for now…we’ll have to leave it here. I can’t make any commitments to you – it wouldn’t be fair of me. But I just had to tell you now, my Sweet Margaret.
 
Abraham told me about my father’s passing. He held me and allowed me to cry it all out. I’m glad he was here when I found out, because I don’t think I could have handled reading the words in a cold telegram or being told the news by my Captain. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this last ordeal without my family by my side. So in a way, maybe my illness was from God because He knew I’d need someone here during this time.
 
Abraham and I talked for a long time about our relationship too. We are now closer than ever, and he’s accepted the fact that I have different dreams. We laughed and cried together, and our relationship is so much better now.
 
I pray your family is well, Margaret. I pray that you had a good time at the dance. I’m sorry I couldn’t take you when you wore that rose colored dress with the little green flowers on it and a sparkle of white on each flower. I know you looked beautiful, but…I’m afraid I would have been too busy staring at your beautiful face to have ever noticed the dress!
 
And the dress you wore the year before was definitely green!
 
Write me soon, my sweet. I’ll be thinking about you always.
 
Love,
 
Lucas
 
***
 
Julie opened the door when she heard the knock. She saw Margaret standing there with tears in her eyes. “Come in!”
 
“I came to talk to Abraham,” Margaret said. “Some things were said that…”
 
“I know. He told me.” Julie put a hand on her swelled belly as she felt a kick from the life inside her. “He went to take care of some chores at the farm. You can wait. I…”
 
“Margaret?” Margaret turned to see Abraham standing in the doorway. He sat his saddlebags down on a nearby table and closed the door.
 
Margaret looked down at the letter in her hand. “I…read the letter.”
 
Abraham looked over Margaret’s head. Julie hurried outside to leave the two alone. “Abraham, I can’t say that what you did was right, but…I do understand.” She pressed her fingers on the letter. “You’re right. Lucas needed you when he got the news, but…”
 
Abraham motioned for Margaret to sit down at the table. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Listen, I thought on the things you said, and I know it was wrong, but at the time…Margaret, it just happened. I never intended to lie to him, but once it was out I just couldn’t…”
 
“I know.” Margaret nodded.
 
“I’ll tell the family just to make sure they don’t tell Lucas. If you want, I’ll tell him the truth when he comes home.” Margaret nodded. “I’m…sorry I had to “listen” in on your private conversation with Lucas.”
 
“So am I.” Margaret smiled. “I’m a little embarrassed.”
 
“Don’t be.” Abraham smiled. “It was good to see Luke humbled like that and…it gave us a chance to get our feelings out in the open too.”
 
“I’m glad.” Margaret smiled.
 
“So?” Abraham lifted his eyebrows. “Am I forgiven?”
 
“You promise to tell Lucas the truth?” Margaret asked.
 
“As soon as he comes home, honey. I promise!” Abraham declared. Then he cringed. “Though, I’d rather face a pit full of rattlesnakes than tell him the truth.”
 
“You’re forgiven.” They hugged. Abraham had always been like a big brother to her. She loved him as much as she loved her own brothers.
 
 “Tell me something, Abraham.” Abraham raised his eyebrows and waited for her to go on. “How much…help did you give Luke with the letter?”
 
“Help?” Abraham poured a cup of coffee. “I don’t understand what you mean? He told me what to say and I wrote it.”
 
“Exactly like he said it?” Margaret asked. Abraham nodded. “Oh…” Margaret unfolded the letter. “Because Lucas remembers that the dress I wore to the dance was uh…’ rose colored dress with the little green flowers on it and a sparkle of white on each flower.’” She looked up at Abraham.” He shrugged. “That’s very interesting because he doesn’t know that was the color of my dress.”
 
Abraham’s hand froze as he lifted the cup to his lips. “I thought you said he helped you pick it out.”
 
“Yes. He did.” She walked to the door. “But, he picked out a yellow material and I don’t like yellow much. So, I went with rose colored with little green flowers instead.”
 
“Oh.” Abraham shook his head. “Well, then I guess it’s a good thing Luke’s fighting for our country right now, huh?”
 
“Imagine that!” Margaret declared as she shook her head. “Luke had to turn to his married brother for help!” She opened the door. “In fact, how is it that you were able to describe the dress so well?”
 
“I’m married and have learned from experience to pay attention to that sort of thing. When Julie saw your dress, she described it to me later and told me she wanted some material like that for Christmas. Having been married for three years, I’ve learned to pay attention to such details.” Abraham grinned. “I reckon my little brother will learn it as you train him.”
 
“Yes.” Margaret smiled as she turned to walk out the door. “I imagine he will.”
 
After she closed the door behind her, Margaret looked down at the letter and pressed it to her lips. “He does love me.” She smiled. “Luke McCain, I’m going to marry you someday!”

The Years Before — A Distraction

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

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