The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
 
Chapter 18 - The Story of Johnny Gibbs
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
“Amen.” Abe finished the prayer, then looked up as his family started eating. As she held the spoon up to David’s mouth, Julie motioned with her eyes for Abe to tell Laura the news he had promised Julie he would tell her. Abe wiped his mouth with the napkin. “Say Laura…” Abe cleared his throat. “Uh…Peter says you’re getting pretty darn good riding Star Bright these days.”
 
“Abe…” Abe stopped and looked up at her. She shook her head. “Don’t use that word.” She looked down at Laura.
 
But Laura was already talking. “Mm hm.” Laura nodded her head. “Peter says I can ride as good as most boys! I’m glad he gave me a real saddle instead of that side saddle stuff…”
 
“That’s good.” Abe looked back down at his plate and took another bite. He felt Julie kick him under the table. Her eyes sent him a warning, which was read loud and clear by him: He best get to telling her. Abe cleared his throat. “Uh…Laura, you know what Tuesday is?”
 
“Uh…my birthday?” Laura screwed up her face as she looked up at Abe.
 
Abe and Julie’s eyes met. Abe raised an eyebrow. “No, Laura. You know it’s far from your birthday. And I think if you try really hard, you can tell me what Tuesday is.”
 
Laura lowered her head.  “Yes sir. I know what Tuesday is. I’ve seen Julie working on my new dresses that your gonna make me wear even if I don’t want to.”
 
Abe cleared his throat. “Laura…”
 
“Yes sir?”
 
“I…do have a surprise for you.” Laura straightened up in her chair. Julie slowly sat down her spoon, wondering what the ‘surprise’ was. She didn’t even know about a surprise. Abe kept his eyes diverted from Julie as he spoke. “Uh…how would you like to ride Star Bright to school this year?”
 
Julie gasped at the surprise announcement. “Abe…” Julie started. But her voice was drowned out by an excited squeal from Laura.
 
“Ya mean I can ride Star Bright all the way to school?” Abe nodded. “All by myself?” Abe nodded again.
 
“Abe…” Julie started again. This time, her voice was more forceful.
 
Laura jumped up and ran over to her brother. She hugged him. “Oh, thank you, Abe! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Laura cried excitedly. “I PROMISE I’ll be careful! And I won’t run her too hard and I’ll always make sure she has plenty to eat and…”
 
Abe laughed. “I know you will, Laura.”
 
“Can I wear pants? I mean…since I’m riding…”
 
Abe laughed and gave her a hard pat on the backside. “No.”
 
“Abraham McCain!” Julie suddenly declared as she stood abruptly from her chair. Abe turned his head around to look up at her. She had her hands planted firmly on her hips. Her face was wearing a heavy disapproving frown. “I want to speak to you,” Julie sputtered out. “…OUTSIDE!”
 
Abe raised his eyebrows. He didn’t pretend not to know what this was about. Slowly, he stood from the chair. “Ohhhh….you’re in trouble, Abe!” Laura declared
 
“Laura Rose McCain!” Julie warned in that voice that told Laura now wasn’t the best time to cross her.
 
“Yes ma’am. I’ll just clean up these dishes.”
 
Julie turned back to Abe. “Outside!” Her angry voice ordered.
 
Abe followed Julie out the door. After the door closed, Laura ran to the window, but Julie was going to the barn. “Oh shucks!” She shook her head as she turned back to look at the boys. “I don’t get to see her yell at Abe now!”
 
Abe heaved a big sigh as he closed the barn door behind him. “Now Julie, listen…” he started as he held up his hands.
 
But Julie swung around. “No, Abraham McCain, now you listen to me!” Julie ordered angrily as she pointed a finger in his face. “The last time I checked, I was as much a parent to Laura as you are. Am I correct?” Abe nodded. He was afraid to say anything. She was mad enough to punch him! “So why, then, did you take liberties all on your own to make such a big decision as to letting Laura ride all the way to school ALONE on her HORSE?”
 
“Julie, I talked to Peter and he said she’s a really good rider. She’s really careful to follow all the rules and…”
 
Julie folded her arms. “I don’t CARE how good and careful she is! She is an eight year old child! She’s too little to be riding all the way to school on a…a…HORSE!” Julie sputtered out.
 
Abe put his hands on his hips and glared at her. “She’s a McCain!”
 
“She’s a little girl!” Julie declared. “And I forbid it, Abe! I absolutely forbid it!” Julie stomped her foot as she glared at her husband.
 
Julie turned to go back inside, but Abe’s voice stopped her. “Just what are you afraid of, Julie?” His voice was accusing.  
 
“What am I….afraid of???” Julie shook her head. “Abe, she could fall off and get hurt…the horse can stumble…”
 
“Or some pink elephants could come trample her and Star Bright,” Abe declared sarcastically.
 
“I don’t think it’s funny, Abe!” Julie shouted.
 
“Julie, I’m just saying that…”
 
“I have to go check on the children.” Julie rushed out of the barn. Abe stood alone, trying to figure out just what he had done wrong this time. The rest of the evening was quite between Julie and Abe.
 
***
 
“NO!” Johnny Gibbs shouted as his brother announced he was going to school Tuesday morning.
 
“It’s not open for discussion,” Scott declared.  “You ARE going to school!”
 
“I think I’m old enough to make that decision on my own!” Johnny said. “I want to work on my horse breaking and learning to shoot!”
 
Scott stood up and took two steps over to his brother. “Now, you listen to me, BOY! I…”
 
“Scott!” Margaret gasped and ran over to her brother’s side. “Scott, don’t yell at him. Let him explain why…”
 
“He’s already explained, Margaret.” Scott glared at his little brother. “You’re going to finish school!” he ordered. “Come Tuesday morning, you will be sitting in that school room.”
 
“But there’s a lot of work to do around here!” Johnny declared.
 
“You let me worry about that. Besides, getting you to do chores around here is like pulling teeth anyhow.” Scott went back to the table to sit down. “Now…its final. Sit down and eat.”
 
“No. I’m going for a walk.” Johnny grabbed his hat and hurried out the door.
 
“Scott, you know….your brother isn’t like you and Andy. He’s footloose and fancy free. He’s always been a bit on the wild side,” Jennifer tried to calm her son.
 
“He’s hair-brained!” Scott declared. “Mother, you’ve always wanted us to finish with our certificates. We all have, except Johnny.” Scott turned and looked toward the door. “And he’s going to finish or my name isn’t Scott Gibbs!”
 
Amanda raised an eyebrow as she met Margaret’s eye.
 
***
 
Julie wiped her hands on her apron after setting the last loaf of fresh bread on a cooling rack. Abe looked up from his desk to see her flushed face still frowning. He sat down his pen and stood up. “Julie, can we talk?”
 
“I’m busy,” Julie answered as she bent over to get a pan from the bottom cabinet.
 
Abe grabbed her elbow, causing her to stop. “I think we need to talk. Calmly and quietly so we won’t wake the children.” Julie nodded as he led her over to the table and sat her down. “Would you like some coffee?” Julie shook her head no. “Alright. He sat down and folded his hands. “I realize, Julie, that I should have talked to you about my decision before I told Laura. I’m sorry for the way I handled things.” Julie merely nodded. “Now Julie, Laura’s had a rough time and she really DOESN’T like school. I’m trying to show her that we trust her.”
 
“Abe, I…” Julie started. But Abe lifted a hand to hush her.
 
“Now then…this week, I’ll follow Laura at a distance to make sure she does what she should. If she does anything wrong, she won’t be able to ride her horse to school anymore and will go back to walking.”
 
“Abe, we both know how Laura is…” Julie started again.
 
“Yes,” Abe nodded. “But we also both know that we have to let her go sometime. Laura has a very independent spirit. She’s not one to be smothered with protection or bossed. It just causes more problems.”
 
“I don’t know, Abe.” Julie folded her hands and put them to her mouth as she thought. “Since she’s been living with us the last couple of months, I’ve grown to love her like a daughter. I’m very protective of my children…you know that.”
 
Abe nodded. “It’s a mother’s way, Julie,” he said softly. He reached up and took her hand. Kissing it, he said, “But the day comes when a mother has to let go. Laura’s not a baby anymore, honey. She’s EIGHT years old.” Abe raised his eyebrows. “Well?”
 
Julie still wasn’t sure this was a good idea. She screwed up her face as she thought on it. Abe slowly scooted his chair back and lifted her from her seat. She soon found herself on his lap. Abe pressed a kiss to her mouth, then traced kisses down her cheek and onto her throat. “Well?” he asked again.
 
“I think I need a bit more persuasion,” Julie said breathlessly. Abe chuckled as he covered her face and neck with kisses. He slowly moved his hands down to the top button on her dress and unbuttoned it. His lips kissed the opening. “Well?”
 
“Abe…” Julie breathed. She pressed her lips to his and gave him a deep kiss. After their lips parted, she said, “I think we should continue this conversation in bed.”
 
“Oh…” Abe lifted his eyebrows. “But first I want your answer.”
 
He kissed her neck again. “Alright! She can ride the horse!” Julie giggled as his hands moved down her back. Abe slid his arm under her knees and stood up. He made his way to the bedroom and laid her gently on the bed. His legs straddled her as he began kissing her deeper. Julie drew her arms around his neck and moaned softly. “I’m sorry I got so angry.”
 
“Oh?” Abe asked as he lifted and started unbuttoning her dress. “I’m not. Because now we get to make up.”
 
And making up was always sweet when Julie and Abe made love. There was no more tension between them that night, and in time they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
 
***
Amanda sighed as she slipped off her dress that evening. “Scott?” Scott walked up behind her and looked at her in the mirror. “Don’t you think you were being a bit…hard on your brother?”
 
“No.” Scott slipped off his shirt. “I want him to finish school.”
 
“Why? Because you and Andy did?” Amanda reached for her gown, but Scott put his hand on top of hers. 
 
“No.” Scott shook his head as he looked into her eyes. “Because running a ranch now days requires an education, and I want him to have these years. I don’t want him running off to join some stupid wild west show or make a living breaking horses so he can end up in a wheelchair. I want…”
 
“I’ve heard what you want,” Amanda said softly as she put her arms around Scott’s neck. “But maybe you should think about what HE wants. You can’t make a belle of society into the wife of a ranch hand if she doesn’t want it.”
 
“What’s that mean?” Scott asked as he raised his eyebrows at her.
 
“It means, my love, that if Johnny doesn’t want to be a rancher, then he can’t be forced into the occupation. Now…I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”
 
Amanda again turned for her nightgown, and Scott again grabbed her hand. He laced his fingers through hers and turned her face toward his. “Not tonight. Tonight I want to feel you against me. I want to be with you.”
 
Amanda nodded as she slowly took her undergarments off. Scott’s eyes grew wide as he studied the beauty of his wife. He put his hands on her soft skin and leaned in to kiss her. Soon, they were under the covers kissing and caressing. It was quite awhile before he sensed she was ready. When that moment came, they groaned softly as they made love. Each enjoyed very much being in the other’s arms. In time, they laid still in each other’s arms peering into each other’s eyes. “All I’m saying, Scott, is that you may have to give up your dream of making Johnny a partner in the ranch. He may simply want to leave here. You know he’s not happy.”
 
Scott laid a finger against her lips and softly kissed them. “Hush,” he whispered softly. “Because tonight I just want to hold you.” As silence settled around them, they fell asleep.
 
***
 
That Tuesday morning had started early for Abe and Julie. They had awaken long before the sun, both suddenly desiring the other. Now, as they lay in bed holding each other, Julie sighed contentedly against her husband’s bare chest. “What?” Abe whispered as he nudged her to speak.
 
“Today is the first day of school for Laura,” Julie mumbled. “It’s going to be a piece of work getting that child off to school.”
 
“Oh, I don’t think it’ll be too much trouble. I…” Abe started.
 
But suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Julie? Abe?” Laura understood Abe’s strict rule about never coming into their bedroom without permission. He’s glad that she had chosen to obey that rule.
 
Julie reached on the floor for her nightgown and quickly slid it over her head. “Just a minute!” she called. She turned to Abe and said, “Boy, that was…”
 
“I know,” Abe whispered as he winked at her. “I told you there wouldn’t be much trouble getting her out of bed!”
 
Julie hurriedly slipped her robe on then hurried toward the door. “What is it, Laura?” she asked as she yawned and tightened her robe.
 
“Can I go gather the eggs now so you can fix breakfast?”
 
Julie walked toward the kitchen. “Land sakes, child, it’s only 5:30 in the morning!”
 
“I know, but today’s the first day of school and I sure don’t want to be late!” Laura declared. “Should I go get dressed?”
 
“Oh…no!” Julie answered. “I think you should just go put on your old dress for now. You can go gather the eggs and milk the cow at 6:00 like you always do.” Laura stuck out her bottom lip. “You have to keep to their schedule!”
 
“Laura…” Abe yawned as he came out of the bedroom buckling his belt. “What gets you up at the crack of dawn? Usually takes some threats before you actually get out of bed…especially on a school day!”
 
“I know!” Laura nodded. “But Abe, I…”
 
“…get to ride Star Bright to school by yourself.” Abe threw some wood in the stove and lit it for Julie. Julie pushed the coffee pot onto the burner as Abe sat down at the table. “I think we need to talk, Laura.”
 
“Yes sir?” Laura asked as she sat down at the table.
 
“Now, Julie finally agreed to let you ride to school, but there are going to be some strict rules. No running the horse. No horseplay…er….acting out…remember, your horse has a job to do. And if you get into any trouble – horse-related or not – you will lose the privilege of riding Star Bright to school for a time. Do I make myself clear?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura answered. “I promise, Abe, I’ll be good! I’ll do everything right from here on out!”
 
“Uh huh…” Abe grinned as he stood up. “If I know you, Laura, you’ll do something to rile me before the days over!”
 
Laura went into the bedroom to get dressed. She did her chores and even helped Julie with the boys while Julie fixed breakfast. They were soon sitting down eating breakfast. Julie had gathered up all Laura’s new school books the day before. Some she had gotten from Emily, and others she had to borrow from the Gibbs’. After breakfast, Laura hurried into her bedroom and got ready. She even washed behind her ears without being told!
 
“I’m all ready!” Laura announced as she came out of the bedroom.
 
“Well now…” Julie bent in front of her and smoothed her dress out. “You look beautiful!”
 
“Makes me itch!” Laura complained.
 
Julie smiled. “Laura…You know, I don’t really like the idea of you riding your horse to school.” Julie smoothed Laura’s hair down. “I’m really nervous and will worry about you but…Abe convinced me to allow you to do this. I only have one request.”
 
“Yes ma’am?”
 
“Will you please…be careful?”
 
“Ya know…” Laura smiled at her. “I wish I could call ya Ma, cause your just like my Ma…”
 
Julie’s eyes filled with tears. She hugged Laura close to her. “Oh Laura…” Tears slipped from her eyes. “You just made me so…happy!” She pushed Laura away and looked her up and down. “But I’m your sister.”
 
“You’re more like my Ma then my sister.” Laura shook her head. 
 
The door opened and Abe came in. He paused when he saw the scene in front of him. “Uh….is something wrong?”
 
“No.” Julie smiled as she hugged Laura to her again. “Now…you be good!”
 
“I will, Mama Julie!” Laura declared as she hurried out the door.
 
Abe raised an eyebrow. “Mama…Julie?”
 
Julie smiled. “It’ll take some getting used to but…” She nodded as she kissed her husband. “I think I’ll like it just fine!”
 
“Mmmm…” Abe turned to walk out onto the porch. Laura waved as she hurried out of the yard, waving as she left. “Our little girl’s growing up!”

“Too fast…” Julie sniffed. Abe laughed as he bent down and kissed her.
 
“Well…I best follow…” he started.
 
“No.” Julie grabbed his hand. “No. Just let her go.” Julie shrugged. “After all, she says I’m like her mother. I think she deserves my trust.” Julie smiled at him. “Only, maybe in thirty minutes or so…you could go into town and get me some uh…uh…baking powder? I think I’m almost out.”
 
“Alright.” Abe chuckled as he kissed her. “And I’ll make sure to ‘glance’ at the school to make sure Star Bright’s there.”
 
“If you insist,” Julie answered with a nod before turning and hurrying back inside.
 
Abe watched her go. He shook his head. “You are quite a woman, Julie McCain!”
 
***
 
Laura was almost to school when she saw Johnny Gibbs from the corner of her eye quickly slip off the road and into the woods. There, she saw a small shack. As she slowed, she watched him slip inside. She held her horse at bay, wondering what was going on. “No horseplay,” Abe’s words echoed in her head again. She knew her behavior was important to Julie, so she decided to go on to school. She’d investigate what was going on with her cousin, Johnny, later.
 
The day dragged by. Laura did not enjoy school in the least and heaved a couple giant sighs, but when the teacher warned he’d send a note home if he heard it again, she made sure to stay on her best behavior.
 
That afternoon, when Laura rode home, she again stopped beside the road and looked down at the shack. She was tempted to go investigate right that instant, but she knew Abe would do some hollering if she caused Julie any worrying by being late, so she continued on to the farm.
 
Julie hurried out onto the porch when Laura rode in. She waved at the girl, then went back inside, satisfied Laura’s first day had been peaceful. Abe lifted her from the saddle and started into the barn with her horse. “Abe?” Abe paused and turned around. “Can I go to Jessie’s house for just a bit? Please?”
 
“What about your chores?” Abe asked. “Julie will need your help inside; and I’m sure you have homework.”
 
“Oh Abe…I’ve been good all day and I PROMISE I’ll be back in time to help Mama Julie with supper! I just…have something I have to take care of!” Abe put his hands on his hips and studied her suspiciously. “I don’t have any homework today. He said he’ll start assigning homework tomorrow! And I’ll do my chores after supper! I PROMISE! Please???”
 
“Well…” Abe sighed. “Alright.” Laura started to run out of the yard. Abe hurried forward and caught her by the arm. “Hold up there, little lady!” He pointed to her dress. “First, you change out of your new dress.”
 
“Yes sir! Thanks Abe!”
 
Laura hurried into the house. “Hi, Mama Julie!” she shouted excitedly as she hurried to her room and closed the door.
 
“Where are your…” Julie shook her head, knowing she was wasting her breath. Abe walked in with her book and lunch pail. “What’s gotten into her?”
 
“She wants to go over to Jessie’s house for a bit. Said she has something VERY important to take care of.”
 
“What?” Julie asked.
 
“Beats me.” Abe took one of the pieces of peaches Julie was cutting up. She smacked his hand. “Ouch!”
 
“Don’t you think you should question Laura? She may…”
 
“Now honey, you were just saying this morning that we need to show her a little trust. After all, she thinks of us like her parents.”
 
“Mm mm,” Julie held up a finger to correct him. “She thinks of me as her mother!”
 
“Oh. Well, I guess I’m still her mean ol’ brother then…” Abe reached down to grab another piece of peach and was rewarded with another sharp slap. “Ouch!”
 
“Bye!” Laura hurried toward the front door.
 
“Now remember!” Abe declared. “You be back by 4:30 to help with supper!”
 
“Yes sir!” Laura ran from the yard toward Jessie’s house. She ran into the yard and found Jessie gathering up firewood. “I had to stop by here. I told Abe I was coming to your house. Bye!” Laura turned and hurried from the yard, feeling satisfied that she indeed hadn’t lied to her brother after all.
 
Laura ran toward the shack. When she got in the yard, she paused and looked around. She saw a low window and quietly made her way over to it. Inside, it was empty. She was certain there was nobody there. So she went to the front door and started to open it. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
 
Laura turned to see Johnny Gibbs standing behind her. “You weren’t at school today,” she accused. “Thought your Ma and brother were gonna make you go.”
 
“Ah shucks, Laura!” Johnny scooted his hat way back on his head. “My folks can’t MAKE me go to school! I’m 14 years old!”
 
“So?”
 
“So, I’m a man!” Laura snickered. “What’s so funny?”
 
“Nothing.” Laura followed Johnny inside the shack. “So you don’t mind if I tell your brother you weren’t at school?”
 
“Don’t you dare!” Johnny ordered. “You can’t tell him. I don’t want him yelling at me or hitting me!”
 
“Hit you?” Laura cocked her head to one side. “Abe said that when he spanks me, it’s out of love. It’s not like hittin’.”
 
“Yeah, I know…but I still don’t like it!” Johnny lit the lantern on the table. “So, you promise not to tell?”
 
“Well…” Laura looked around the shack. “I’ll keep quiet if you tell me just what you’re doing here!”
 
“What?” Johnny shook his head. “Oh Laura Rose, you always were a spit fire! You’re just a little girl and…”
 
Laura stomped her foot. “Johnny Gibbs, don’t you DARE call me a little girl! I’m eight years old!”
 
“Okay, okay…” Johnny held his hands up in surrender. “I’ll tell ya.” He sat down at the small table in the room. “This is where my Pa stays when he’s not too drunk. My Pa’s been helping me learn how ta shoot an’ stuff. A man I know comes over here and teaches me trick shooting.”
 
Laura’s eyes grew wide. “I thought your brother was teaching you how to shoot!”
 
“With a rifle,” Johnny answered. “Pa started teaching me that when I was 11 years old. But Scott won’t let me practice with handguns. Pa does.”
 
“Ya gonna be an outlaw?” Laura asked as her eyes grew wide.
 
“Of course not!” Johnny answered. “But I also spend a lot of time with the Youngers’, the horse breakers. They’ve been learning me on horse breaking.”
 
“And yer gonna do that?” Johnny nodded. “Wow…”
 
“AND…I’m even thinking about taking up with rodeoing. You know…roping calves and riding wild bulles…stuff like that.”
 
“Ain’t that dangerous?” Laura asked.
 
“Of course!” Johnny laughed. “So that’s why I can’t go to school anymore. Got my own learning to do. I’m gonna make lots and lots of money and be rich someday! Why, I may even have a great big house right here in Enid…or maybe in New York!” Laura’s mouth popped open as she listened to Johnny. “Laura Rose, I may even get on one of those big boats and sail all the way to Paris, France or something!”
 
“Maybe I’ll go with ya!” Laura declared.
 
“Oh no…I travel alone.” Johnny stood up and smiled. “So that’s what I’m doing. Now…you can’t breathe a word of this to anybody!”
 
“Alright. But you have to start being nicer to me, Johnny!”
 
“Nice?” Johnny shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
 
“That means you don’t call me a little girl anymore!” Laura declared. “And you start treating me like a person instead of like your cousin!”
 
“Oh. I don’t know if I can do that!” Johnny argued. “What would the family think if…”
 
“You can if you want me to keep your secret!”
 
Johnny shook his head. “I never thought I’d see the day when a McCain was so…so…conniving!” Johnny sighed. “Alright, I’ll do it.” He grabbed his books and slung them over his shoulder. “I gotta get home before I get it.”
 
They stepped out of the shack. “Say Johnny…” Johnny looked down at her. “You getting pretty good at breaking horses, huh?”
 
Johnny nodded. “I got to break my first one the other day. But my friend gave me a pretty easy colt to break.”
 
“Ya think sometime I could watch ya?”
 
“Now, how are you gonna manage that?” Johnny asked with the shake of his head. “Abe ain’t gonna let ya…”
 
“I can go play out of the yard on Saturday afternoons! I can come watch ya on a Saturday.”
 
“We’ll see.” Johnny slung his books over his shoulder. “Only, I may go watch a rodeo next Saturday. Don’t you dare tell Scott though!”
 
Laura nodded and turned to hurry home.
 
***
 
“Now Scott, you just calm down,“ Jennifer demanded again as Scott paced back and forth. “I’m sure that boy has a very good…”
 
The door opened and Johnny stepped inside. “Howdy.” Scott crossed his arms and stared down at his brother. Johnny looked up at Scott. “Is…something wrong?”
 
“Damn right, something’s wrong!” Scott answered.
 
“Scott!” Margaret and Amanda exclaimed at the same time.
 
“Sorry.” He turned back to his little brother. “You were supposed to help me round up those steers right after school. If you remember, we had some branding to do.”
 
“Oh. I forgot,” Johnny groaned.
 
“Where did you go after school?”
 
Johnny looked around at his family. “I…I just went exploring a bit. You know how I like to do that.”
 
“Mm hm.” Scott nodded. “Well, for the rest of the week, you will come home right after school and help me with the ranching!”
 
“Mother!” Johnny complained.
 
Jennifer stood up. “I’m sorry, Johnny, but I’ll agree with your brother. You have responsibilities here.”
 
“I’m 14 years old!” Johnny argued. “Don’t ya think I’m old enough to know what I want to do? Can’t you let me live my own life?”
 
“You still have a lot of growing to do, boy! I…”
 
“Supper’s ready,” Amanda announced as she put a hand on her husband’s arm to calm him.
 
“I’m not hungry,” Johnny grumbled as he turned to leave.
 
“Well you will sit and-“ Johnny raced out the door. Scott started to go after him.
 
“Scott!” Jennifer spoke gruffly. Scott turned and looked at her. “Let him go. You are both too angry to talk.”
 
Scott sat down, but fumed the entire time. He uttered out the blessing. As they started eating, there was an uncomfortable silence around the table. Finally, Margaret cleared her throat. “Perhaps you shouldn’t ride him so hard.”
 
“Ride him so…” Scott banged his fist on the table. “Margaret, I can hardly get him to do anything around here!”
 
“I know! But what I mean is…” Margaret was always the calm one in the family, and now she had to control her voice. “…Scott, Johnny doesn’t want to be a rancher. He’s like an eagle and…”
 
“Now, don’t go getting all poetic on me, Margaret!” Scott interrupted.
 
“Scott, we’ve listened to you speak long enough. Now just stop talking and listen to what your sister has to say!” Jennifer ordered.
 
Scott breathed. “Yes ma’am.”
 
“Scott, he wants to break horses and ride in the rodeo. You can’t force a fish to fly anymore than you can force a bird to swim. He is what God’s made him.”
 
“So you support this?” Scott asked.
 
“Yes.” Margaret pushed the food around on her plate. “I think he should continue school…but then when he gets his certificate in a couple years, I think you should allow him to go where he wants…The only thing that worries me is how hair-brained he is. He seems to act before he thinks so I think we should…”
 
“But Pa always wanted Andy to run this ranch someday!” Beth argued. “And now that Andy’s gone, Johnny’s the only Gibbs who is physically able to do so!”
 
“I don’t know.” Margaret looked at her brother. “I think Scott’s doing a right fine job.”
 
“Oh!” Beth shook her head. “I’m NOT saying that he’s not…I’m just saying that…”
 
“Look…” Scott held up his hand. “I know what you’re both saying. But the truth is that Johnny’s only 14 years old.” Scott turned to his mother. “Mother? What do you say?”
 
“Well, at his age he needs to learn responsibility. That’s something he hasn’t learned yet, and until he learns that he can’t do anything well on his own. I think he should stay in school and put in his part here at the ranch.” Jennifer turned and looked at Margaret. “And I understand what Margaret is saying. And I agree. You will never make a rancher out of him. He’s too…”
 
“Adventurous,” Margaret answered with a firm nod.
 
“Yes.” Jennifer nodded her head. “He’s 14, and that’s a rough age. Think back to when you were 14, Scott.”
 
“My punishment sticks,” Scott declared. “That boy has got to learn responsibility!” Scott looked down at his plate. “I’m no longer hungry. Think I’ll…go for a walk.”
 
Scott walked to the barn where he saw a light glowing. He opened the door and peered inside. Johnny was brushing down his horse. Scott turned to leave, but Johnny spoke without turning around. “Come to yell at me some more?”
 
“No.” Scott quietly walked in and watched his brother brush his horse out. “I want you here right after school tomorrow so we can round up the steers for branding.”
 
“Alright,” Johnny answered. “What about hiring Pa to help with the branding?”
 
“Pa?”
 
“Yeah. He’s been pretty sober lately. I think he could use the help.”
 
“When did you see him?” Scott grunted.
 
“I see him…from time to time.”
 
“I see.” Scott decided not to ask where or why, but to leave it alone for now. “But after the last time he worked here, I don’t cotton much to….”
 
“He’s our father, Scott! He owns this land!”
 
“No, Johnny.” Scott sat down on a bench and folded his arms. “Just after Pa started drinking, he sobered and signed the land over to me. All the money was signed over to me as well.”
 
“What? You mean…you own this place?” Johnny asked suddenly.
 
“Yep.”
 
“What about the money?”
 
“What about it?”
 
“How much of it is mine?”
 
Scott lowered his head and sighed. “You’ll get your share when you turn 18.”
 
“18?????” Johnny threw down the brush. “I’m ready to start living now! There’s things I want to do!”
 
“We had a talk…inside while ago. You’ll continue school until you get your certificate. After that, you are free to do what you want and to…go where you want. I’ll give you your share of the money then. Until then, you are to help out on the ranch, go to school, and do as you are told, which includes respecting me and the rest of the family.”
 
“What if I don’t get my certificate?” Johnny asked.
 
“Well then…” Scott folded his arms. “I guess you don’t get the money.”
 
“You can’t do that!” Johnny declared. “You can’t keep from me what is rightfully mine!”
 
“Johnny, you are 14 years old. You are just a kid! Rather you like it or not, that’s the way it’s going to be.” Johnny turned and walked out of the barn.
 
***
 
Abraham cleared his throat as he sat at the table. “So, did you and Jessie have a good time this afternoon?”
 
“Sure, I had a good time…after school!” Laura answered. “You know what that ol’ teacher made me do today, Abe? He told me I have to learn all my addition and subtraction fact this year!”
 
“Well then…you should get started,” Abe stated. “Did you talk to Johnny today?”
 
“Johnny? Yep. I talked to Johnny today.” Laura quickly took a drink of her milk. “Can I be excused now? I want to get my chores done.”
 
Abe raised an eyebrow at his little sister as he watched her. “Uh…sure.” He and Julie watched Laura hurry out the door. Abe turned and looked at Julie. “She didn’t even ask for dessert.”
 
“Dessert!” Charlie declared soundly. “Charlie want dessert!”
 
“Yes! I’m sure you do,” Abe chuckled as he ruffled his son’s hair.
 
Laura had trouble falling asleep that night. She stayed awake thinking about Johnny and the adventures he was going to go on. She knew he would someday get to travel around the world like he wanted. Then, she found herself wondering what it would be like to travel around the world.
 
The next morning, she had to rush around to do her morning chores and get breakfast eaten. Abe had a hand on his hip as she came out to mount her horse. “Young lady, you’ll go to bed a half hour early tonight!” he ordered. And she knew she would.
 
She met Johnny on the way to school. Johnny was just leaving the path. She stopped her horse. “Whatcha doin’ today, Johnny?”
 
“I’m going to go watch some horses getting broke. May even get to break one myself,” Johnny answered excitedly.
 
“Aren’t ya ever gonna go back to school, Johnny?” Laura asked.
 
“Nah…school’s not for me, Laura Rose.” Johnny turned and looked toward the shack. “Gonna get some target practice in this morning.”
 
“Can ya shoot good, Johnny?” Laura asked then.
 
“Well, I don’t know that I’m the best, but I sure am working on it,” Johnny answered. “You best go now.”
 
But school was so boring. Laura couldn’t concentrate, what with all her thinking about Johnny. As she sat listening to a boring lesson, she wondered where Johnny was right now.
 
***
Keith Younger clapped his hands as his brother successfully calmed the mean horse. “How about now, Keith?” Johnny asked. “Can I break the next one?”
 
“You sure this is okay with your folks?” Keith asked.
 
“Of course! My folks don’t care what I do. They figure that since I’m 14, I can make my own decisions.” Johnny nodded toward the horses. ‘Sides, I’m good at horse breaking, ain’t I?”
 
‘Yes.” Keith nodded his head and stepped into the corral. “You are pretty good. Did a right fine job with that one the other day.” He scratched his chin. “I tell you what, I have a pretty gentle colt back here that you can take a ride on.”
 
“Oh, I don’t need a pretty gentle colt!” Johnny declared. “I want a hard one that can buck!”
 
“No, no.” Keith shook his head. “I don’t let my own brother take risks, much less a 14 year old kid.” Keith pointed to the colt. “You will have to work up to that.”
 
“I’m thinking on rodeoing. There’s one coming around here soon, from what I hear.”
 
“Yes,” Keith nodded. “Next Saturday. But they won’t let a kid get on a wild bull!”
 
“I’m nearly 14 ½!” Johnny protested. “Besides, I bet I can charm my way on one of the critters.”
 
“You are a wild one,” Keith declared. “The rodeo’s on the other side of town. You have to go through the pass outlaws frequent. I don’t reckon your folks will cotton to that much.”
 
Johnny put on his saddle gloves and nodded. “I’m pretty independent. I can do it.” He put his foot into the stirrup and ordered Keith to let go. Johnny loved the feeling of bouncing around on a wild horse. He rode with the jumps and allowed himself to bounce, but held on tight to the reins. The horse grew madder the longer he stayed on, but within just a few minutes the horse had tamed quite a bit. After a few more snorts and bucks, the horse gave up his fight and calmed down. Everyone clapped at his success.
 
“You know little brother,” Larry Younger said to his brother. “That boy is going to make it big someday.”
 
“If he doesn’t break his neck first,” Keith said. “Say…doesn’t his folks live on a ranch outside town?”
 
“Yeah.” Larry watched Johnny take a prideful bow after stepping down from his horse. “They own the Gibbs’ ranch about three miles from here. Oh, actually I believe his brother owns the place now after his father…Well now…the way I heard the story told, his brother Andy was killed in the war last November. His father flipped out and is now a booze-drinking bum. Scott Gibbs recently married and took over the ranch and the bank.”
 
“Really?” Keith scratched his chin. “Hm…I wonder if his brother is really aware of what Johnny’s doing.”
 
“I wouldn’t know,” Larry answered.
 
“You know he’s thinking of showing up at that rodeo next Saturday? He said he wants to ride a wild bull.”
 
“A boy his age?” Larry shook his head. “Nobody over there would let a 14 year old kid get on a wild bull!”
 
“No.” Keith folded his arms. “But I think Johnny is stubborn enough and determined enough to make it happen.
 
***
 
“Ya mean you got to break another one?” Laura asked as she shook her head. Johnny had met her on the way home and stopped to tell Laura the good news. “What’s it like?”
 
“Oh, I can’t explain it, Laura! It’s like…like being a bird high in the sky just soaring and…feeling so free! Then when that horse calms and rides soft, why…you feel like a bird who’s successfully found it’s roost. I’m so happy when I’m up there on that horse. I…I just can’t explain it!”
 
“How long are you gonna keep this from your brother?” Laura asked.  “I mean…I understand about what you’re doing, but I don’t like keeping things from my folks.”
 
“But you will…for me?” Johnny asked.
 
“Sure,” Laura answered. She mounted her horse. “I hafta get home.”
 
***
 
Johnny slowly made his way into the yard Thursday evening. He knew he was about to get yelled at now. The sun was going down. Scott had ordered him to come home right after school, and Johnny had failed to obey. He just had so many adventures.
 
Johnny stopped when the door opened. Scott angrily came out the door and started limping toward his brother. Amanda hurried up behind him. “Scott, you shouldn’t be on your leg!” she begged. But Scott held up his hand as he made his way toward Johnny. “Scott…” Amanda tried again.
 
Johnny saw Margaret, Beth, and Jennifer hurry out right behind Scott. “Alright, it’s past 8:00. Where the blazes have you been?”
 
“I…I…I…went to talk to some people!” Johnny stuttered out.
 
“What people?” Scott asked angrily.
 
Johnny shrugged. “Just some people!” He looked from Scott to his sisters and mother. “What’s wrong with you?”
 
“What’s wrong with me?” Scott tried to take some deep breaths. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me! I sent the ranch hands into town to have the night off. I told them YOU would help me check the cattle. YOU didn’t show up. So I went out on the range and discovered a cow birthing. I had to help her along, but I couldn’t save the cow…” Scott balled his hand into a fist and pressed his lips together as he tried to control his rage. “If you had been there…”
 
Amanda laid a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Johnny, you know how hard it is for Scott with his leg. He put too much strain on it. It’s hurting him awfully bad.”
 
Johnny hung his head. “I’m sorry, Scott. I…”
 
“Don’t…” Scott narrowed his eyes at Johnny. “Don’t you DARE apologize to me!”
 
“I’m not a rancher!” Johnny shouted. “You know I’m not a rancher!”
 
“You’re a member of this family!” Scott shouted back. “If you’re going to make it out there alone…you MUST learn responsibility and…” Scott groaned as he took a step forward.
 
Amanda and Beth hurried forward and grabbed Scott by the arms. “Let’s get him inside. I need to get him on the bed and give his leg a good rubbing.”
 
Margaret stepped forward. Her eyes held tears as she watched the suffering her brother was going through. “Scott’s right, Johnny. I want to support you in…in…whatever you want to do.” Margaret shook her head. “But I can’t…not when…when you can’t own up to your responsibilities.” Margaret looked him up and down. “Where are your books?”
 
“My…” Johnny looked down. “Oh…my books…” He lifted his head and looked his sister in the eye.
 
Margaret nodded. “I think you should go to your room. We’ll discuss this as a family tomorrow.”
 
Johnny looked past Margaret to his mother. He saw the disappointment in her eyes too. “Horse breaking is what I want to do…Horse breaking and working the rodeo.”
 
“I know.” Margaret allowed tears to fall down her face. She lifted a hand up and rested it on her brother’s cheek. “And it breaks my heart to do this, Johnny. But what you’re doing is…is wrong.”
 
“Right.” Johnny slowly walked toward the door. He paused as he turned back and looked at his sister. “I wonder what I have to do to get your faith back, sis…” He turned back around and walked into the house and into his bedroom.
 
***
On Friday afternoon, Laura had stopped by the shack, but Johnny wasn’t there. Samuel Gibbs had opened the door and waved. Laura waved back, smiling, then rode for home. The evening passed slowly for Laura. She had talked to Johnny every evening that week except for today. She wondered where Johnny was and what he was doing.
 
After Julie sent her to bed, Laura laid awake in the darkness. She hadn’t been lying in bed too long when she heard something hit her window. She sat up in bed, but started to lay down when she decided she was only hearing things. But suddenly, she heard it again. Laura quietly got out of bed and hurried toward the window. She slowly lifted the window and peered out. “Johnny?” Laura gasped in a whisper.
 
“I just wanted to say goodbye. Thanks for keeping my secret, Laura.”
 
Laura noticed the bag over his shoulder. “Where ya goin’, Johnny?”
 
“I’m going to that rodeo tomorrow, and I’m gonna ask ‘em if they’ll take a 14 year old boy. I could ride with them and learn the trade at first.”
 
“But your family, Johnny! I….”
 
“No!” Johnny shook his head. “They…they don’t understand me at home! I have to do this!” Johnny lowered his head. When he lifted it back up, he asked, “Laura, will you promise not to tell anybody until next week? By then the rodeo will be gone and…”
 
“But Johnny! How do you know they’ll even take ya?” Laura asked as she shook her head.
 
Johnny sighed. “I talked to one of the men earlier today. He said he’s pretty sure they’ll take me and let me learn the trade. Then they’ll train me and when I’m old enough I can start performing.”
 
“Oh, but…”
 
“I gotta go! Remember, Laura…not a WORD until next week!” Johnny turned and ran from the yard. Laura just stared out the window, not quite believing what had happened.
 
Suddenly, the door to her bedroom opened. “Laura Rose McCain!” Abe exclaimed from across the room.
 
Laura gasped and quickly closed the window and started for her bed. “What do you think you’re doing, young lady?”
 
“I…I…”
 
Abe stepped into the room and crossed his arms. “Come here, Laura Rose.” She didn’t like the tone of his voice. She slowly walked over to stand in front of Abe. “Laura?” Laura lifted her head up…up…up…until she saw the shadow of her brother’s face. “What were you doing at the window?”
 
“I…I was looking at the…the…moon,” Laura stuttered out. “It’s big t’night!”
 
Abe bent over picked her up. He carried her to her bed and laid her back under the covers. “They’ll be no more gazing at the moon tonight, young lady!” Abe ordered. “Now…you get to sleep!”
 
“Yes sir.” Abe bent down and kissed her.
 
“If I have to come in here again, you will get a firm hand on the backside. Understood?” Laura nodded. She watched Abe walk out the door.
 
Laura turned over and stared at the wall. But she couldn’t sleep. She wondered and fretted about Johnny. Why did he suddenly want to run away from home? Was keeping his secret really the right thing to do? Was he in danger? Would they ever see him again? Laura wondered these things as she slowly went to sleep.
 
***
Laura took another bite of her scrambled eggs the next morning. “Honey, are you sick?” Julie asked worriedly as she studied her.
 
“No,” Laura answered.
 
“Well…” But Julie’s words were stopped by a fierce knock on the door. The door opened and Scott hurried in. “Have you seen Johnny today?”
 
Laura lowered her head and stared at her plate. Abe stood up and walked toward Scott. “No. I haven’t seen him all week!”
 
“He never came home from school last night…at least that we know of, but he did at some point because some of his clothes and our left over’s from supper are missing.”
 
“M…may I be excused?” Laura asked in a quiet voice.
 
“Not until you finish your breakfast,” Julie answered her. Then she turned to Scott. “You say he never came home from school?” Scott nodded. “Well. Why didn’t you go looking for him last night?”
 
“Julie…” Abe warned.
 
“No, it’s okay.” Scott came inside. “I’m afraid Johnny and I had a big fight Thursday night. He’s been really acting up this week. I’m not sure what’s gotten into him. So, when he didn’t come home I just figured…”
 
“I understand. I’m sorry.” Julie turned to feed Adam another spoon full of scrambled eggs.
 
Abe turned and looked at Laura. “Laura, was Johnny in school yesterday?”
 
Laura suddenly felt her heart beating really hard. She stared down into her plate, not sure what to answer. She couldn’t think up a way to keep from lying, yet keeping her secret. So she closed her eyes and said, “I don’t remember.”
 
Abe turned and looked at Scott. Then he walked over to Laura and bent down in front of her. “Laura, it’s important you tell me. Was he at school?”
 
Laura looked down at her plate and pushed the eggs around. Quietly, she answered, “No sir.”
 
“Have you seen Johnny?” Abe asked then.
 
“Sure! I saw him Thursday,” Laura answered.
 
“But not yesterday?” Abe asked then.
 
“Yesterday?” Laura sighed. “No sir, I told you he wasn’t at school yesterday.” Laura sat down her fork. “Abe…I’m not feeling too good. Can I please be excused?”
 
“Laura…” Abe started. But then he stopped. He nodded his head. “Alright. Go on to your room and lay down.”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
Abe stood and waited for Laura to go into her room. “She’s hiding something,” Abe mumbled. He turned to Scott. “But I don’t think pressuring her will get the answers we need.”
 
Abe hurried to the door and strapped on his gun belt. “Julie, I’m going to go help Scott look for Johnny. You have Laura do the dishes and help you out around the house and..” Abe laid a hand on hers. “See if you can find out what she’s hiding.”
 
Scott and Abe left. They stopped by the main house to tell Peter what was going on. Peter agreed to go look for Johnny as well. “Did he give any indication at all as to where he was going?” Abe asked Scott.
 
“Margaret says he wants to make a living at cattle breaking,” Scott answered. “I think it’s loco…he could end up paralyzed before he’s thirty…”
 
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Peter pointed out.
 
“Yes. Somebody!” Scott shook his head. “But not my kid brother!”
 
“Well, we can go out to the Youngers’ ranch. That’s all they do – break cattle. They’ve broken a few ornery ones for me from time to time,” Abe stated. “But first…perhaps we should find Mr. Richards and find out if he knows anything.”
 
The three men hurried toward town. Mr. Richards stayed in a small house not far from the school. He answered on their third knock. “Mr. McCain…Mr. Gibbs…Fancy seeing you here.”
 
“Yes uh…” Abe cleared his throat. “I was wondering if we could have a moment of your time, sir.” Mr. Richards moved over to allow the men to enter his home. After they were settled, Scott cleared his throat. “It’s about my brother, Johnny.”
 
“Yes. I was disappointed he couldn’t come back this year,” Mr. Richards stated.
 
“Couldn’t come…” Scott stared at him. “Are you telling me Johnny hasn’t been to school?”
 
“Well no. I haven’t seen him since school started Tuesday.” Mr. Richards looked from man to man. “Is there…a problem?”
 
Abe slowly stood up. “Yes. I’m afraid there is.” He walked toward the door. “And I’m afraid my sister is right in the thick of it as usual.” He hurried from the house. Scott thanked him for his time as they hurried after Abe.
 
“What do you mean Laura’s in the thick of it?” Peter asked.
 
“I could tell she was hiding something this morning,” Abe answered. “I questioned her about Johnny and she merely stated she saw him Thursday.”
 
“You know…” Scott pointed out. “She never DID say she didn’t see Johnny yesterday. She just said she saw him Thursday.”
 
“She saw him Tuesday as well,” Abe stated. “At least, that’s what she told me that night at supper.”
 
“Do you suppose that our dear little sister is taking liberty with the facts?”
 
Abe nodded. “I think that’s EXACTLY what our little sister is doing.” Abe scratched his beard. “Well, we’re closer to the Younger ranch. Let’s go there and see if they know anything. Then we’ll go have a talk with our sister!”
 
***
 
Julie watched Laura as she hung another dress on the clothes line. Julie worked at scrubbing a stain from Abe’s shirt. “I just may have to dye it,” she mumbled. But Laura merely sighed beside her. “Is there something you want to get off your mind?” She looked up to see the boys running around the yard chasing each other. They loved their fenced in yard and the freedom it gave them.
 
Laura continued to stare at the dress. “Laura Rose?” Laura snapped her head around and looked at Julie. “I said is there something you want to tell me?”
 
“No.” Laura took the shirt from Julie and went to hang it on the line. She paused and slowly turned around. Walking up to Julie she said, “Mama Julie?” Julie paused in her scrubbing and turned to look at Laura. “Um…if…if a person tells you something and you promise to keep it a secret…you should keep it a secret, right?”
 
“Not if keeping it secret could hurt a person,” Julie answered as she went back to scrubbing the dress.
 
“Well…how do you know if it would hurt them?”
 
“If what they are doing is wrong, Laura Rose, then it could hurt them.” Julie paused in her task again and bent down in front of Laura. “Do you want to tell me something?” Laura didn’t answer. “About Johnny?”
 
“No. I don’t know nothing!” Laura declared quickly.
 
“Anything,” Julie corrected her. She raised her eyebrows as she looked into the little girl’s eyes. She could tell Laura was as guilty as sin. “Laura…” Laura returned to her task. Julie stood up and turned back to the tub. “Alright. I can get the rest of this. Suppose you go entertain the children for awhile.”
 
Julie wiped her brow with her arm and shook her head. She was perplexed at the secret Laura was hiding.
 
***
 
Abe, Peter, and Scott walked up to the corral and watched as Keith and Larry Younger worked on breaking a mean horse. “It’s amazing what they can do with horses,” Scott declared.
 
“Yes it is.” Abe saw Keith Younger coming over to greet them. “Hello. Abe McCain,” he introduced himself.
 
“Oh yes…I’ve done some work for you before.” Keith shook his hand. “After that last horse, Abe, I don’t know if…”
 
“Now, don’t you worry about that! I’m here on a more personal matter.” Abe pointed to Scott. “This is Scott Gibbs. He…”
 
“Oh yes! Johnny’s brother,” Keith declared. “You usually do your business with Larry.” Keith turned just as Larry was getting up from the dirt.  “Larry, come on over here!”
 
Larry rubbed his back side as he groaned. He stepped up to the corral gate and shook Scott’s hand. “I don’t know if I want to do anymore business with you, Scott. Not after the last…”
 
“You know, your brother hit Abe with the same joke.” Scott sobered. “Actually, I’m here about my brother.”
 
“Johnny? Oh yes, he’s gonna be pretty good horse breaker soon, the rate he’s going!”
 
“So he HAS been here!” Abe declared
 
“Yes. Several times. In fact, he’s broken two horses for me already. He’s a regular spit-fire, that brother of yours!”
 
“Oh. I had no idea. All this time I thought he was in school.”
 
Keith and Larry looked at each other. “Oh…He told us his folks said he didn’t have to go to school anymore. He said he was all done.”
 
“What?” Scott shouted.
 
Abe held up a hand to quiet him. “He apparently ran away from home yesterday. We’re trying to find him.”
 
“Oh yes!” Larry rubbed the back of his neck. “We were going to stop by your place, Scott, and tell you about that. Uh…he said something about going to the Rodeo today. It’s meeting on the other side of town later this afternoon.”
 
“The…” Scott put his hands on his hips. “Now why would he go to a blasted thing like that???”
 
“He said something about wanting to ride a bull.”
 
“What the…” Scott banged his fist on the fence. “Just wait until I get my hands on that boy!”
 
“First,” Abe said as he grabbed Scott’s arm. “I think we need to go visit Laura to see just what it is she knows!”
 
“What if she doesn’t tell us?” Peter asked.
 
Abe paused his foot in the stirrup. “Oh, I think I can persuade her to talk,” he answered.
 
***
Julie heard the men coming back and wiped her hands on her apron. “Laura, they’re back…” Julie turned to see Laura running to her room. She shook her head as she opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. “Did you find him?”
 
“Not yet,” Abe answered as he crossed his arms and stood in front of her. “Did she tell you anything?”
 
“No. But she did ask me about breaking promises. She was trying to decide something.”
 
“Where is she?” Abe asked as he hurried inside.
 
“She ran to her room when she heard you coming,” Julie answered as she followed Abe into the bedroom. Peter and Scott poured themselves a cup of coffee and sat down at the table to wait.
 
Abe found Laura standing at the window peering out. “Were you looking at the moon last night, Laura?”
 
“I saw the moon last night,” Laura answered without turning around.
 
Abe sighed and slapped his hat on his thigh. “I’ve had enough of half-truths!” Abe declared as he sat down on her bed. “Laura, come here.” His voice was gruff and stern. Laura knew there was no other choice. She softly walked across the floor to where he was sitting. “We’ve had a few talks about lying in the past, haven’t we?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura answered meekly.
 
“And YOU know the difference between a truth and a lie.” Laura nodded. Abe crossed his arms. “Laura!” Laura lifted her face to look into his. “I think a little girl around here has been lying to us all week.”
 
“I haven’t lied, Abe! Not one single time!” Laura assured him.
 
“You don’t really believe that…do you, Laura Rose?” Abe put a hand under her chin and lifted her head to peer into his eyes. “Because if you do, let me tell you something…the sort of lies you have been telling this week are much, much worse than bold-faced lies. If you said yes when I asked you if Johnny was in school yesterday, then that’s a flat-out lie. But to answer my questions by rewording my statements to benefit your…guilt…is much worse because it holds a lot of deception on your part.” Abe let go of her chin. It fell towards the floor. “So have you been lying to us?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura answered with a sniff.
 
“Johnny is only 14 years old. If he’s going to go to that rodeo and try to ride a bull, he can get into a whole lot of trouble.” Abe raised his eyebrows. “Well?”
 
“I promised not to tell!” Laura cried. “He came here last night to tell me he was gonna go with the rodeo. He was gonna work and learn how to ride bulls! I promised not to tell until next week when it was too late…I…”
 
Abe stood up and looked at Julie. He motioned for her to go on out. “You knew about this since Tuesday?”
 
“Only that he was ditching school and never going back,” Laura answered with a sniff.
 
“That’s all?”
 
“No sir…”
 
“Laura Rose, you have deceived Julie and I all week and the entire Gibbs family by withholding this information! Not only that, but you’ve also sent us searching for answers…wasting precious time when you could have told us the truth right away! I…” Abe found himself yelling. Laura’s eyes filled with tears. Abe walked toward the door. “You are to stay in this room until I get back, Laura. Do I make myself clear?”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura whispered.
 
“Laura?”
 
“Yes sir.” Laura sat down on her bed. She listened to the door slam shut, then she threw herself on the bed and cried.
 
Abe’s jaw was clinching as he stepped out of the bedroom. “He’s planning on joining the rodeo…to go away with them,” Abe announced. “We gotta go.”
 
The men jumped up and hurried toward the door. Abe turned and looked at Julie. “She’s not to come out of that room! I’ll deal with her when I get back!” Julie didn’t only see anger in his eyes. She also saw hurt. Julie watched Abe rush out. She bit her lip and turned and looked towards Laura’s bedroom door. Laura had really hurt her this time. She knew the trust she and Abe had put in her had quickly died.
 
***
 
“What time does the rodeo start?” Abe asked the others.
 
“I don’t know.” Scott looked up at the sky. “It’s probably 1:30 now.” He turned and looked at Abe as they rode. “You don’t think Jonny would do anything…stupid like…you know…do you?”
 
“We know he’s a risk taker,” Abe answered bluntly. “So I wouldn’t put anything past him.”
 
“Let’s go by the house and tell my family.” They quickly tied their horses and hurried inside. Scott reported to his family what he knew.
 
“I’m going with you,” Margaret declared as she untied her apron. “Saddle my horse.”
 
“No!” Scott stated. “You’re staying here!”
 
“I’m going, Scott!” Margaret declared. “I seem to understand him better than you do right now!” Scott sucked in his breath. Margaret shook her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
 
“No…You’re right, Margaret. All I know is he’s getting himself into trouble!” Scott hurried to the barn and saddled Andy’s horse for Margaret to ride. Soon, all four of them were on their way.
 
There was quiet a crowd there already. They dismounted and tied their horses to a hitching post, then made their way to the corral. “Do you see him?” Peter asked as they scanned the crowd.
 
“No. Not yet,” Scott answered as he climbed up on the corral fence and peered into the corral.
 
They looked through the crowd for a half hour, but they had no luck. “How could he do this?” Scott asked as he shook his head.
 
“Scott…forgive me, but you drove him to this,” Margaret answered. Scott turned and glared at her. “I always speak my mind, you know that.” Scott nodded. “Johnny isn’t like you. He’s so different! You have to try to understand him…to embrace who he is! Going against him is going to be like a bull…” Margaret suddenly shot a hand to her mouth. Her eyes grew wide. “Scott!” She pointed a shaky finger toward a gated stall.
 
“He’s gone loco!” Scott shouted as he climbed over the corral fence and jumped inside. “Johnny!”
 
But it was too late. The gate opened and Johnny came out riding a bull. The bull was mad and bounced Johnny up and down like a rubber ball. Margaret screamed as the bull flung him high in the air. Johnny landed on the ground with a loud thud, but didn’t stay there long. He stood up and hurried toward the corral fence. Nobody missed the pain on his face. The bull turned and ran toward him.  Margaret let out another horrific scream as she shot a hand to her mouth.
 
Johnny managed to get over the fence before it was too late. Margaret’s hand slid to her chest. “Oh, thank you, Lord…” Margaret breathed as her eyes closed in relief.
 
Johnny grabbed his middle and groaned as he leaned against the fence.
 
“Thank God he wasn’t hurt any worse!” Peter breathed.
 
“No he wasn’t,” Scott said through clinched teeth. “But I’m gonna kill him!” He started around the corral.
 
Margaret grabbed him. “Now please…stay calm! Don’t do anything in haste!” she begged Scott. But Scott was mad. He reached the other side of the corral and saw Johnny laughing with some of the other men. Scott reached out and grabbed Johnny by his neck. “Scott!” Margaret warned.
 
Johnny groaned in pain as Scott dragged him away from there without saying a word. When they were in a clearing, Scott let go of his neck and grabbed the front of his shirt. “What do you think you are doing, boy?”
 
“She told you?” Johnny griped. “She told you after she promised she wouldn’t?”
 
Abe leapt forward. He wanted to bend the boy over his knee. “No! She lied for you! Are you happy with yourself???” Abe asked. “You want to be a man – to make your own decisions and do your own thing but you are CERTINLLY going about it the WRONG WAY!!!!!!” Abe shook his head. “Laura is in a whole mess of trouble now!”
 
“I didn’t mean to get her into trouble!” Johnny cried. “She saw me sneaking into the shack on her way to school Tuesday, so Tuesday afternoon she came snooping around! I had to tell her!” Johnny declared. “She said she’d snitch on me if I didn’t!”
 
“What?” Abe exclaimed. “She told me she was going to Jessica’s…” Abe closed his eyes and shook his head. That was yet another lie.
 
“Nevermind!” Scott felt his sister’s hand on his shoulder. He took a few deep breaths. “Just be glad our sister’s here! Let’s go.”
 
Where?” Johnny asked.
 
“Home!” Scott declared.
 
“But they’re giving me a job!” Johnny protested as Scott grabbed his arm.
 
“A fourteen year old boy???” Abe questioned. “What sort of story did you tell them? That your parents are dead and you have no home?”
 
Johnny frowned. “Something like that. But I want to…”
 
Abe grabbed his other arm. “Let’s go!” Abe ordered. “I think you should havel a family meeting tonight and get to the bottom of this!”
 
“You best call my Pa then,” Johnny declared.
 
Scott stopped walking and turned around to glare at his brother. “What’s Pa got to do with this?”
 
“A lot.”
 
Abe, Peter, and Margaret looked at each other. “Alright. Let’s get him home. Then I think we need to all sit down and straighten this whole thing out.”
 
Johnny groaned. Scott paused, realizing that he was in a great deal of pain. “What’s wrong?”
 
“I think I might have busted a couple ribs,” Johnny declared.
 
Scott and Abe looked at each other. “I’ll go for the doctor,” Peter announced as he hurried toward his horse. Abe and Scott helped Johnny to his horse. It took some doing, but they got him in the saddle. Then they started for home.
 
***
Julie couldn’t stand it anymore. She went to Laura’s bedroom door and opened it a crack. Laura was sitting on the bed staring at the wall. Her eyes shifted when she saw Julie open the door. “Can I come in?”
 
Laura nodded as she wiped her eyes. “Abe’s mad.”
 
“Yes.” Julie sat down on the bed. “The boys are napping so I thought I’d talk to you a little. Do you mind?”
 
“Are you mad?”
 
Julie raised her eyebrows. “What do you think?”
 
“I think it’s really hard being a kid!” Laura sighed. “I don’t mean to get myself into these messes…but I always seem to end up in them.”
 
“Well…I remember getting into plenty of trouble when I was a child too, Laura.” She laughed. “My Pa made me visit the woodshed on some occasions. Except he used a razor strap on me.”
 
“I’m gonna get a whipping…ain’t I?” Laura sniffed.
 
Julie shrugged. “I don’t know, Laura…but it doesn’t look good.” Julie rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Laura, can you tell me why you didn’t come to us on Tuesday?”
 
“I don’t know…”
 
“Laura…” Julie stared.
 
“Well, I guess I do.” Laura told Julie everything. She told Julie about making Johnny tell her everything to stay quiet all the way up to that Friday night when Johnny came by the house and announced he was leaving to join the rodeo.
 
The sound of horses sounded. Julie stood up and hurried to the window. “It’s your brothers,” Julie said as she allowed the curtain to fall in its place. Julie walked to the bed and sat down beside her. “Let’s hope they found him.”
 
“Julie!” Abe’s voice sounded as he entered the house. Julie called out that she was in Laura’s room. They heard Abe’s feet walk across the floor. His tall figure was soon taking up the doorway.
 
“Well?” Julie asked hopefully.
 
“We found him.” Abe nodded slightly. Then he focused his eyes on Laura. “We got him home and will be going over there for a family meeting tonight. He may have broken a couple ribs when he was bucked off the bull.” Abe took a few more steps into the bedroom. “But I reckon that’s okay since he could have easily been killed.”
 
“Bucked off the bull?” Julie’s eyes grew wide. “You mean they actually allowed him to…”
 
“No. They didn’t allow him to anything. Turns out he snuck into the corral and got on a bull all by himself. He wanted to prove something.” Abe sighed. “I was hoping this taught him a lesson, but he’s more determined than ever to do it now.”
 
Julie turned and looked at Laura. “Laura?” Laura lifted her head and looked at Julie. Julie raised her eyebrows.
 
“I’m…sorry,” she said quietly.
 
“Seems Laura’s been busy this week, Julie. Seems she saw Johnny sneaking down into some shack on her way to school Tuesday morning. Then when she told us she was going to Jessie’s, she was really going down to the shack to see Johnny.”
 
Laura lowered her head. “But I DID go to Jessie’s! I went by and said hello.” Laura shook her head. “I can’t flat-out lie to ya, Abe.”
 
“Then you threatened Johnny you’d snitch unless he told you what he was doing. All week, you’ve been visiting with him haven’t you?” Laura nodded. “Haven’t you????”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
“Then when you saw Scott come over here…you had to know he was worried, yet you stayed quiet. Why?”
 
“Because Johnny asked me to. He didn’t want anybody to know….He asked me just to be quiet until next week cause he was going to work for the rodeo and learn about it.”
 
“And you saw nothing wrong with the deception and sneaking around you and he were doing?” Abe asked.
 
Julie put an arm around Laura. “Abe, she’s just a child!”
 
“Yes. She’s just a child,” Abe nodded. “But you did know it was wrong. Didn’t you, Laura Rose?”
 
“Yes sir.”
 
“Laura, we love you. We love you very much,” Julie said softly. “But when you behave like this it’s hard for us to trust you. I’m afraid, Laura, that you’ve lost our trust for a time. Trust is something that’s easily lost and difficult to get back. It’s going to take some time before your brother or I can trust you again. And there’s going to have to be some punishments for what you did.” Julie smoothed Laura’s hair back as Laura’s eyes filled with tears. “Johnny could have been killed. And if he had been successful on leaving, your brothers and Scott would have had to leave town to find him.”
 
“You gonna give me a whipping?” Laura asked Abe.
 
“Oh yeah,” Abe answered. He bent down in front of her as Laura started sniffing. “That’s something I hoped we were past, but I CANNOT stand by and allow you to get away with such deception, Laura! I can hardly believe you are capable of such a thing!”
 
“I promised Johnny I wouldn’t tell! He made it all sound like so much fun and okay…He said that he was going to travel all around the world, have a big house, and everything because he was going to make lots and lots of money in the rodeo!” Laura’s bottom lip started to quiver.
 
“And Johnny’s going to be severly punished as well.” Abe sighed. “Laura, Scott knows this is partly his fault for not listening to his brother more. He was trying to force Johnny to be something he isn’t; but regardless, Johnny was wrong in what he did. And he should have NEVER gotten you involved in it!”
 
“But I was at the shack his Pa lives in! He didn’t know I was there. What could he do?”
 
“He could have sent you away instead of…” Abe stopped. “What do you mean the shack his Pa lives in.”
 
Laura nodded. “Johnny said that his Pa stays there when he ain’t…uh…I mean when he’s…”
 
Abe nodded. “I know what you meant. Now then, you know you will lose your horse for a time. I’m going to let you ride him on weekends with someone else with you, but not by yourself. You will walk to school.”
 
“Yes sir,” Laura sniffed.
 
“Laura, I know you thought you were doing something good for Johnny by staying quiet, but you were wrong.” Abe stood up and looked to Julie. “Julie, why don’t you go check on the boys now?”
 
Julie looked down at Laura. “Laura, you know your brother and I love you very much.”
 
Laura nodded. “Can I…still call you Mama Julie?”
 
Julie smiled as her eyes filled with tears. “Of course!”
 
Laura tugged on Abe’s shirt. Abe bent down in front of her. “Can I…call you Papa Abe?”
 
“But I’m your brother!” Abe declared.
 
“I know, but your like my Papa too. Least…” Laura lowered her head. “I hope you are.”
 
“You know I still have to whip you, Laura.” Laura nodded. “And you still want to call me Papa Abe?” Laura nodded. “Well then…I’d be very, very honored.” He hugged Laura.
 
Julie stood up and walked to the door. She knew it would break Abe’s heart to spank Laura as it was breaking hers; but she also understood it would have to be.
 
Julie hurried from the room and went to check on Charlie. Charlie was sitting on the floor in his room playing quietly with his blocks. Julie smiled as she sat down with him, hoping she wouldn’t hear the noise from the other room as she spoke. But tears filled her eyes when she heard Abe deliver his punishment. The sound was soon followed by Laura’s cries.
 
A tear slipped down Julie’s eyes. Charlie stood up and walked over to his mother. He gave her a kiss. “Mama sad?”
 
“Just a little, Charlie. But Charlie’s kiss will help me get happy a lot faster.”
 
“Lala’s sad?” Charlie asked then.
 
Julie nodded. “Yes. She got a spanking.”
 
Charlie gasped as he put his hands to his backside. “Papa hurts! Ouch!” he declared.
 
“Yes.” Julie laughed as she picked Charlie up and stood up. “And Papa’s in just the mood to deliver one to you today, so you be on your best behavior!”
 
Julie opened the door to Charlie’s room. She saw Abe bent over the fireplace hearth with his shoulder’s shaking. She walked over to him and touched his cheek with her hand. “What’s wrong, my love?”
 
“It ain’t like before,” Abe said. “I used to be able to spank her without too much trouble but now it…”
 
Julie nodded. “It breaks your heart. That’s because she owns a bigger chunk of your heart now. You, Abe, are like her Papa. It’s hard, but something that has to be done.”
 
“Papa spank Charlie? Ouch!” Charlie shouted suddenly.
 
Abe smiled as he wiped the tears from his cheeks. He took Charlie in his arms. “No, son. Papa won’t spank Charlie as long as Charlie’s good.”
 
“Oh.” Charlie scratched Abe’s beard. “Then Charlie be good for ever an’ ever!”
 
Abe laid Charlie over his arm and started tickling him. Charlie giggled and started begging for mercy. Abe hugged Charlie to himself again. Then he turned to Julie. “Go to her, Julie. I’ll go wake the boys up. We need to go to the Gibbs’ soon.”
 
Julie nodded as she started for the bedroom. But she paused and turned. “Abe…I’m not saying that Laura’s bad by nature, but the time may come when you have to do this again. And I want you to know…you will have my support.”
 
“Thanks. Tell her I love her.”
 
Julie slipped into the bedroom and took Laura into her arms, allowing her to cry. Laura kept telling Julie how sorry she was. “This is why parents punish their children,” Julie said. “Because we have to teach you.”
 
Laura nodded and wiped her tears as she stood up. She walked toward the door. “Abe cried,” Laura said as she stood at the door. “He cried this time.”
 
“I know.”
 
Laura opened the door. She saw Abe working on washing the sleep out of David’s eyes. “Abe?” Abe sat David on the floor and turned toward Laura. “Abe, I know I said I was sorry before but…” Laura swallowed as she looked down at the ground. “But…I don’t think I meant it.” Laura turned to look at Julie. “But now…I think I understand and I know how much I hurt you and Julie.”
 
Abe slowly bent down in front of her. He looked into her moist eyes. “You did hurt us…very much.”
 
“I’m sorry, Abe! I’m so sorry!” Laura fell into his arms and wept. “Will you please forgive me?”
 
Abe kissed her softly. “Of course I will, Rosebud.”
 
“And…and will ya trust me again?” Laura begged. “I want ya to trust me!”
 
“We will…in time.” Abe stood up. “Right now, we need to get to the Gibbs’.
 
***
 
The doctor stepped out of Johnny’s bedroom. “Doctor?” Jennifer asked anxiously as she stood from her chair.
 
Dr. Stevens smiled. “Just one cracked rib. The others are bruised. He’ll be hurting for a few days, I’m afraid.” Scott stood and walked the doctor to the door. He thanked him for coming so quickly, then watched his buggy as he drove out of the yard.
 
“Thank God he’s going to be alright,” Scott said. He slowly sat down at the table as Amanda handed him a cup of coffee. “Where did I go wrong, Mother?”
 
Jennifer stretched out her hand and took his. “You just want what you think is best for your brother. It’s hard to accept who Johnny is. He’s so different from any of you Gibbs’ or McCains.”
 
“I know. I…” There was a knock on the door. Abe came in with his family right behind him. Beth agreed to tend to the children, including little Ruthie, while the other adults talked.
 
“I want him to finish school,” Scott said. “I don’t see any reason why he can’t at least give us that much.”
 
“And then?” Abe asked.
 
“And then…” Scott sighed.
 
“Scott…” Margaret cleared her throat. “There is nothing wrong with horse breaking. Wouldn’t you rather see our brother happy doing what he enjoys then miserable doing what he doesn’t?” Scott sighed as he stared into his cup. “We’ll fret and worry about him, but we have to allow Johnny to be his own person.”
 
Abe sat back in his chair as Julie helped Jennifer and Amanda set the food on the tables. “Do you remember the evening we were here at your house when Luke made his famous announcement, Scott? Ma and Pa…” Abe sighed, remembering that was the last time they were all together. “Ma and Pa, Your folks, Andy, and…Do you remember my reaction to Luke’s announcement?” Scott nodded. “Did my going off on him have any real effect? Did it change anything?” Abe sighed as Julie sat down next to him. “Scott, Johnny’s going to do what he wants to do rather you like it or not.”
 
“I know, but…”
 
Margaret cleared her throat. “I think we’re all in agreement that Scott needs to finish school.”
 
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “And if you remember, our fathers were on their own at sixteen. They had two mighty find families and turned out okay. I…” Lucas paused when Scott lifted an eyebrow. “My point is…maybe if you give Scott permission to go out on his own at sixteen…”
 
“Sixteen…” Beth mumbled from her place. “I can’t believe we’re even considering it!”
 
Jennifer cleared her throat. “As Johnny’s mother, I will say that I want to hold onto him for as long as I can. Because I…” Jennifer’s voice broke. She put a hand to her chest and took in a deep breath. “…because I know that when he leaves…” She shook her head. “I may never see my baby again.”
 
“There’s something else,” Scott spoke quietly. He looked up at his family surrounding him.  “Most of you know that my father signed over the ranch to me and I now control the money.” Several nodded. “But Johnny didn’t know it…until Tuesday.”
 
“What?” Abe asked, shocked. “You didn’t tell him?”
 
Scott shook his head. “I suppose…I was just trying to avoid a confrontation. Johnny’s a bit upset. He wants his money now and I told him he’d have to wait until he’s eighteen, then he’d only get it if he got his school certificate.”
 
“I see…”
 
Peter cleared his throat. “If you remember, I quit school when I was fifteen. But the teacher was able to give me a special test early, and Pa locked me in my room for a week and made me study for it. I was able to get my certificate.”
 
“Scott…I can’t tell you what to do with your money,” Abe stated. “But…I think making him wait until he’s eighteen is a good idea. But…” Abe leaned forward on the table. “Maybe promising him half the money at 16 will encourage him to stay in school and earn his certificate.”
 
Jeremiah cleared his throat. “I’m thinking on the story of the Prodigal Son. He was given his inheritance, went away and spent it all. He came home when the money was gone.” Jeremiah nodded. “I think you should make sure he understands that story when you talk to him. The money will be his, but when it’s gone…it’s gone. You’ll welcome him back home but there will be no more money for him.”
 
Scott nodded. “Well…you all have been a tremendous help. I…think I’m ready to talk to him. After supper, I’ll visit with him.”
 
The McCain family decided to leave right after supper so the Gibbs family could visit with Johnny. Laura thought she should apologize, but “Papa Abe” assured her she could wait until she saw him on Monday. Abe gave Scott a firm handshake as he carried a sleeping little boy in his arms. “Hang in there, Scott. It’s good practice for your own children.” Julie elbowed her husband as they walked out the door.
 
With four sleeping little boys, Abe put his hand on top of Julie’s, then rode their wagon towards home.
 
***
 
Johnny heard a knock on his door and lowered the Wild West magazine he had been reading. Scott entered his room, followed by his mother and the rest of his family. Scott turned and looked at his mother. She knew how hard it was for him to swallow his pride and apologize for the part he had played in Scott’s transgressions. Scott swallowed his pride. “I want to…to apologize for not…not understanding or…or listening to you.”
 
Jennifer sat down on the bed. “Johnny, you have always been wild and wanted to do things your own way but…you have just GOT to understand that you are still growing. School is really very important to us.”
 
“So…here’s the deal.” Scott cleared his throat. “If you will agree to stay in school for two more years and work your butt off…you can try for your certificate. Then when you receive your certificate, you…” Scott stopped.
 
Margaret kneeled down beside the bed and took Johnny’s hand. “Scott’s going to give you his blessing to go wherever you want…and do whatever you want when you’re sixteen.”
 
“And…the money?” Johnny asked.
 
Scott turned and looked at his mother. “Jennifer nodded. “You can have your inheritance when you turn 18. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.” Scott raised his eyebrows as Johnny began to sulk. “Perhaps I should tell you the story of the Prodigal Son. He…”
 
Johnny held up his hand. “No, no…I understand your reason.” Scott sighed heavily as he leaned his head back. “I know I was wrong…and getting Laura involved was the worst part of the whole thing.”
 
“No,” Margaret shook her head. “Getting on that bull was the worst thing! I think I lost ten years of my life watching that!”
 
Johnny tried to straighten up, but groaned. Scott helped him sit up, pushing pillows low to make him comfortable. “Two more years of school?” Scott nodded. “Can I keep taking lessons on horse breaking?”
 
Scott nodded again. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with the ranch or school,” Scott answered.
 
“And…the rodeo?”
 
“That will have to wait until you’re on your own,” Jennifer answered.
 
“What about the shooting?”
 
“With Pa?” Scott shot out. Johnny nodded silently. “Scott, I don’t think that…” Margaret put a hand on his shoulder. “Alright. Shooting with Pa…as long as he’s completely sober!”
 
“Agreed.” Johnny looked at his mother. “I’m…assuming I’m going to be punished.”
 
“Punished?” Jennifer shook her head. “You’ll be in bed for a couple weeks with those ribs. I think you’ll have plenty of time to think about all you’ve done wrong. I’d say that’s punishment enough.” She shrugged as Scott turned and looked at her. “He’s 14 ½, Scott. He has to learn the true consequences of his crimes; and I think this is the best way.”
 
“Alright.” Scott nodded. “And uh…I’ll agree to your terms. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I want to try to ride another bull for quite awhile!”
 
“Alright, that’s enough!” Jennifer declared as she started shooing everyone out. “I want my baby to get some rest. Beth, get his tray, will you?” Beth went to obey.
 
Margaret started to leave, but turned and sat down beside Johnny. She put her hands on his cheeks and smiled. “You don’t know how frightened I was today…I…” She sighed and shook her head. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
 
“Thanks, Sis.”
 
Margaret stood and walked out of the bedroom. She joined Amanda in the kitchen. “You think he’s learned his lesson about bull riding?” Amanda asked as she started scraping the plates.
 
Margaret laughed painfully. “I’m afraid to say that I believe someday Johnny will announce he’s joined a rodeo or wild west show. I can assure you I’ll spend a lot of time on my knees when that happens!”
 
***
There was a knock at the Gibbs’ front door Monday afternoon. Amanda hurried to answer the knock.  Laura stood there with some papers and books in her hands. “Mama Julie said I could stop by on my way home from school and see Johnny.”
 
Amanda nodded and invited Laura inside. “I think he would love to see you. Get’s mighty lonely in that bed all day.”
 
“Is he…mad at me?”
 
Amanda bent down to look into Laura’s face. “No, honey. He understands.” She led Laura to Johnny’s bedroom. After knocking, she opened the door. “Johnny, you have a visitor.”
 
Johnny sat up straighter and smiled when he saw Laura walk in. “Hey there, cousin!” Johnny smiled.
 
Laura walked over to the bed and carefully sat down. “Does it hurt?”
 
Johnny put his hand on the wrapping around his middle. “Oh, some.”
 
Laura’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s my fault you got hurt.” Her lips started quivering. “If I had told…”
 
Johnny reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek with his finger. “No, no, Laura Rose. This isn’t your fault. This was all my fault.” Johnny smiled and waited for Laura to smile. She nodded. “Did you get a whipping?”
 
Laura nodded. “Abe and Julie were really sore,” she said. “I had to tell a bunch of lies to keep my promise to ya. I knew I was wrong all along.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“The whipping wasn’t the worst part,” Laura shook her head. “The worst was…I lost my horse.”
 
“You lost it? How do you mean?” Johnny asked.
 
“I can’t ride her to school for awhile ‘cause I disobeyed. Abe said I was dec…dec…”
 
“Deceptive?” Laura nodded. “So was I. Abe’s pretty mad at me for getting you involved in this.” Laura looked down at her lap. “Oh, Mr. Richards gave me your assignments for last week and the next two weeks. He said you best have everything done when you get back to school.”
 
“Homework?” Johnny groaned. “Don’t he know I’m in bed sick?”
 
“In the head, maybe!” Amanda declared from the doorway. She folded her arms and shook her head.
 
“I ain’t doing homework in bed!”
 
“You will too!” Amanda declared. She held an arm out for Laura. “I think you should get going now, Laura. Maybe you can come visit Johnny tomorrow.”
 
Laura nodded and stood up. She waved to Johnny then walked out the door. Johnny couldn’t help but smile. “You know, Amanda…That girl’s going to be just like me! She’s going to explore too!” Amanda raised her eyebrows as she picked up the tablet and started looking at the assignments. “She’ll probably own her own ranch someday!”
 
“Mm…I don’t know about that,” Amanda mumbled. “But what I do know is that you should get started on your homework.” Johnny groaned. “Scott and your mother will be home from town soon. I think you’ll earn some of their forgiveness if they see you studying.” Amanda turned and walked out of the room. “I’ll be right out here if you need help.” She smiled as she saw Johnny pick up his books and start working.
 
For the moment, peace was restored in Enid, Oklahoma.

The Years Before — Worry

 

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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