The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before...
 
Chapter 7 - The Telegram
Written by Michelle Palmer

Dear family, The winters here are cold. I can't recall it ever getting this cold in Oklahoma, but then this is the East and I reckon things do get cooler here. The captain keeps us busy with drills, even when the snowís falling. We bundle up and hurry through the drills, then we start a big fire and all sit around it. No matter though, it always seems to be cold.

Luke keeps us entertained with plenty of stories, amazing! This man can sure tell a story.  You should hear some of the things he tells me about the trouble he and Margaret got into as kids. Itís amazing. I donít know why I didnít know about these things, especially since Margaretís my sister.
 
Ma, I know you worry. And I know that asking you not to worry will just be a waste of my time. I had hoped the war was almost over, but it looks like weíll still have a long way to go. I sure do miss all of you.
 
Well, I never was too good at letter writing, you know that. So I really donít know what to say. I think you all know what you mean to me, and I think you know I think about you often. I hope all is well at home. I hope your winterís going better than mine.
 
God bless you this Thanksgiving. Eat a turkey leg for me.
 
I love you all.
 
Andy
 
Andy addressed the envelope then handed his letter to the private as he walked by collecting the mail that morning. He wrapped his arms around his legs and stared into the fire. "Hey Luke?" Lucas grunted. "Iíve been wondering something."
 
"Oh?" Lucas took a long puff off his cigar. "Whatís that, Andy?"
 
"Well...if a man...I mean a Rebel...comes face to face with you...and you are able to see the whites of his eyes...and you have the chance to shoot him...do you think that..." Andy sighed, unable to finish his sentence. "I mean..."
 
"...could I shoot him?" Lucas shook his head. "I donít know, Andy. I often wonder that myself. There have been times Iíve shot at the Rebs, but I never focused on one man. When the time comes that I come face to face with a man and Iím able to look into his eyes...I wonder if I will have what it takes."
 
Andy sat staring into the fire. "Thanksgivingís tomorrow." Lucas looked up at his friend over the fire. Andyís voice sounded lonely. "I wonder what the familyís doing right now."
 
Lucas smiled. "Ma and Aunt Jenny are arguing over who will host the dinner this year. The men folks of the winning host will be given many, many strict orders. The women folk will be planning out the menu, though I donít see why they bother. They always end up fixing everything!"
 
Andy chuckled. "Yeah. I figure theyíll have Thanksgiving at our house this year, huh?" Andy saw the question in Lucasís eyes. "Well, I mean since your father..." He saw Luke's eyes sadden. "Iím sorry."
 
A silence grew between the two men. Lucas took a long puff off the cigar in his mouth as he remembered the last thanksgiving. "Thatís right. Pa wonít be there. I just canít picture home without Pa there. I just...canít wrap my mind around it...I wonder how Maís doing?" Lucas wondered suddenly. "I mean, she lost Pa and Iím gone. Jeremiahís married. She only has Peter, Emily, and Laura to take care of now. I just canít help but wonder how sheís handling it all."
 
"Your mother is strong."   Andy turned and looked into the fire. "My motherís strong. I wonder, though, how strong sheíd be if..." Andy stopped.
 
Lucas narrowed his eyes as he studied Andy. "Andy...you canít think about those things. Out here we have to survive. This is war. People die, but you look out for number one. Iíll help you the best I can."
 
"I donít need help, Lucas! I can do this!" Andy stared into the fire. "Iíll make my father proud."
 
It wasnít the words that frightened Lucas, but it was the way Andy said the words. His voice shook when he spoke them. Lucas saw the fear in his eyes. He could never see Andy as a coward, but theyíd always known that Andy wasnít as strong as Scott on the inside. Andy and Scott had always complimented each other. Andy would give the physical strength, but when things got rough, Scott delivered the inner strength Andy needed. Up to now, there was no need to worry because Scott was always there to give Andy that strength he needed. But now...now, Andy needed Scottís inner strength if he were to live.
 
"Andy...I guess I never told you, but..."
 
The men jumped up at the sound of the bugle call. Itís the sound the men always hated to hear. "Mount up, men!" the First Lieutenant called out. "Weíre riding out!"
 
Lucas threw his cigar into the fire. He turned and saw the look of fear on Andy's face. "Andy...if you do face a man with a gun, I think youíll be able to shoot him. Just remember you have a family at home who needs you." Andyís mouth shook. He tried to hide his fear from Lucas. "You hear me?" Lucas asked quickly.
 
Lucas couldnít stop for an answer. He had his own work to do. As Lucas rushed forward to obey orders, he asked God to protect Andy that day, because right now Lucas was walking with a heavy heart.
 
***
 
It was the day of Thanksgiving Eve. Margaret took the long list of supplies to pick up from the General Store from her mother and turned to Beth. "Are you sure you donít want to go?" she asked for the third time that morning.
 
"I'm sure," Beth answered as she continued to quietly sew on her dress. "Iíll stay and help Mother with the baking."
 
Margaret shook her head. Beth was very reserved and quiet. She had her small circle of friends and even a boyfriend or two, but she was happiest sitting alone thinking. "Alright. Scott, you ready?" Margaret asked as she turned to her older brother.
 
Scott buttoned his coat and led Margaret out the door. "The snowís falling again."
 
Margaret suddenly shivered. It wasnít from the cold because she felt warm and toasty under her heavy coat. The shiver was something she couldnít explain. "I wonder how Luke and Andy are." She didnít realize it, but she had been thinking about them all morning.
 
"Iím sure theyíre sitting around a nice fire remembering past Thanksgivings," Scott answered as he took Margaretís arm and helped her into the wagon.
 
"They wouldnít be fighting...I mean, not this close to Thanksgiving." Margaret jerked her head around when Scott chuckled. "Whatís so funny?"
 
"Iím sorry, Sis, but I donít think the Rebs or the Union are really thinking about taking a Ďbreakí from the war just because itís Thanksgiving."
 
"I know!" Margaret sighed. "But they could still take a break from fighting. Why, with everything theyíre doing for the war, they could give them a big feast of turkey and all the trimmings."
 
Scott picked up the reins. "You know, thatís what I love about you, little sister? You are always thinking about others." Margaret rolled her eyes and smiled, but as the horses started forward a strange feeling settled in her heart. She stared down at her clasped hands in her lap as she closed her eyes and sent up a prayer for her two fighting men.
 
Margaret remembered back to a Thanksgiving several years ago when Luke, Peter, Andy, and Scott had walked into the McCain house with big grins on their faces. Their boots were covered in mud. Andy held a great big turkey by the feet. Blood dripped from the bird onto Aunt Ruthís freshly cleaned floor. Andy was so proud of that turkey he had shot Ė his very first hunting trip and heíd taken down the bird. But Aunt Ruth was being a mother, and she planted her hands on her hips and shouted, "What do you think you are doing bringing that dead bird in here with blood dripping on my clean floor! Scoot! And wash that mud off of ya Ė all four of ya!" She hadnít missed the look of disappointment on Andyís face as he turned and walked out, feeling very dejected.
 
The snow was falling lightly as Margaret hurried into the General Store later. She smiled when she saw Emily, Tiffany, Em, and Julie. "I hesitate to ask where the children are."
 
"My husband has baby duty right now," Julie answered. "Weíve come in to start gathering supplies for the big Thanksgiving meal."
 
"You mean..." Margaret put a hand to her mouth. "You left Abraham alone with...four boys?" She giggled.  "Are you sure itís a good idea?"
 
"Oh...donít you worry...he has reinforcements." Emily giggled. "Peter and Jeremiah are with him. Oh...and Laura!"
 
"Well, Mother is insisting we have Thanksgiving at our house this year. She doesnít want to put too much strain on your mother after..." Margaret stopped.
 
"Yes." Julie nodded. "We told Ma that would be best. Itís going to be hard for her, having lost Pa and all." She reached out a hand to Margaret. "Have you heard from Andy?"
 
The moment the question sounded, something tugged at the back of Margaretís mind. She looked down at the floor as her eyes filled with tears. "Itís the first Thanksgiving without Andy. I..." Margaret swallowed. "Itís going to be so different without Luke or Andy there."
 
"Theyíll be here next year, Margaret. We know they will!"
 
Margaret nodded. "Yes. Iím sure they will." Yet there was a growing ache inside Margaretís heart...an ache she couldnít seem to explain.
 
***
 
They rode quickly into battle. The bugler and drummer marched ahead playing the battle cry as the front horseman carried the flag. Lucas, Corporal McCain, rode behind Sergeant White and asked no questions. They stopped at the top of a hill. The entire infantry lined up beside each other and waited for the call. Lucas swallowed a lump growing in his throat when he looked down below and saw the battle already in progress. "Look at them all, Sergeant."
 
The Sergeant nodded. "The battleís lasted since sunup this morning. Thereís already many dead." He turned and looked at Corporal McCain. "You and your men go over there!" he pointed. "Corporal Drako, you follow Corporal McCain and his men!"
 
But they couldnít go until the Captain gave the order. The Captain looked out over the field of fighting men and shook his head. He was worried about how many men he would lose. He turned and nodded to the bugler then shouted out orders.
 
The men hurried forward on their horses. They rode to the battle line and began firing. Lucas saw two of his men go down right away. He dodged through the bullets the best he could, but his horse toppled over. Heíd been shot. The horse cried in pain. Lucas fired one final shot into his horse.
 
Andy jumped from his horse and began firing. Across the field, he couldnít make out a particular person, but he could see men firing all around him. A fellow soldier beside him cried out in pain as a bullet pierced his shoulder. Andy grabbed him to help him out, but the soldier shook his head. He wanted to keep fighting.
 
Andy turned and looked toward Lucas, whom he now served under. Lucas cocked his rifle and shot over and over, not focusing on one person as he fired. Andy fired a few more shots, but stopped when he suddenly heard a bullet whiz past his ear.
 
He remembered back to a year ago. It had been an unseasonably warm day. He, Luke and Margaret were sitting down by the creek. The McCain and Gibbs homes were both in chaos with all the preparations being made; and this was the first opportunity the teenagers had to slip away for a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet at the creek. They talked about their future. Andy remembered wondering if Luke and Margaret would possibly be married by the next Thanksgiving. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine theyíd be in the middle of a bloody war...
 
As Andy reloaded his rifle, he remembered the soft, gentle breeze that blew through the trees. He remembered smiling as Lucas put his coat around Margaret as she shivered. Then Lucas had allowed his arm to linger on her shoulders for just a bit longer. But most of all, Andy remembered the quiet that was all around them.
 
Andy got on his knee in line with the other privates around him. The man who had been shot in the shoulder earlier fell right beside him. He was a man Andy had been with since the beginning.  Andy bent over to check him. Heíd taken a shot right in the head. He was dead. Andy shook his head. If only heíd gone when Andy suggested, heíd be alive. He could have gone home to his family.
 
Johnny Drako was firing shot after shot just a few men down from him. Andy turned and looked at Johnny. Then he turned and looked at Lucas. They both looked so brave, never hesitating as they fired. But Andy...
 
Andy saw a rebel soldier in the distance. He was firing toward the Union Soldiers and had already wounded several. Andy stood and hurried toward the soldier. Now was his chance to prove himself...he wanted them to believe he was like them so badly. Andy came face-to-face with the rebel. He aimed his rifle and prepared to fire. Their eyes met. As he looked into the rebelís face, Andy saw a boy just like him. The boy had a mother and father...brothers and sisters...
 
He hesitated. Sweat broke out over his forehead.
 
In that moment, Andy knew his answer to the question heíd asked earlier. Would he be able to shoot when he looked the rebel in the eye? Andyís heart sank as he realized what his answer was. No. He couldnít.
 
Only a millisecond went by between the time Andy looked the Rebel in the eye and the time the rebel fired. There was no hesitation. It was a long second...Perhaps the longest second of Andy's short life.
 
It was as if in slow motion as he watched the rebel pull the trigger. Then the shot fired. A sharp, piercing pain in his middle made Andy groan as he fell to the ground. He couldnít move. He could hardly breathe as he clutched his middle. Blood poured from the wound. In the midst of the battle, he lay dying. Andy knew this was it...he was going to die.
 
His mind flashed back as if he were running a stallion back through the last 19 years of his life. The stallion raced through every scene...every memory...everything he had stored up in his memories. He saw his father and mother. He saw Scott. He saw Margaret and Beth. He saw Johnny. He saw himself with his family. A tear fell from his eye. Iím sorry I wasnít stronger. Iím sorry...
 
***
 
It had been several hours of fighting. The shots were wearing down. Only a few Rebel soldiers remained. Lucas continued firing. "Lucas!" he heard Johnny call suddenly. "Andyís down!"
 
Lucas gasped and hurried down the row. His heart pumped with fear at what heíd find. "Oh Dear God!" Lucas cried when he saw Andyís ashen face. Lucas bent down beside Andy. Andyís breaths were shallow. "Andy..." Lucas swallowed. "Andy..."
 
Blood oozed through Andyís fingers as they clutched his middle. Lucas could hear Andy gurgling, choking on his own blood inside. "Luke..." Andy whispered painfully as he coughed. Lucas dropped to his knees and lowered his ear close to Andyís mouth so he could hear. "Luke...I got my answer."
 
"Cease fire!" They heard the Captain shout. There was silence. Lucas looked up to see the Captain walking among the bloodied bodies. He shouted out orders for his men to look for wounded before cleaning up the bodies of soldiers who had perished.
 
Captain Bentonís eyes locked on Lucasís. They lowered down to Andy. Sadness came to his eyes and he quickly turned away to give the friends privacy. "Luke...I...I couldnít..." Andy swallowed. "He was a kid like me and I..." Andy closed his eyes as he weakened.
 
"Andy, you canít die!" Lucas sat down and put Andyís head in his lap. He stroked Andyís cheeks with his hands. "Please...Youíre like a brother to me and I canít do this without you!"
 
Andy took another breath. "You...you have to, Luke. The countryís...depending...on..." Andy coughed. He weakly lifted his bloody hand. Lucas grabbed it as a tear fell from Andyís eye and trickled down his cheek. "Luke...Margaret..."
 
"Yes?" Lucas coaxed his friend to go on.
 
"M...m...marry her." Andy licked his lips. "Marry her. I..."
 
Lucas nodded as he began sobbing. "Please...please donít leave me, Andy! Please..." Lucas begged.
 
"Tell them I..." Andyís face suddenly relaxed. His eyes stared blankly at Lucas and his hand fell to his side.
 
"Andy?" Lucas cried softly. "Andy?" Lucas began gently shaking his friend. "Andy, donít...donít go! Please Andy...donít..." Lucas begged through his sobbing.
 
"Lucas!" Johnny hurried over to Lucas and grabbed his shoulders from behind. "Lucas, itís over! Heís gone."
 
"No..." Lucas shook his head. His mind was spinning with memories of all the times they had spent together.   Lucas stared into Andyís cold, lifeless eyes. "No!" Lucas rubbed his hands against Andyís cheeks as he continued weeping as he held Andyís head in his lap. "No...no...no..." he mumbled over and over.
 
Captain Benton saw the scene. He hurried over to help Johnny. Benton grabbed Lucasís other arm. "Heís gone, Luke. Heís gone..." Benton said quietly.
 
"No..." Lucas felt tears continue to fall down his face. "Oh Margaret...My sweet Margaret Iím...sorry I failed you. Iím so sorry!"
 
Lucas brushed a hand over Andyís eyes to close them. Then he lowered his head to Andyís and wept. Captain Benton looked at Johnny and motioned for him to leave Lucas alone to mourn. "Weíll get a burial detail together. Go help with the wounded. Weíll leave Corporal McCain here to mourn."
 
"Yes sir, Captain Benton."
 
The bugle sounded as the boy stood among the dead playing TAPS. The tune was the same tune Lucas always heard being played over the dead. It was that lonesome song. The song had always made Lucas feel saddened, but today he could hardly bare it. Lucas continued to keep his head buried in Andyís lifeless face as he wept. Tears fell from his eyes and his body shook.  "Oh Andy...How do I ever...ever...tell Margaret? She asked me to take care of you and Iíve failed her."
 
In time, Lucas slowly lifted his head from Andyís body. He laid a kiss on his forehead. "Thatís from Margaret."   Then he slowly stood up. Two privates came to lift the body, but Lucas shook his head. "Iíll take care of this."
 
"But Corporal, you have other responsibilities!" Private Grace declared.
 
Lucas narrowed his red eyes at the Private. "I said Iíll take care of it, Private!" Lucas shouted. "Give me a shovel."
 
"Sir..." Private Grace said quietly. "You should report to Sergeant White. Let us burry him."
 
Lucas shot his head upwards. "I gave you an order...PRIVATE Grace!" Lucas lowered his head and stared down at Andy. "Heís like a brother to me. Iíll burry him."
 
Captain Benton looked up from the paper he was writing on. He had names to record and telegrams to prepare. "What is it, Private?" he asked as his eyes looked over the privateís shoulder at Lucas who was standing over Andyís body.
 
"SirÖCorporal McCain asked me to bring him a shovel!" Private Grace declared.
 
Benton said nothing as he stared at Lucas. He understood Lucasís pain. It was the first month of the war when he stood right where Lucas was standing now. He hadnít had an understanding Captain then and he had been forced to leave his friend. He never forgave himself. "So? Whatís the problem?"
 
"Well...he has other responsibilities, sir."
 
Captain Benton slowly moved his eyes to focus on the Private. "Private Grace, are you forgetting your rank? McCain is a Corporal. You do as ordered."
 
Private Grace stared into the Captainís eyes. "Yes sir."
 
Lucas just stared at Andyís lifeless body. It was only hours ago that he and Andy sat by the campfire talking about Thanksgiving. Only hours ago had Andy mentioned that he couldnít wait to see the family again. What had happened? Why was his friend now laying here dead? Lucas kneeled down next to his friend. The trumpet continued to play TAPS. The lonesome sound sounded throughout the battlefield, which was now a graveyard.
 
Another tear slipped from Lucasís eye. "This is my fault...my fault..." Lucas swallowed. "This is all my fault..." He bowed his head. "Oh Margaret...Margaret...Iím sorry...oh, Iím so sorry!" He couldnít keep himself from weeping over his dead friend.
 
"Corporal?" Lucas didnít look up. Private Grace held the shovel in front of Lucasís face. Lucas stared at it blankly. "Hereís your shovel, sir."
 
Lucas jerked it out of the Privateís grip. His feet shook as he stood up. Lucas looked around for a good place to bury his friend. He remembered watching Andy climb a big oak tree once. Margaret had shot her hands to her mouth, sure Andy would fall and bust every bone in his body. Lucas turned and looked down at his friend. Johnny Drako slowly walked up and put a tarp over Andyís body. "Can I help?" he asked softly. Emotion laid heavy on his voice. Johnny, too, was losing a good friend that day.
 
Lucas turned toward the tree. "No." His heart lurched painfully as he shoved the shovel down into the ground. He closed his eyes as he lifted the first shovel-full of dirt out. "Itís not fair..." Lucas mumbled. "Itís not fair!"
 
The memories plagued him as he dug that hole. It took him two hours of hard digging. In two hours, a man can relive a whole lot of memories. He remembered his earliest memory when he was four years old. He, Margaret, and Andy were all sitting on the grass playing a game. Their mothers sat in rocking chairs close by talking and smiling. Lucas remembered hearing his mother declare that they would always be close.
 
Then when he was six, he and Margaret started school together. Andy, having been in school already for a year, stayed beside them all day and assured them heíd protect them from the evil teacher. But instead, Andy had gotten them into a lot of trouble.
 
With each shovel-full of dirt Lucas lifted from the hole, he unburied another memory from his past. He had 18 years of memories with Andy. That was a lot of memories.
 
Lucas threw down the shovel after taking his last shovel-full of dirt. He sat down beside the hole as Johnny handed him the canteen. Lucas ignored it as he just stared blankly into the hole. Johnny sat down beside him. He too stared into the hole. "I canít help but remember the day we dug that great big hole at your house, Luke. Do you remember that?"
 
Lucas laughed shortly. "Yeah. Andy wanted to dig a hole all the way to China. We both told him he was crazy, but when he sets his mind on something..." Lucas sobered then. "Did you know Andy didnít even want to fight in this war?"
 
"I know." Johnny nodded. "Luke...donít blame yourself."
 
"I should have told him he couldnít come with us!" Lucas shouted suddenly. "I should have..."
 
"He died a hero, Luke. Letís leave it at that." Johnny stood up.  Lucas looked up at Johnny. "I saw it happen. I know the truth." But Lucas knew Johnny was just telling him what he hoped was the truth. They both knew better though. Luke knew the truth, and he could see the truth in Johnnyís eyes.  "We best get him buried."
 
Lucas nodded as they walked toward the tarp that covered Andyís body. Lucas bent down and uncovered the tarp over Andyís head. He stared into Andyís lifeless face. "He..." Lucas choked on his words. "He asked me to marry Margaret. Those were his dying words." Lucas looked up into Johnnyís eyes. "I...donít know if I can fulfill them."
 
"Why not?" Johnny asked.
 
"Because..." Lucas swallowed. "Because I think sheíll hate me." Lucas looked back down at Andyís face. "How do I tell her that..."
 
"You donít. Captain Benton will send out telegrams to all the slain menís families tomorrow." Johnny bent over and slowly covered Andyís face with the tarp. "Come on."
 
They carried Andyís body over to the grave and gently lowered him inside. Lucas cried as he picked the shovel up. "IÖI donít know if I can do this..." Lucas mumbled. He threw the shovel down and bent down beside the grave. He couldnít keep the tears from coming as he began sobbing. He body shook with sobs.
 
"The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures..."
 
Lucas slowly lifted his head to see Johnny holding his hat in his hands standing over the grave. Lucas slowly spoke the next words with Johnny. "He leadeth me beside the still waters. Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will feel no evil, for though art with me..."
 
Lucasís voice became a bit steadier as they continued the Lordís prayer. Lucas slowly stood up next to Johnny. As they spoke, some of the privates from their camp slowly walked up to them and recited the Lordís Prayer with Lucas and Johnny.
 
"...and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever...Amen..."
 
The group grew quiet. Finally, Johnny spoke. "He was aÖgreat friend. Iíve known him all my life."
 
"He was a great private," one of the Privates declared.
 
"Yes." Lucas nodded. "He was a great...brother..." Lucas swallowed. "Earlier, he came to me and asked me if..." Lucas closed his eyes. "He asked me if Iíd be able to shoot when I came face to face with a rebel who was a boy just like me. I told him I didnít know. I hope I can. Then I told him there was only one way to find out..."
 
"Luke...donít," Johnny whispered. "We donít like his answer anymore than you do. But...donít."
 
"We talked about Thanksgiving. Thatís where he wanted to be. He wanted to be home with the family for Thanksgiving..." Lucas closed his eyes as tears fell from them. "I never told you this Andy, but...I loved you like a brother." The emotions were so real. Lucas bent down next to his grave. "Oh...oh...Andy!"
 
A hand touched his shoulder. "Corporal, we have to break camp soon. Weíre moving on." The voice belonged to the Captain. "You have to say goodbye now. Lucas...I know itís hard, but heís in Heaven now. The war has ended for him." His voice was raw with emotion as well. Lucas nodded as he slowly lifted his head and looked at Johnny. His eyes held a silent question.
 
"Iíd be honored," Johnny answered his silent question. He picked up the shovel and began throwing the dirt over Andyís body.
 
Captain Benton nodded toward the bugler. The boy slowly lifted the trumpet to his lips and began playing "Amazing Grace." The tune reminded Lucas of the news their families back home were about to hear. When the last tune of the trumpet died, Captain Benton and Johnny Drako bent down and lifted Lucas by the shoulders. "We all have a job to do," Captain Benton said as he firmly turned Lucas from the grave. "Weíve got to move on."
 
As Lucas slowly walked from the grave, his heart hardened just a bit. His life changed forever in that moment.
 
***
 
Margaret, Beth, and their mother were up long before the sun that Thanksgiving morning. Lunch would be at noon that day, and they had a lot of work to do. The day before, Margaret had ordered Abraham and Jeremiah both to be there early so they could help Scott and Samuel arrange tables and get things ready for the big family get together.
 
As the women worked, Margaret grew rather quiet. Jennifer turned and looked at her daughter after checking on the turkey. "You miss Luke?"
 
Margaret smiled. She did miss Luke terribly, but that wasnít what was bothering her. There was more, but she couldnít quite put her finger on it. "I do miss Luke, Mother. This Thanksgiving isnít going to be the same as all the others. Weíve never had family member missing at a Thanksgiving before."
 
"You children are getting older. You have your own lives to live now. Things wonít always stay the same, dear."
 
But Margaret wasnít really listening. She paused in her work and looked up at her mother. "Uncle Marcus is gone. Luke and Andy are at warÖIt just feels like thereís such a void this year. It feels so...sad."
 
"I must admit that my heart feels sad today to, Margaret. Maybe Luke and Andy will be back by next year."
 
It was right after breakfast when the McCain family started showing up. Abraham and Julie came with their four boys so Abraham could help set up the tables. Samuel Gibbs wasnít as young as he used to be and Scott struggled with such tasks with his lame leg. Both families had mentioned that it was time for the younger men to do the work. The morning was a fury of activity as more of the McCain family showed up. By 11:30, everyone was there. The day was rather cold and windy so the ranch house felt rather full with the whole family in there.
 
"Alright!" Abraham announced. "Letís all line up for the traditional McCain/Gibbs announcements!" The Gibbs family lined up on one side of the table while the McCain family on the other.
 
Samuel Gibbs cleared his throat. "I...would like to have a moment of silence for the three who arenít with us this year. Marcus McCain has gone on to be with the Father. Hopefully the other two chairs will be filled next year." The room grew silent as the family thought about the three missing family members. Then Samuel cleared his throat. "Uh...I just want to say that Iím proud of my family."
 
Jennifer took Samuelís hand and nodded. "I am proud of our family. I think weíve had some hard times recently, but it seems weíve become stronger through them."
 
"Yes...yes..." Samuel nodded. "Iím mighty proud of our Andy...fighting in the war alongside Luke...Iíll be proud to see him walk down the street with the other soldiers when they come back from war."
 
Scott cleared his throat. "I donít really have anything to announce. Iíve been busier with Andy gone to war. "
 
Everyone looked to Johnny who was daydreaming. Samuel cleared his throat and Johnny straightened up. "Oh...uh...Iím thankful for my dog and for all the pretty girls at school!"
 
Margaret rolled her eyes. She smiled as she looked around at her family. "Iím thankful for my whole family. I miss Luke and Andy so badly, and I do pray they come back soon. Iím very happy for the distraction Iíve received in helping Julie care for the triplets. And Iím thankful Laura is all better after her ordeal in the cave."
 
Beth smiled. "Iím thankful for my new beau, Jeremy. I also hope Andy comes back soon." Her mother cleared her throat. "Oh! And Iím very, very thankful that I will be getting my school certificate next month. That means Johnny here is the only one left in school."
 
"And me!" Laura declared. Everyone laughed.
 
"Ma?" Abraham nodded toward her.
 
Ruth stepped forward and lit a candle on the table. Her family gathered around her as she stood over the candle. They held hands. "I am thankful for my family, of course. My heart is still grieving for the passing of my beloved husband. Thereís an empty place inside, and I thank you all for being here for me during this difficult time. Of course, I miss Lucas very, very much. But I believe in my heart he will come back to me. Iím thankful for my new daughters-in-law, Em and Tiffany; and Iím thankful for my three new grandchildren, though I must admit it was quite a surprise."
 
Abraham chuckled. "I guess itís my turn, huh? WellÖI AM thankful for our three new sons, though Iíd rather next time Julie have them one at a time..." Julie poked her elbow in his ribs. "Iím adjusting to our instant family and...I know you are all aware of the struggles Iíve been going through now that País gone. I thank you all for putting up with me."
 
"Anything else?" Scott suddenly asked as he grinned at Abraham.
 
Abraham looked down at Julie. "I donít...think so. What should I be announcing?"
 
"Well..." Scott folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. "For the past two Thanksgivings, youíve made a special announcement. I just thought..."
 
"Scott Gibbs!" Julie declared as her eyes widened.
 
"No, thereís no babies expected...I donít...think..." Abraham looked down at his wife who merely smiled at him. "Are there?"
 
"No, dear. Not that I know of!" Julie assured him. Abraham breathed a big sigh of relief as everyone laughed.
 
"Well...as you know, Em and I got married this year," Jeremiah announced. He turned and smiled at his wife and squeezed her hand. "Weíre adjusting to life. Itís hard learning to be bossed by a female but..." Jeremiah groaned as Em gave him the elbow.
 
"Youíll toughen up, brother," Abraham declared. "Youíll get used to the abuse we have inflicted on...oof!"
 
"Are there any announcements?" Scott asked then as he grinned at them.
 
"Well..." Jeremiah looked at his wife. "Weíre working on it."
 
"Yes...Iím sure you are!" Peter declared with a grin.
 
"Peter McCain!" several in the room shouted.
 
Peter cleared his throat. "UhÖIím thankful for my family and..." Peter turned and picked up Tiffanyís hand. "Iím also very thankful for my new wife. She has been a McCain for almost a whole month now and she hasnít threatened to leave me yet!"
 
Tiffany smiled. "I think your family is wonderful..." She turned back to the others, joining in on the bantering. "And I realize I have a lot of training to do with this one!"
 
"Thanks a lot!" Tiffany chuckled.
 
"Do YOU have any...OUCH!" Scott cried out suddenly when his father gave him a hard kick in the shin. Tiffany blushed as she looked up at Peter.
 
"UhÖIím sure theyíre working on it!" Jeremiah declared. Peter stared at his older brother, his mouth gaped open. "Hey little brother, what comes around...goes around!"
 
Emily quickly jumped in to speak. "Iím staying busy, and Iím NOT getting married!"
 
"And I miss Luke!" Laura declared finally.
 
That concluded the announcements. Everyone gathered hands as Samuel led his family in prayer. The room was soon filled with noise as the family sat down at the tables and began eating as they chatted. The food was very good as usual; and as usual there was too much food for them to eat. Finally, Margaret stood up from the table. "Anyone for dessert?"
 
***
He pulled the collar of his coat up around his ears and pushed his horse to move a little faster, though he wasnít sure why. Delivering telegrams like this was not his favorite part of his job. Heíd give anything to change what he had to do now. He wasnít even supposed to be at the office today; he had gone to get some money he had left there the day before. But when he heard the clicks come through, and realized it was from the United States army, he couldnít ignore it. The words that he had to transcribe still echoed in his head.
 
Silas rode into the Gibbs yard and slowly dismounted his horse. Laughter filtered from the ranch house. "God, give them strength." Holding off until tomorrow had crossed his mind, but he knew that he had a job to do...and Thanksgiving or not, he had to deliver the telegram.
 
Silas lifted his hand to knock and suddenly paused when laughter again sounded through the door. He lowered his head, knowing he would be the reason their laughter suddenly died. Then before he could lose his courage, he quickly knocked on the door.
 
****
 
Margaret laughed as she lifted the apple pie from the counter and turned toward the table. Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door. Everyone quieted as Samuel stood and walked to the door. "Silas!" Samuel greeted him with a handshake. "Come on in and get warm."
 
"No, I...Iíd rather not." There was a coolness in his voice. Samuel paused. Abraham slowly stood from his chair and walked over to stand beside Samuel. Margaret still held the pie in her hand as she came to stand closer to her father. Silas cleared his throat. "I donít want to do this, Sam...not to any of you but..."
 
The room was deathly quiet as everyone watched Silas slowly reach into his pocket and pull out a piece of paper. His hand shook as he held it out to Samuel. "Iím...so...very, very sorry."
 
"Samuel? What is it?" Jennifer asked as she jumped from her chair and hurried over to her husband. "What?"
 
Samuelís fingers shook as he unfolded the telegram and slowly read the words to himself. "OhÖDEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!" Samuel suddenly cried out as he dropped to his knees. "Oh God no! PleaseÖno!"
 
The pie slipped from Margaretís hands and fell to the floor. She dropped down beside her father. "What is it, Pa? What?" Margaret asked, though in her heart she already knew.
 
"Oh God, please not my boy! Please God..." Samuel wept into his hands.
 
Abraham slowly bent down and took the telegram from Samuelís hands. He read it silently to himself then looked up at the rest of the family. Emily and Julie threw their hands to their mouths as their eyes filled with tears. "NoÖ" Julie whispered silently.
 
Jennifer bent down next to her husband and began weeping. Margaret and Jennifer both clung to Samuel. Beth jumped up and ran to her family as well. Johnny and Scott just stared at each other. Abraham opened his mouth to speak, but closed it as his voice choked on his words. He cleared his throat to read.
 
"We regret to inform you that your son, Private Andrew Gibbs, was killed in the line of duty on Wednesday, November 25, 1863. Your son was a fine man and a fine soldier. His friends gave him a Christian burial. I am so very sorry for your loss. May God go with you during this difficult time. Captain Benton."
 
 
Abraham slowly lowered himself back to the table. He looked at Julie then they embraced and held each other as Julie cried. Laura sniffed and threw her arms around her motherís neck. Ruth held her and allowed her to cry as well.
 
The room was silent, except for the weeping coming from those gathered there. What had been a happy gathering just moments before was now a time of extreme sadness for the family. Laura began crying in her motherís arms. Her tears could be heard through the house. Abraham looked up at Silas still standing in the doorway and stood. He silently went to take Laura from his mother. "Go to Aunt Jenny, Ma. Iíll take care of Laura." Then after bundling himself and Laura up, he walked Silas out.
 
After the door was closed, they started walking toward Silasí horse. Laura continued to weep in Abrahamís arms and Abraham himself felt like crying. "You donít know how much I hated doing this today. I...almost wish I hadnít been in town today. I came in to get some money I had left the day before...."
 
"I understand," Abraham answered quietly. "Itís best the family knows."
 
"Well I donít!" Laura suddenly turned from Abrahamís shoulder and cried out. "How could you? How could you?"
 
"Laura..." Abraham warned quietly.
 
"You did this!" Laura screamed.
 
"Honey, he just brought the telegram. He had no way of..." Abraham started.
 
"Andyís dead! If he hadnít brought the..." Laura shouted.
 
"Laura Rose!" Abraham suddenly snapped at her. "Itís alright to be sad that Andyís gone, but itís not alright to take your anger out on the person having to tell us. " Laura grabbed Abraham around the neck and cried harder.
 
"I best get home to my family." Silas mounted his horse. "AbeÖtell the family how sorry I am." Abraham nodded as he watched Silas leave. Laura sniffed quietly. So many thoughts were running through the little girlís head.
 
Inside, Charlie started fussing, probably partly due to the mood he sensed in the room. Julie lifted him then walked over to Emily. The two women hugged each other and cried.
 
Margaret, Samuel, Beth, and Jennifer were still huddled in their circle of grief on the floor. "AndyÖOh Andy..." Margaret whispered softly.
 
Ruth walked up behind Jennifer and put a hand on her shoulder. Jennifer turned and clung to Ruth as she wept loudly. "My babyís dead!" Jennifer shouted in horror then. "My baby..." Her body shook with sobs and tears streamed down her face. "Oh my sweet Andy! My sweet Andy!" she wept again.
 
Samuel didnít cry much. He mostly just sat on the floor staring at it as if it would shout the answers to his unasked questions. But nobody had any answers.
 
Margaret suddenly let out a loud groan. She jumped up from the floor and grabbed her middle. Then she blindly ran out of the house. Everyone stared as she ran out into the cold. She ran past Abraham and Laura and fell to her knees on the cold ground. She took deep breaths as she heaved into the dirt. "Andy! Andy!" she called.
 
Abraham ran toward her, Laura still clinging to him. Emily and Julie hurried past him with Margaretís coat. They kneeled down on the ground next to her and helped her into her coat. "Why did God take Andy from us? Why?" Margaret cried as she clutched her middle. "Oh God, why?" She wept as Julie held her in her arms. There were no answers to the question. Julie and Emily simply held Margaret and allowed her to cry.
 
An icy wind suddenly started blowing. Emily and Julie slowly got to their feet and lifted Margaret up between them. But Margaret began struggling. "Why?" she shouted. "Why, why, why, why, why??????" Margaret began crying harder as she asked these questions. Her breaths came out fast as she fought against them. Abraham sat down Laura and hurried toward Margaret. They knew what was about to happen and Abraham got there just in time.
 
Margaret fainted, and Abraham reached out to catch her as she started to go down. "Letís get her inside," Abraham said.
 
Jennifer wasnít in any better shape. She was weeping hysterically in Ruthís arms. Samuel didnít even reach out for his wife. He just continued to stare down at the floor, the same position heíd been in since reading the telegram. "You should lie down," Ruth mumbled softly as she stood and helped Jennifer to her bedroom. "Perhaps we should send for Doc Williams. He could give you somethingÖ"
 
"No!" Jennifer shouted. "I donít want the pain to go away! I donít..." She lay down on her bed and wept. "As long as I feel this pain, I can hold on to my boyÖ" Ruth nodded in understanding and sat beside Jenniferís bed. Silently, she wondered why her husband wasnít mourning with her.
 
Samuel slowly stood up on shaky feet. He reached for his coat, still in a daze and started out the door. "Pa?" Johnny stood up and hurried over to him. "Pa, where are you going?"
 
"Away," Samuel answered.
 
Scott jumped up. His eyes were red from crying. He hurried over to Samuel. "What do you mean away? Mother needs you!"
 
"She doesnít need me..." Samuel answered. "She doesnít...Iím going..."
 
"No, Pa! You must stay here and deal with this!" Scott shouted. "You canít just leave!"
 
"Deal with what?" Samuel turned and shouted. "The fact that I killed my boy?" Samuel turned and hurried out.
 
"Pa!" Johnny hurried toward his father to stop him. Samuel ignored him as he walked out into the bitter cold. "Pa!"
 
Jeremiah hurried after Johnny. "Let him go, son."
 
"No! He canít leave!" Johnny shouted. "I need him!"
 
Samuel froze when he heard those words. He lifted his head skyward then turned and looked at Johnny. "You donít...I killed Andy. I killed my boy." Samuel quickly turned from them and hurried toward the barn. Nobody missed the tears shining in the manís eyes. No one missed the despair.
 
"How can he leave us?" Johnny asked as he turned toward Jeremiah. "Doesnít he know that...we need him?"
 
"He has to deal with this in his own way, son," Jeremiah answered.
 
Johnny lifted his head and looked into Scottís eyes. His eyes filled with tears and he suddenly threw himself against Jeremiah and wept for his brother.
 
***
Lucas ran across the wide field. He held his rifle up and fired shots at random. His feet were moving in slow motion, but the bullets were moving fast. "Go faster!" her voice screamed an echo. "Go faster, Luke!"
 
Then suddenly, Andy appeared over the hill. He was smiling and waving at Luke. "Watch out!" Luke shouted in horror. Andy stopped and turned. He stood in place and watched as the bullet, now moving slowly, came and hit him in the chest. Andy fell to the ground. Luke dropped to his knees and shouted in pain as he crumpled in a heap.
 
They were both dead.
 
"No!" Margaret screamed as she started forward. "NO!" But her feet wouldnít budge. She felt like she was running but she wasnít getting anywhere. "AN-DY!" her shout echoed and came out slowly. "LU-CAS!" She continued to try to run. "NOOOOOOOOO!"
 
"Margaret! Margaret!" Margaret gasped as she woke with a start. She stared up and looked at Emily. "Itís okay. It was just a dream."
 
"Just aÖ" Margaret lifted her head from the pillow. "What..."
 
"The doctor came Thursday night and gave you and your mother something to help you sleep. You were both rather hysterical after the news that night." Emily put a hand to her friendís shoulder. Mama took Beth home with her."
 
"Andy..." Margaret swallowed.  "Then it wasnít all a dream..." Margaret closed her eyes and began weeping softly. "Why, Emily? Why?"
 
"Oh Margaret..." Emily shook her head. "IÖI wish I had the answer because I wonder the same thing. The truth is...I donít know why."
 
Margaret sat up in bed and wiped at her eyes. "I knew...somehow I knew..." Margaret sighed. "Nobody told me that Andy had been "forced" by my father to join the war. But I know Andy, and I know heís not a fighter. Andy never could say no to Pa. I think Luke knew that." Margaret stood up and walked to the window. She looked outside in the yard. "The day I rode with Andy to say goodbye...the day the men left...I saw the look on Lukeís face. He didnít want Andy to go." Margaret turned from the window. "I asked Luke to take care of Andy, but now Iím sorry."
 
"Sorry?" Emily hurried over to her friend. "Youíre not mad a Luke? Oh Margaret, you canít be!"
 
"Mad?" Margaret shook her head. "Iím not mad. IímÖaching for Luke. What he must be going through right now..." Margaret turned back and looked out the window. "If Andy were here..." Margaret mumbled. "...Andy would be outside with Johnny. Theyíd be having an old-fashioned snowball fight like when they were little." She grew quiet as she remembered back to last winter when their family was still all together...still happy. "Where is Johnny?"
 
"He and Scott went off to work with cattle this morning. Scott told Johnny it was best to go about their chores."
 
"And País with them?" Margaret asked. She was concerned for her family.  Emily didnít answer so Margaret turned around. "Is Pa with them?" she asked again.
 
"No." Emily lowered her head. "Your father...rode off shortly after you fainted that night. He...never came home."
 
"Heís not with Mama or the boys?" Margaret asked. "I donít understand."
 
"I donít either." Emily shook her head. "The boys figure heís just away dealing with this in his own way."
 
Margaret laid her head against the windowpane and sniffed as another tear rolled down her cheek. "Iím worried about Luke."
 
"I know. I think we all are," Emily answered softly.
 
"The pain..." Margaret swallowed. "The pain of losing Andy is almost more than I can bear." She turned and looked at Emily. "But the thought of losing Luke is..." Margaretís eyes again filled with tears. She suddenly began sobbing again and threw her arms around Emily. "Oh, the pain is so bad!"
 
"I know..." Emily stated as her own eyes filled with tears. "I know..."
 
***
 
Abraham sat down at the table that morning as Julie was putting breakfast out. She held one of the babies in her arms as he cried. Laura, who had come home with them the night before, had her arms on the table and her head propped up on her arms as she stared at her glass of milk. "Whatís wrong, Rosebud?"
 
Lauraís eyes became moist when she heard her pet name. She stayed quiet as she continued to stare at her milk. Abraham stood and came over to her chair. He bent down in front of her and turned her toward him. "Honey, whatís wrong?"
 
"Luke calls me Rosebud..." Laura said as her lips began to quiver.
 
"OhÖYou donít want me to call you Rosebud?" Laura lowered her head and began to weep. "Come here, sweetheart!" He took Laura in his arms and stood up. Laura clung to him and sobbed. He bounced her up and down as he walked to the window. "We have to keep faith. We have to believe that Luke will come back."
 
"You lied to me!" Laura cried. "You lied!"
 
"Hey, hey, hey, whatís this?" Abraham pushed her away from him and looked into her face. "What are you talking about?"
 
"You told me all three of them would come back. You told Me Luke and Andy and his friend would come back, but you lied!" Laura sobbed. "None of them are coming backÖnot ever!" Laura reached in the pocket of her dress, pulled out the silver dollar and flung it across the room.
 
Julie jumped up and stared as the dollar rolled across the floor, then slowly rolled to a stop. She stared at the coin then turned and threw her hands to her face. Her shoulders began shaking with sobs and she ran to their bedroom and slammed the door.
 
Abraham looked at Laura, then slowly walked to the bedroom door. "Alright...I think we all need to talk about this," he said as he opened the door to the bedroom. "Me, you, and Julie." Julie sat up on the bed and wiped her eyes. "Right now."
 
Abraham sat down on the side of the bed. He sat Laura firmly on his lap and put an arm around Julie. "Luke is going to come back just as soon as this war is over. Heís thinking about us. Heís going to live for us."
 
"No!" Laura shouted as she pushed away from Abraham. "Itís not true! Heís gonna die just like Andy! Andyís never coming back and neither is Luke! Heís never coming back! Not ever!" She started banging on his chest.
 
"Laura, Laura!" Abraham felt tears fill his eyes. "Honey, listen to me..."
 
A knock sounded on the door. Abraham jumped up and hurried out, still holding Laura in his arms. He opened the door to see Silas standing there. "No!" Laura shouted. Go away!" She forced herself way from Abrahamís embrace and shoved the door closed.
 
"Laura!" Abraham grabbed her and tried to hold her back. "Julie!"
 
Julie came in and picked up Laura. Laura kicked and screamed. "I donít want him here! Heís a bad man! Heís bad!" she shouted. Julie hurried from the room with Laura.
 
Abraham took a deep breath and opened the door. "Iím...sorry," Silas said. "I didnít mean to upset her." He walked inside and took off his hat. "I didnít bring a telegram. I just came to report that..." Silas toyed with his hat, trying to find the best way to put what he had to say into words.
 
"What is it, Silas?" Abraham asked.
 
"Well...." Silas sighed. "It seems that Samuel Gibbs is taking the news of Andyís death hard. I understand Emilyís at the Gibbs house caring for the woman folk and I didnít want to bother them with this. Iím not quite sure how to go about this problem..."
 
"Spit it out, Silas."
 
"Samuelís been in the Circle Q since Thursday night. He refuses to leave and we canít get him to budge. Thursday night, he drank until they closed and the bartender just left him asleep at the table and closed up. He was drinking all day yesterday and passed out again last night. Weíre afraid heís going to make himself sick."
 
"Alright. Iíll go..." Laura let out a loud scream from the bedroom. Abraham turned toward the scream and ran a hand through his hair. "Tell the bartender Iíll be there as soon as I can. Iíll talk to him." Abraham hurried toward the bedroom. "Iíll be there soon!"
 
Abraham closed the door and hurried into the other room. Laura was kicking her feet and screaming, "Heís dead! Heís dead!"
 
Abraham grabbed Laura from Julie who was again in tears. The screams upset all four of their own children. Julie hurried to pick up Charlie and cried as she paced back and forth with him. Abraham hurried out the door to ring the bell. If ever they were having an emergency, it was now! He didnít care who came, just as long as somebody...anybody...came to help! He held Laura tight in his arms. "Hush now!" he begged. "Hush!" Laura kept crying. Abraham finally sat down on the bed and grabbed her head in his hands. "Stop it!" he shouted.
 
Laura stared at him in shock, but she hushed her crying. "Now then...he didnít bring a telegram, honey. He just came to tell me something."
 
"Lucas ainít dead?" Laura asked. "You promise?"
 
Abraham turned and looked at Julie who was holding Charlie tight as he cried. He wasnít sure how to answer her question. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. It opened. Peter and Tiffany rushed in. "Whatís wrong?"
 
"Oh thank goodness!" Julie shouted as she handed Charlie to Tiffany and turned to pick Adam up. "Iím sure they all need fed and changed. Itís been quite a morning all ready!"
 
Tiffany hurried out of the room and went to finish feeding Charlie. Peter picked up another one of the babies and began walking back and forth. "Whatís wrong with her?" he asked.
 
"Sheís still upset about Andy." Abraham sat Laura on the bed and walked over to Peter. "She has it in her head that Lukeís going to die too. I canít convince herÖ"
 
Peter looked toward Laura, then he looked down at little Sammy in his arms. "I think Iíd rather take care of the babyÖ" Peter shook his head. "Abe, I donít have any answers."
 
"Uncle Samís at the Circle Q. Heís been there since he left the house Thanksgiving day. He refuses to leave. I told Silas Iíd be in to talk to him." He turned and looked at Laura. "Can you and Tiffany stay here?"
 
Peter nodded. "Uh...Maís still pretty shaken and sheís down there by herself with Beth. Perhaps you could take them to Jeremiahís until we get back there." Abraham nodded. He started to turn back to Laura. "I was thinking on something, Abe...I know itís hard when a soldier dies in war because thereís no funeral, but maybe we could have some sort of memorial service or something for Andy?"
 
"IíllÖtalk to Uncle Sam and Aunt Jenny about it." Abraham turned and bent down in front of Laura. "Honey, I have to go for a bit. Can you stay here with Julie, Tiffany and Peter?" Laura sniffed and nodded. Abraham walked out into the main room. He saw the dollar still laying on the floor. Sadly, he bent over and picked it up. He turned and went back into his bedroom. "Honey, why donít you hold on to Lukeís dollar?"
 
Laura shook her head as she drew her knees up to her chest and sniffed. It broke his heart to see his sister in such a state. "Okay. Iíll put it up here on the dresser. Maybe youíll want it later."
 
Julie looked up from the rocker where she was nursing Adam. Abraham bent down beside her. He bent over and kissed Adamís head. "Peter and Tiffany will stay here, hon. Thereís an emergency in town."
 
"What sort of emergency?" Julie asked anxiously.
 
"Itís Uncle Sam. Heís drinking himself to death." Abraham shook his head. "Iíve never seen him take a drink of any sort of alcohol before. Iím worried about him."
 
"Iím worried for the whole family. This is quite a blow," Julie declared sadly.
 
"Yeah..." Abraham nodded. "For our family too. Laura andÖ" Abraham sighed. "I can only imagine what this thing is doing to Luke."
 
"Well...t least Andy had Luke and Johnny close to him when he died...right?"
 
Abraham nodded as he stood up. "I expect so." He took his gun belt from the hook and strapped it on. "Iíll be back as soon as I can. Iím sorry to leave you in such a mess."
 
"Just help him, Abe." Abraham bent over and kissed her. Then he grabbed his coat and hat and hurried out the door.
 
***
 
The sky was grey, but snow had yet to fall. Abraham stopped on the edge of town and looked down the road. The Circle Q was already alive, even though it was only ten oíclock in the morning. He slowly moved his horse forward and stopped outside the saloon. As he dismounted his horse, he saw Ann Pritchard, Margaretís best friend, coming from the store. "Abe..." Ann reached out and took his hand. "I heard about Andy. Iím sorry." Abraham nodded. "How are you all doing?"
 
"Well..." Abe sighed. "Weíre hanging in there. Itís rough...you knowÖAndy was like a brother to us. Emilyís staying with Margaret and Aunt Jenny. The doctorís kept them pretty sedated since it happened. Bethís over at Mamaís house but...sheís not talking much. Scott and Johnny...Well, you know them. They are trying to keep the ranch running."
 
"And Samuel?" Ann asked. "Howís Samuel?"
 
Abraham turned and looked toward the saloon. "I donít know."
 
"You think I could stop by and see Margaret? I was going to go yesterday, but Hal told me I should wait."
 
"I think thatís best. Maybe tomorrow. We should know more by then." He tipped his hat to her. "Excuse me."
 
Abraham walked up to the saloon doors and looked inside. The bartender caught his eyes and motioned to a corner table where Sam sat with a whisky bottle. Abraham slowly walked inside and went to the back. He stood by the table and waited for Samuel to look up at him. "What do you want, boy?" Samuel asked gruffly.
 
"To know why youíre here," Abraham answered as he sat down.
 
Samuel picked up the whisky glass and took a long drink. "Well now...thatís my business."
 
"Thatís where youíre wrong, Uncle Sam. You see, youíve always told me that weíre family, and I believe thatís true. And Iím making it my business to tell you that you should be home."
 
"Oh?" Samuel reached for the whisky bottle. Abraham grabbed it and pulled it away. Samuel slowly lifted his head. Abraham gasped at the grief and guilt he saw in his eyes. "I want you to go."
 
"Your wife and daughter are grief stricken. Your sons are doing their best to keep the ranch running. And youíre here..." Abraham stared at the whisky bottle. Then he angrily slung it against the wall. "GETTING DRUNK!"
 
Samuel glared at Abraham. "Now, youíre going to pay for that. Thatís a dollar a bottle!" Samuel stood up on shaky legs and walked toward the bar.
 
Abraham grabbed Samuel by the arm. "Weíre leaving!"
 
"I ainít going nowhere!" Samuel shouted.
 
"I said weíre leaving!"
 
A cowboy stood from a nearby table and walked up to the two. "Mister, I think the man said he didnít want to leave."
 
"This is no business of yours, mister!" Abraham snarled at the cowboy. "You just butt out!"
 
"I said..." The cowboy reached out to grab Abraham. Abraham gave the cowboy a hard kick then grabbed tighter to Samuel as he hurried him outside.
 
"Letís go!" Abraham declared.
 
"Where?"
 
"To get you sobered up. Then Iím taking you home!"
 
"NO!" Samuel suddenly flung his arms toward Abraham. Abraham stepped back with a start. "I ainít going back home! Not EVER!"
 
"What are you talking about?" Abraham shouted. "Your family needs you! Your son just died!"
 
"They donít need me! I KILLED MY SON!" Samuel shouted. "I KILLED HIM!"
 
"What are you talking about?"
 
"I made him go! I told him Ö" Samuel swallowed as he stepped further away from Abraham. People had stopped in the street to listen to the personal conversation. "íBoy, if you wanta make me proud, you join the army with Luke!í Thatís what I said! You know what he said?" Samuel laughed bitterly. "He said, ĎNo Pa!í Then I told him that his brother was lamed so Andy had to do what his brother would have done! I MADE him do it! I MADE him!"
 
"He could have refused!" Abraham shouted back. He walked toward Samuel and tried to grab him, but Samuel shook his head and sputtered.
 
"No!" Samuel shouted. "Nobody refuses me! Nobody! Iím the father. I know whatís best for my family..." Samuel shook his head. "What best...ha! What a joke! I killed my son! I killed him!"
 
"Youíre son died fighting for the country. A rebel killed your son!" Abraham lunged forward and grabbed Samuel. "You have a wife and four children at home who are hurting! They need you there!"
 
"No!" Samuel gave Abraham a hard shove. "NO! Iím not going back!" Samuel turned to go back into the saloon. "Theyíre better off without me."
 
"So what? Youíre going to just drink yourself to death?" Abraham asked. "Is that what you plan to do?" Abraham followed Samuel into the saloon. "You think the guilt and the pain will go away if you just drink? Your wife and daughter are in so much mental anguish right now that they canít get out of bed, yet you are here in town getting all whacked out on booze?" Samuel walked up to the bar. "You think the whisky will take away your pain? You want to die so the pain will end?"
 
"YES!" Samuel shouted as he turned around and glared at Abraham. "GOD HELP ME, YES!!!" Both men grew quiet as they stared at each other. Slowly, Samuel turned back toward the bar. "Now...go away." Samuel looked up at the bar tender. "Give me another bottle." He slapped the dollar down on the bar.
 
"Donít serve him," Abraham ordered. "Donít serve him another drop."
 
"Miste...only the Marshal can tell me that. As long as he has the money, Iíll serve."
 
Abraham slapped his thigh in disgust and turned to walk out the door. He paused at the swinging doors and slowly turned around. "Iím going to see about having a memorial service for Andy. Iíll let you know when it is. If you cared about your son and family at all, youíll be there."
 
Abraham slammed his way out the doors. He was so angry! He could not believe the nerve of some people. "Whoa there!" Lariat Jones declared as he grabbed Abraham.
 
"Iím sorry," Abraham mumbled.
 
"Say, Iíve seen Samuel in there drinking like thereís no tomorrow. Is it because of Andy?"
 
"Thatís none of your business!" Abraham declared as he hurried to his horse and rode toward the Gibbs ranch. When he got into the yard, he saw Scott and Johnny coming from the barn. Abraham tied his horse to the hitching post. "I talked to your father."
 
"Where is he?" Scott asked. "Weíve been so busy hereÖ"
 
"UhÖ" Abraham looked toward the house. "Howís your mother and sister?"
 
"They both got up for lunch today. Theyíre talking but worried about Pa. We were about to go into town to look for him."
 
Abraham took off his hat and leaned against the hitching post. "Heís at the saloon."
 
"The saloon?" Scott asked in surprise. "País never had a drink in his life!"
 
"Well, heís been there since Thursday afternoon. He hasnít leftÖblames himself for Andyís death."
 
Scott jerked his head up and stared at Abraham. He slowly nodded his head. "Because he made Andy go." Scott took off his hat and smacked it on his knee. "País always been that way. He has a way of making you do what he wants, no matter how wrong you think it is. But he shouldnít blame himself." Scott slapped his thigh again. "Shoot! If anyoneís to blame itís me. I felt bad for this lame leg of mine. Andy always had to do the hard labor and I knew he wasnít as strong mentally. I guess I took up the slack in that area. In the end, it hurt him more than it helped."
 
"Look...nobody is to blame for this! Itís war." Abraham ran a hand through his hair. "Everythingís a mess. Your fatherís trying to kill himself, Laura believes Lukeís not coming back and is hysterical. Iíve got four children I have to leave alone with Julie now that Margaret canít help out...And Mother...well, Iím worried about what this is doing to her." Scott lowered his head. Abraham sighed. "Iím sorryÖListen, Iíd like to have a Memorial Service for Andy. Maybe that could put some sort of closure on Andyís death since we canít have a funeral."
 
"I think thatís a good idea," Andy nodded. "Should I go into town and talk to Pa?"
 
"Letís wait until after the service. I think right now your fatherís too torn up to talk to anyone." Abraham patted Scott on the shoulder. "I know this is a lot of pressure on you. How are you doing?"
 
"WellÖdepending on Pa, Johnny may have to lay off of school for awhile. Iíll hire a couple ranch hands if you can help me with that butÖother then that, weíre hanging in there."
 
"Alright. Iíll go in and check on the ladies." Abraham paused. "If you need anything, you let us know." Scott nodded as he and Johnny went to work on more chores.
 
Abraham walked into the house. Emily looked up from the table where she was breaking beans. "Abe!" She sat down the bowl and jumped up to hug him. "Oh Abe!" She started crying.
 
Abe held her and allowed her to cry. He knew she had a huge burden on her shoulders. "Iím sorry, sweetie. This is too much pressure on you."
 
"I just canít wrap my mind around this. I canít believe heís really gone," Emily cried.
 
"I know." Abraham looked around the house. "Whereís Aunt Jenny and Margaret?"
 
"Margaret...is in the bedroom writing a letter to Luke. I thought she should wait, but she had some things to say. Aunt Jenny is asleep. Sheís still pretty upset Ė especially since Uncle Sam is gone." Abraham looked away. "Where is he?"
 
Abraham shook his head. "Iíll go check on Margaret." He walked to Margaretís bedroom and knocked on the door. Margaret called for him to come in. Abraham opened the door and stood tall in the doorway with a questioning look on his face.
 
Margaret jumped up and rushed over to him. "Abe! Oh Abe!" She hugged him. Abraham kissed the top of her head. He held her while she cried. "I canít believe heís gone! Itís soÖso hard to understandÖ"
 
"I know, honey. I know." Silence settled as he held her. Finally, he pulled her away from him. "Emily said youíre writing Luke a letter."
 
"Iím trying to." Margaret sat back down at the desk. She picked up the letter and cleared her throat. "Dear Lucas. We received the news of Andyís passing on Thanksgiving Day. My heart is so burdened. Iím so worried about you not coming back. Iím afraid that any day now weíll receive yet another telegram telling us that you too have been taken away from us. I donít know if my heart can take another beating. For the last two days, Iíve been..."
 
Margaret stopped when she heard Abrahamís sharp intake of breath. Abraham sat down in a chair next to her desk. "I donít know exactly what happened on that battlefield, Margaret. I donít know if Lucas was there when Andy died, but I do know that Lucas is feeling absolutely terrible about Andyís passing."
 
Margaret hung her head. "I feel terrible for what I said just before they left." Margaret sighed. "I told him to...to..." She bit her lip. "...take care of Andy." She lifted her head and looked at Abraham. "I know my brother. I saw the looks they exchanged and I knew this was something Andy was being forced into doing. I put a burden on Luke that I shouldnít have."
 
"No." Abraham shook his head. "I donít think so. He asked us to take care of you. Thatís what Iím trying to do." Abraham picked up the letter. "Perhaps...you should wait a few days before you write him. Maybe then it wonít be so...dark...Listen, Iím going to set up a service so we can put some sort of closure to Andyís death...so we can all move on..."
 
Margaret gave Abraham a weak smile. "Iíd like that." She wiped her eyes. "Howís your family?"
 
"Weíre hanging in there. Lauraís struggling with everything, but itís hard for a little girl to understand all this. "
 
"Iíll be back to help Julie on Monday. I just...need some time."
 
"I donít want you to come back until youíre better. Iím going to try and set the service up for Monday. We can announce it in church tomorrow. I think that will help."
 
"Iíll wait to write Luke until after the service then." Abraham nodded. "Abe...have you seen my Pa?"
 
Abe sighed. He didnít want to have this conversation with her. But he couldnít lie to her either. He walked back and sat down. "Heís really having a hard time, Margaret. Your father is struggling in his own way to understand this. He feels...guilty."
 
"Where is he?"
 
"Heís in town."
 
"In town?" Margaret asked. "In town where?"
 
Abraham turned from the door again. "I think you should ask your brothers that." He turned to leave again.
 
"Abe?" Abraham turned around. "Why donít you bring Laura over? I think it would do us both good." Abraham nodded. Then he walked out.
 
***
 
The sun was going down by the time Abraham rode to his own home later that evening. After helping with a few chores at the Gibbsí, he stopped by the main house to help Jeremiah with a few. Then after making sure his mother and Beth were coping alright, he rode to his own house. When he walked inside, he saw Julie tiredly washing out more dirty diapers. Tiffany was cleaning up dishes while Peter read Charlie a bedtime story.
 
Abraham hung his hat and coat up then removed his gun belt. He bent down and took Charlie from his brother. "You and Tiffany can go now."
 
"Iíll just finish these dishes," Tiffany said quietly.
 
"No, Iíll do it," Julie stated. "Youíve done more than enough. Thank you."
 
Abraham saw them off then turned and looked at Julie. Her hair was falling down around her face and every inch of her face was etched in worry. She seemed to be taking all her frustrations out on the diapers she was washing. "Howís Laura?"
 
"Not good," Julie answered. "Sheís been sleeping for the last hour I thinkÖleast-wise sheís been quiet." Julie wiped the back of her hand across her brow. She paused as she saw the weariness on her husbandís face. She wiped her hands on her apron and walked over to him. "You want some coffee?" Abraham nodded as he sat down at the table. Julie sat down beside him and watched him sip the coffee. Finally, she laid a hand on his. "Howís everyone?"
 
"As well as can be expected, I suppose." Abraham rested his hands around the coffee cup and stared into the cup. "Uncle Samís drinking himself to death. He blames himself, says he pushed Andy into it. Heís right, but blaming himself wonít do any good. Then thereís Aunt Jenny. Sheís still so distraught she canít hardly get out of bed. Margaretís always been a survivor, though I doubt sheíd survive were Lucas to..." Abraham shook his head. "Emilyís almost beside herself. She cried in my arms while ago and I could tell she was almost at her end butÖI donít know what to do. I canít leave Aunt Jenny and Margaret there alone...The boys have more work than they can handle. They havenít grieved properly. Mother is upset by this andÖ" Abraham stopped as he turned his face away from her. It shamed him to cry in front of his wife.
 
"And how about you?" Julie asked softly. Abraham said nothing, but kept his head turned from her. "I know all this is killing you." Julie lowered her head. "It has to be. Itís killing meÖ" Her voice suddenly broke. She began sobbing. "Iím sorry..."
 
Abraham turned and took her in his arms. He held her while she cried. He couldnít hold back the flood of tears any longer. He began weeping with her. For a long time, husband and wife sat at the kitchen table holding each other and cried until they were empty. Finally, they stood from the table together. "I just want to go to bed."
 
Julie turned and looked at the tub of diapers she had just washed. "I must get these on the line, Abe."
 
"Letís work together." The line ran across the kitchen and into the living room. They quickly hung the diapers up. Then Abraham threw the water out. "How about the children?"
 
"They should be down for the night." They walked into the bedroom. Abraham smiled when he saw Laura sleeping at the foot of their bed. He started to lift her and carry her to the other bedroom, but she moaned. "Leave her, Abe." Abraham nodded. He was too tired to care at the moment. They undressed and got in bed. Laura lay at the foot of the bed all covered up nice and cozy. Julie and Abraham got under the covers and cuddled up next to each other. Julie laid her head on her husbandís chest and fell asleep. Sleep eventually came to Abraham as well, but it was restless as he thought on all the burdens.
 
***
 
Laura woke up early in the morning while the house was still quiet. She crawled up and lay down next to her brother. Abraham grumbled and put an arm securely around her. Laura felt a bit more protected and went back to sleep.
 
The sun was up by the time the babies woke up to announce they were hungry. Julie and Abraham both stood and took one of the babies from the cradle. As Julie nursed one, Abraham changed the other. Then they traded. Laura woke up just as they were settling the babies. But she didnít stir from the comfort of the bed. She was very quiet. Abraham straightened up from laying the last baby down as Julie dressed to go tend to Charlie. "Good morning," Abraham greeted her. Laura didnít say anything. Abraham lay back down on the bed and propped his head in his hand as he looked down at her. "How are you feeling?"
 
"Not so good," Laura answered sadly.
 
"What can I say to convince you, honey?" Laura buried her head in the pillow and sniffed. "Julieís going to fix pancakes this morning. I know you love pancakes." Laura didnít say anything as Abraham gently brushed her hair from her face. "Then we have church."
 
Laura suddenly jerked her head off the pillow. "I donít want to go to church!" Laura cried. "I donít want to!"
 
Abraham forced himself to ignore the outburst. He knew his little girl was hurting.
 
"Maybe you can go back home today. Weíll see how things are later." Abraham brushed her hair back. "Do you want to go home today?" Laura shrugged. "Donít you miss Ma?" Laura nodded. Abraham sighed and hugged her to him. "Oh honey, I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could give you faith to believe our brotherís fine."
 
Abraham lifted from the bed and went to do the chores. When he came back inside, Julie had everything set on the table and Laura was even dressed and ready to eat. He looked toward Julie, but Julie just shook her head. Abraham asked the blessing.
 
Meanwhile, at the Gibbs house, Jennifer emerged from her bedroom and declared that she was feeling better and would be attending church. Margaret and Emily worried a bit, but they nodded their approval of her decision. She also declared that her sons would be going to church. Surprisingly, Jennifer never asked about the whereabouts of her husband.
 
The mood of the Enid Community Church that morning was rather quiet and reserved. There wasnít the normal chit chatting that usually occurred on a Sunday morning. The McCain wagons arrived with very little talking, as did the Gibbs wagon. As the families sat in their respective seats, members came up to offer their condolences. Nobody asked about Samuel, because there had been rumors circulating around town about his whereabouts.
 
At the end of the service, the Reverend stepped down from the platform. "Iím sure most of you know by now, but if you donít I would like to make the sad announcement that our brother, Andrew Gibbs, has gone home to be with the Lord. He died fighting for his country. My condolences go to the Gibbs and McCain family. There will be a short memorial service at 10 AM in the morning. The family would like you all to attend to pay your respects to Andy. And nowÖmay the peace of God surround you this week."
 
There was an eerie silence as people quietly filtered out of the church. Abraham slowly stood and put his hand on Jenniferís shoulder. She nodded and stood up slowly. Her knees felt weak, so Scott grabbed her on one side and Abraham on the other as they helped her from the church. Just as they were getting out the door, voices filtered in. "Samuel Gibbs is just sitting in that saloon drinking himself to death! If you ask me, it should have been him who died instead of that sweet boy of his!"
 
Jenniferís eyes grew wide. Her face turned white as a sheet and she went down. Abraham lifted her into his arms and carried her hurriedly to the doctorís office. The families waited outside while the doctor examined her. "How much more can this family endure?"  Julie cried out suddenly. "Andy, then Uncle Sam and now Aunt Jenny..." Julieís lips began shaking with emotion. "Dear God, how much more must they endure?"
 
Abraham looked up at her. He didnít have any strength left. The door opened and Dr. Stevens stepped out. "Sheís suffering from depression and malnourishment. Iím afraid she hasnít eaten since this whole ordeal started." Dr. Stevens looked toward the saloon. "And her husband isnít helping matters at all."
 
"Thatís it!" Scott declared as he slapped his hat against his thigh. "Thatís it!"
 
"Scott, donít!" Margaret begged.
 
"Heís right, Margaret. Enough is enough." Abraham nodded toward Scott and the two men made their way down the street. The saloon was closed, but they found Samuel in the lobby of the hotel. Scott grabbed him on one side and Abraham on the other. Samuel mumbled as they lifted him to his feet. "Your wife is over at the doctorís office!" Abraham declared. "Sheís in a state of depression and fatigue, sheís so worried. Do you even care?" Abraham shouted.
 
Samuel cursed under his breath. "Pa, whatís happened to you? Iíve never seen you like this before!"
 
"Yeah?" Samuel suddenly snapped awake. "Well, Iíve never lost a son before! Iíve neverÖOh, what the hell do you care?"
 
"PA!" Scottís eyes opened wide. "What is wrong with you?" Scott was quickly growing angry. "Pa, Ma is beside herself with grief! None of us can reach her. Youíre the only one who canÖ"
 
"No!" Samuel shouted. "NO! Just get out of here and leave me alone!"
 
"What is WRONG with you, Pa?" Scott screamed. "Whatís happened to you? You think youíre the only one grieving? Andy was my brother! He was my BROTHER!!!" Scottís eyes filled with tears. "With you gone, all this burden rests on my shoulders and I canít do it! I wonít do it, Pa! I wonít!"
 
Abraham watched Scott turn and run out. He turned back and glared at Samuel. "The service is at ten oíclock in the morning. I expect you to be there by 9:30 or Iíll come find you and DRAG you over there!" Abraham started out the door. He paused. "What would Pa say if he saw you now?"
 
***
The afternoon was full of painful memories and stress. Emily, Margaret, Em, Tiffany, and Ruth worked at fixing lunch for the two families at the McCain house. Lunch was eaten in silence as the family continued to mourn and worry. Only a week ago the family was laughing gaily together. But Thursday, a telegram had ripped the family apart.
 
Tiffany and Peter assured Abraham that they would keep a close eye on Laura. Her rapport was still at odds with everyone. She seemed to have withdrawn somewhere no one could reach. Beth returned home to be with her family, and Abraham insisted Emily stay home with hers. He saw a strain in her that he wasnít happy with.
 
That evening, everyone fell in bed exhausted emotionally.
 
The next morning, the families tried to focus on morning chores, but no one could get anything done. Today was the day they had to find some way inside themselves to say goodbye to Andy. Today was the day they would lay him to rest.
 
Margaret wept as she stood from her bed that Monday morning. She walked over to her desk and took out her journal. She opened it to a blank page and dipped her pin in the ink well.
 
Today I have to say goodbye to my brother Andy. As I talked to Laura last night, she asked me how we say goodbye to someone who we cannot see. Her question made me stop and think, and the truth is I donít know how to say goodbye to him. He and Luke went off to war together. Though I feared Andy wouldnít come back, the news of his death shocked me badly. Iíve cried until Iím numb, and yet I still donít know quite what Iím crying about. Is Andy really gone? Is it an absolute certainty that he wonít come walking down that road and itís some sort of mistake? Can I really give up on him that easily?
 
Abraham told me to hold off on writing to Lucas until after the service today. Oh, my heart is so heavy. I donít want the service to come because I donít want to say goodbye; yet at the same time I DO want it to come so I can move on. But can I really put this behind me? Can I really tuck Andy away in my heart as if he were some childhood toy I want to hold on to because of the joy it brought me?
 
Again, how do I say goodbye? Why do I have to?
 
***
The sounds of wagon wheels creaking as the wagons drove into the churchyard and came to a quiet stop and footsteps shuffling - thatís all the noise that was made as people silently made their way into the church that morning. Everyone stood silently waiting for the family of the deceased soldier to ride up. The sound of a wagon could be heard. Everyone turned to watch the Gibbs pull up in their wagon. Scott climbed down from the seat and helped his weakened mother over the wheel. He held her up on one side and Margaret on the other. Beth walked silently behind them, and Johnny walked behind her. They didnít look at anyone as they walked toward the church. Jennifer pressed a tissue to her nose and sniffed as Scott and Margaret silently walked her into the church.
 
A second wagon arrived shortly after. In silence, Peter jumped down and assisted his mother down. She was silent as she waited for Emily and Tiffany to join her. Laura sat quietly in the back of the wagon and refused to move. She had a stubborn lift of her chin and shook her head as Peter whispered in her ear. Ruth stepped back and whispered something to the child, but Laura refused to budge. Peter and Tiffany led Ruth into the church while Emily stayed out with her sister.
 
Abraham pulled up beside his brotherís wagon. He stepped down as he studied his sisters. Then he turned and helped Julie over the wheel. She picked up one of the babies as Emily stepped forward for another. Abraham lifted Charlie out then lifted the third baby. He bent over and whispered something to Laura, but Laura again shook her head.
 
Jeremiah and Em pulled up last. Em took the last baby from Abraham and walked into the church. Abraham again bent over and talked softly to Laura, and Laura again refused to move. "Weíre going in together, Laura Rose," Abraham said sternly. "This is something we all have to do. If you make a scene, Iíll have no choice but to take you out and spank you." Abraham lifted her out of the wagon and carried her inside.
 
A man walked toward the church. He looked like a drunk who had no home. He was growing whiskers on his face. When he got to the foot of the stairs, he paused. Then Samuel Gibbs made his way up the stairs and walked into the church. Everyone turned and stared as he slowly made his way up front and sat down next to his family.
 
Reverend Gentry quietly stepped into the church. He stepped up onto the platform and looked around the church. "On behalf of the family, I want to thank you all for coming today. I...know this is a difficult time for us. We watch our boys leave expecting them to come back. The harsh reality is...some of them donít come back."
 
Julie laid her head on Abrahamís shoulder, remembering her brother who attended their wedding three years before. He had gone off to fight for the Confederacy, and he would never come home. Abraham put his arm around her.
 
"There are no words to express what happened on that fateful day. Some want to question God. Itís not our job to understand the ways of God. Itís our duty to accept that God knows best. Others want to blame themselves. But the truth is, nobodyís to blame for Andyís death. He died fighting for his country.
 
"I had someone come to me yesterday afternoon. This person asked me how to say goodbye. I never really thought about it, butÖit is hard to say goodbye to someone you canít see. Itís hard to accept a reality of something like this. What if the telegram came to the wrong person? What if he was put on the fatality list instead of the wounded list? But...we must search our hearts for the answer. In our hearts, we have to know heís gone. In our heart we must believe that what happened to Andy wonít necessarily happen to other family members."
 
Reverend Gentry stepped down from the platform. "The family members have requested I allow a time for people to stand up and speak their own words about Andy. I will lead the church in the Lordís Prayer once everyone is finished speaking."
 
It didnít take long for someone to stand up and report what they loved about Andy. Then another and another stood. A serene peace...warmth...slowly began to settle over the church. Margaret thought it felt almost like Andy was there...Like he was standing in the back listening to everyone speak. He was smiling proudly as he listened the those speak, telling him they loved him one last time.
 
Margaret looked at her mother and saw a peace settle over her. But her fatherís expression still held bitterness. She looked around the other family members and saw the same peace. Laura bit her lip fighting it.
 
Margaret slowly stood up and made her way to the front. Her legs felt like jelly as she grabbed a hold of the pulpit for support. Reverend Gentry quickly grabbed her arm and helped her turn around. Then she spoke in a shaky voice. Her words were spoken straight from her heart, and as she spoke she became stronger until she no longer needed the Reverendís support.
 
"My brother...Andy...he was very special, and not just because he was my brother. Andy was a friend. He didnít know a stranger. He wanted to make people proud, to make them laugh. I canít help but think that my brother is in this very room today. I feel his presence and I feel at peace now. This morning I wrote in my journal, and I asked the question ĎHow do I say goodbye?í"  Margaret shrugged as she smiled. "I donít. This isnít goodbye. Someday I will leave this earth and when I get to Heaven, Iíll see him there. We will run and play and laugh like we used to. I know it wonít be for a long time yet...Maybe fifty years or maybe fifteen...maybe five..." Margaret lowered her head. "So today, Andy, I want to say...Iíll see you soon because in Heaven, our earthly lives are like a day."
 
Margaret returned to her seat. Her father turned and stared at her. He was confused at her words. Jennifer slowly stood up and walked up to the front. She stumbled and Scott immediately ran to her, but Samuel looked away. Jennifer smiled painfully as she looked out over the crowd. Peter held her up with much support. "Today..." She paused as he pressed a hand to her chest. "Today I have to say goodbye..." Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her face. Her lips shook as she sobbed. "...to a boy that I gave birth to 19 years ago. I held him in my arms and sang to him. I was there in his birth, but I wasnít there in his death. But as I listened to the speeches today, Iíve come to the conclusion that...in a way I WAS there. His father was there. His brothers and sisters were there. Because I believe in my heart that my sonís last thoughts were of his family. We were the most important people in his life, and he loved us. Neither am I going to say goodbye, my son. But Iíll also say...Iíll see you when I get to Heaven." She laid her head on her sonís shoulder as she allowed the last of her mournful tears to wet his shirt.
 
"Come on, Mama," Scott quietly whispered as he led her back to the front pew. "Iíll be here with you the whole way."
 
As her words died, the room grew quiet. Reverend Gentry lifted his arms indicating everyone to stand up. He led the group in the Lordís Prayer. Then he quietly slipped out the door. Jennifer turned toward her husband. He nodded his head slightly. "I...canít come home. Iím going to get a job and send money home, but I canít return there. Please understand."
 
Jenniferís eyes filled with tears again. She shook her head. "No. I donít understand." Her voice held hurt.
 
"Iím sorry."
 
"Youíre sorry..." Scott whispered bitterly. He bolted forward and grabbed his father by his collar. "Youíre sorry????" he shouted.
 
"Scott!" Abraham hurried forward and grabbed him under his arm. Jeremiah grabbed his other arm and they forced is fists to let go of Samuel. "You canít help him now. Let him go..." Abraham said gently.
 
"How can you do this?" Scott shouted. "How can you abandon us like this?"
 
"Scott!" Jeremiah tried then. "Let...him...go..."
 
Samuel turned and walked out.
 
Jenifer turned and hugged Ruth. "Iíll be okay. Iím strong. Weíll survive this storm."
 
"I know you will," Ruth nodded.
 
Margaret, Beth, Scott, and Johnny all walked out with their mother. They all looked more peaceful then when they walked in. "They say time heals all wounds," Jeremiah mumbled as they watched the last member of the Gibbs family leave the church.
 
"Yes." Abraham nodded. He sighed. "But I donít know if Uncle Sam has enough time for the wound he needs healed."
 
"He holds the key." Abraham nodded. "He just has to unlock the door." Jeremiah turned to Em. "Shall we go home?" She nodded. The McCainís watched the couple walk out. The rest of the family slowly walked from the church. Laura quietly stepped into the back of the wagon and buried her head in her arms.
 
"What about Laura?" Abraham asked Julie. "How do we heal her wounds?"
 
"With time," Julie smiled. "And lots of talking, hugs, and kisses."
 
The McCainís all climbed into their wagons and rode home in silence.

The Years Before ó The Necessary Christmas

 

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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