Title: A Texas Cowboy

Author: Sierra Crane

Rating: PG-13 for violence.

Summary: Michael Bandit is a cowboy that lost his family, friends, and home years ago. Marietta Alcott is a privileged Southern belle, although she has had her fair share of hard times. This is their story.

Author's Notes: I hope someone will review this, I first wrote it about 5 years ago and I've only ever let one person read it before. I hope you like it! But don't be afraid to give me some criticism. I know the first chapter is a little rushed, but the real story doesn't actually start until they grow up and I don't want to drag it out.

***

PROLOGUE----March 5th, 1854

Atlanta, Georgia. It was almost spring and the weather was finally warming up again as Mark Bandit rode into town. His black eyes squinted against the bright light of the sunset that reflected off his saddle and cast its last rays over the quiet city.

Past the huge estates of the upper-class citizens, past the stores and the church, into the Southside . . . home. Mark slowly swung his leg over his old Appaloosa's back and entered the small, rundown shack he had grown up in, and now raised his own family in.

"Chelsea?"

She was sitting by the fireplace, holding their month-old son protectively, her jet black hair spilling over her brown shoulders. Chelsea Bandit looked up quickly as Mark knelt and took her in his arms, pressing his lips firmly to hers. "You've been gone so long," she murmured between kisses.

"I'm sorry," he gasped, "but don't worry . . . I'll stick 'round for a long time now."

Baby Michael squirmed between his parents embrace, letting out a little cry of despair; Chelsea released Mark and held up Michael for his father to see.

"Golly, he's grown so much!" Mark's eyes widened. "I didn't know a kid could grow so much in a month."

"I understand," Chelsea said, "I have to go out an' get somethin' for dinner, okay?"

"I'll be here." Mark smiled softly. "With him."

Chelsea nodded and stood, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders and stepping out; a moment later, Mark heard a shout, then Chelsea's scream . . .

Mark placed Michael in his cradle and rushed outside, shocked by the scene that awaited him: Chelsea lying on the dirt road, her basket splintered all over, a carriage tipped over, an angry driver.

"Chelsea!" Mark fell to his knees and held his wife as tears welled up in his eyes. "Oh no . . . " Chelsea's eyes fluttered open and rested on Mark's face.

"Mark . . . " she gasped.

And then it was over.

SIX YEARS LATER

"Do gals always gotta be so slow?" Michael demanded, turning to stare at Marietta Alcott as the five-year-old girl made her way through the woods.

"I don't want to spoil my dress!" she exclaimed.

"A lil' late for that." Michael laughed, looking at Marietta's grass- stained skirt.

"You're right." Marietta giggled.

"Aww . . . " Michael groaned. "We'd better go back---I promised Uncle John I wouldn't be long."

As they wandered the streets of Atlanta, young paperboys yelled out headlines that caught the attention of passerbys: "Forst Sumter attacked!" "War declared!"

Marietta quickly looked over to her home, the large white house with four pillars and a wide porch; her 17-year-old brother, Josh, sat on the porch.

"What's goin' on?" Michael asked him.

"Ya' wouldn't understand," Josh drawled, "Marietta, come inside."

Chaos ensued the attack of Fort Sumter---the men and boys began to disappear. A 15-year-old boy, Henry Forrester, snuck out late one night to enlist; Edgar Jones left and never returned home, as so many didn't.

Marietta's parents, Gary and Mary Kate Alcott, held hands by the gate, both in tears and both unwilling to say good-bye for what might be the last time. Josh placed his hands on Marietta's shoulders and squeezed gently. "You'll be good right?" he said.

"Of course," Marietta answered, "where are you an' Papa goin'?"

"We have to take care o' somethin'," Josh replied, "but we'll back soon . . . "

SEPTEMBER, 1864

Mary Kate Alcott held the letter delivered to her with trembling hands as she sat with the other families, watching General William T. Sherman invade Atlanta.

Marietta held little Kenneth---born shortly after his father's departure--- a rocked him back and foth, trying to soothe the child and praying for the safety of her young friend, Michael.

And in Atlanta, Michael was scurrying through the streets with his young cousin, Matthew, and aunt, Lenna. "Where's Uncle John?" he asked.

"Back at the house," Aunt Lenna answered quickly, "he had to---"

"You there!"

They froze at the vocie and stood in the middle of the street as a young, burly Union soldier rode up and big, white stallion. Handsome, brown hair and blue eyes---but a severe expression on his very young face.

"Civilians were instructed to evacuate yesterday," he pointed out.

"I-I know, sir," Aunt Lenna stammered, "but we didn't have time---"

The soldier dismounted and grasped Aunt Lenna's arm roughly, his eyes flashing; Aunt Lenna stiffened at his touch, then she saw out of the corner of her eye . . . "John!"

John Burnes, Michael's uncle, looked up as he emerged from a dark alley with a bundle of his wife's precious belongings. "What the---?" he began.

"You her husband?" the soldier demanded.

"I sure as hell am!"

The soldier released his grip on Aunt Lenna's arm, tossing her aside cruelly, Michael fired up immediately: "Leave 'er alone!"

"Shut yer mouth, boy!" Uncle John snapped.

The soldier was obviously amused by the 10-year-old's outburst, he yanked Michael forward by his collar. "You got something to say?"

"You---" Michael glanced at Aunt Lenna, who was shaking her head. "You heard me."

The blow on his cheek hurt, but not as much as Uncle John's hand had so many times before; he fell beside Aunt Lenna, holding his flaming cheek with one hand while the other reached for little Matthew.

"Just leave us alone," Uncle John said, "we're goin'."

"You'll go all right." The soldier smiled wickedly at Aunt Lenna. "But not till I'm through . . . "

He reached for Aunt Lenna again, but Uncle John pulled him away and punched his jaw, sending the younger man sprawling. A shout interrupted the fight, the shout was the man's name, for he responded to: "Sergeant Thompson!"

"General!" The sergeant jumped to his feet as Gen. Sherman approached.

"What is going on here?" Sherman demanded.

"Sir," Thompson explained, "you saw him---he struck a Federal officer."

"You son of a---" Uncle John began.

"Shut up!" Sherman cut him off, "you say he hit you, Sergeant? I agree. I saw it." Something flickered behind his eyes. "Kill him."

"General!" Aunt Lenna cried in horror, "please, have mercy! He provides for us! How will we survive?"

Sherman ignored her as Thompson raised his musket, a vicious grin on his face, Uncle John quickly looked at Michael: "Don't froget this."

Thompson pulled the trigger.

***

"Mama, what's the letter say?" Marietta asked. Mary Kate crumpled the letter, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill out over her cheeks.

"It says . . . " how could she say it?

"Mama?"

"Josh died, Sweetheart," Mary Kate whispered.

Marietta grabbed the letter and scanned it's contents; Prv. Joshuaa Alcott, killed in battle, in loyal service to the C.S.A. It was true.

"Mrs. Alcott?" Michael's voice was desperate as he slowly climbed up the hill with Matthew.

"Michael!" Mary Kate stood quickly and rushed to the boy. "Michael, where is your aunt? Your uncle? What happened?"

"They shot Uncle John," Michael said numbly, "an' when the general left, the sergeant had---" he shuddered "---when he was done with Aunt Lenna, he killed 'er too." His big, black eyes were full of confusion, pain, and mostly hatred. "He killed 'em."

Mary Kate took Michael in her arms and Marietta came over to be comforted also as a soft, soprano voice sang:

"Dearest love, do you remember

When we last did meet,

How you told me that you loved me

Kneeling at my feet?

"Oh! How proud you stood before me

In your suit of gray,

When you vowed to me and country

Ne'er to go astray.

"When the summer breeze is sighing

Mournfully along;

Or when autumn leaves are falling

Sadly breathes the song.

"Oft in dreams I see thee lying

On the battle plain!

Lonely wounded, even dying,

Calling but in vain . . .

"Weeping sad and lonely

Hopes and fears how vain!

When this cruel war is over,

Praying that we meet again!"

There was nothing left to Atlanta when they returned a month later; the Alcott estate was destroyed, their belongings stolen; the whole Southside was burned to the ground.

Marietta curled up inside the Alcott place---a tiny shed, temporary housing- --and tried to fall asleep; she felt a cold breeze sweep by, then the door opened.

"Michael?" Marietta whispered, "are you okay?"

"Yeah." Michael stood, brushing off his dirty pants. "I'm gonna leave, Marietta."

"Leave? Where?"

"I don't know." Michael shrugged. "Mrs. Jones took Matthewbut she don't want me."

"We---"

"Your mama can barely take care o' you an' Kenneth," Michael interrupted, "let alone me. I'll see you again someday, okay? I promise."

"Praying that we meet again . . . "
TBC