|What a Difference a Day Makes
Author: sunburntdaisy PM
What if Christy and Neil had expressed a little of their attraction prior to Margaret's appearance on the scene? How would things have been different if they couldn't just pretend like there was nothing between them?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Drama - Christy H. & Neil M. - Chapters: 14 - Words: 35,979 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 04-12-11 - Published: 04-05-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6881184
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Note – Bolded text is directly transcribed from the CBS episode. Italicized text summarizes events.
A Variation on the episode, 'Amazing Grace':
"Did Miss Hattie ever marry?" Christy balanced a dish over the flames.
"She married Timothy McKay; gave him three beautiful children. They all died of Typhus."
"She lost everyone?"
"It was a long time ago; she wouldn't want your pity." Neil helped himself to dinner. "Tastes good – sure you wouldn't want some?"
"No, they're expecting me back at the mission."
"I'll ride you back shortly. You're not going to argue and insist you can do it by yourself are you?"
She handed him a fork. "It's getting dark soon. I'm on the side of the mountain. Whatever you think of me, Doctor, I'm not a fool."
"I've never thought that." He smiled, lingering but a moment before returning to his seat.
Wondering at his good mood, Christy brushed off her hands and went to join him, sitting opposite at the small table.
Neil ate and, in the companionable silence, Christy's mind wandered. She could hear the river rushing by and it made her think of Neil's loss, his wife's drowning, and then of Miss Hattie's loss, of all her family.
"Everything alright?" Neil licked his fingers with a cheeky, appreciative smile.
"Oh," Christy shook herself out of reverie, "I was just thinking."
She smiled, "About Miss Hattie's family, and yours, and well, I suppose it's a lot easier for some – for me – to think there's a good, loving God out there, someplace – I who've suffered nothing more than..." She sighed.
He paused before answering. "I suppose. And yet Hattie believes it all."
"I wonder if I would – if I could – if..."
"I hope to god you never have to find out."
"But you question me – make me think about what I believe."
"Maybe I just like arguing with you."
"I've no doubt you do."
He laughed, then was quiet. "To tell the truth, it wasn't hardship that made me doubt Him. The suffering I see only reinforces that which I came to think the more I learned about science."
Christy thought for a moment, then asked, "So, because something can't be explained and proved, it just can't be?"
He shook his head, "There's plenty that science can't explain or prove but where it can I don't, I can't just discard what I know and..." he sighed. "I do like arguing with you but we were being so well behaved today."
She laughed. "Okay, but what about all those mysteries."
"Science will catch up one day."
"Really?" She shook her head. "I hope not. They're the best bit. I mean, of course I hope we find the answers and remedies to illness, but some things just can't be explained, and it's wonderful."
Neil stood and took his plate back to the bench. "I better get you home."
Christy stood by the river and watched the moonlight reflecting off the rippling water. Neil prepared Charlie for their ride to the Mission. When he was ready he stopped a few feet from her and watched her.
"It seems logical to me that I hold tight to the things I'm sure of, rather than to something uncertain."
She turned to him. "Have you never been certain of something that wasn't explained and proved?"
"I thought I was, but I was wrong."
She nodded. "I wish you would try again. That's where the magic is – something that makes your heart soar – and don't tell me it's because of a chemical in my brain."
He laughed and touched his fingertips to her hair. "It is." His palm grazed her cheek.
"See? Now you've ruined the magic." Her smile wavered, watching his expression, so full of joy, and something else. He was so close; she could just... Then she was kissing him.
He was pulling her close, kissing her back, uninhibited for a moment, and then he broke away, watching her, a tentative smile playing on his lips. "I didn't mean to..."
"Me niether." She looked up at him, uncertain, surprised. Had she initiated that, or had he?
"I think you carried your point." He smiled.
She laughed and stepped away, stroking Charlie's neck for something to do with her hands. "What do we do now?"
"I have no idea."
She was reassured to find as much uncertainty in his voice as she was feeling. She tried to keep the mood light. "I think the cat's out of the bag that you might have kissed a girl before."
"It's been a while. And surely you-"
"I've been kissed before." She dared to look at him again and found his eyes on her. "Not like that, but..."
"We should take some time to think,"
She nodded, "And pray."
He smiled, "Sure."
"Giving in so easy?"
"Couldn't hurt, could it? Plus, I already lost an argument tonight."
"I think it's too late for us to try being well behaved." She teased.
"I should probably take you back to the Mission."
She nodded, glad of the deepening dusk that hid her blushing at his every touch as he lifted her up behind him on the horse. The night air was chilling and she was all too aware of Neil's warmth.
Both were relieved to find no one out watching for Christy's arrival. She slid off the horse without waiting for Neil to dismount and assist her.
"I'd better go right in – they might be worried."
"It'd be easier not to have to explain."
She nodded in agreement.
"Good night." he let his eyes linger indulgently as she smiled up at him before turning away and walking up the steps and into the warm light of the mission house.
She had difficulty following the conversation that evening and went up to her room early. Finally alone, she indulged in remembering their kiss, still uncertain who'd started it – not that it mattered.
Christy descended the stairs the next morning, far from well-rested, but wide-awake and full of anticipation. Their visitor, Mr Harland, was playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and, though undoubtedly a beautiful piece of music, it seemed to clash entirely with her mood. He complained of having to breakfast alone, and of Ruby Mae's cooking. She watched him quizically, wondering at his strangeness.
She turned at a footstep, hoping to see Miss Alice, and found another stranger in her home. Miss Alice was right behind the beautiful, dark-haired woman.
"Miss Huddleston, this is my daughter, Margaret."
Christy stared blankly, not understanding. As the pieces started falling into place, her mind tumbled, unable to settle on a coherent thought. Margaret moved over to the piano and spoke words but they meant nothing to Christy.
"And you must be the teacher?"
Slowly Christy nodded, and good breeding, drummed into her from a young age, took over. "I'm pleased to meet you." She said. Mother would be so proud. But she couldn't keep it up. She turned back to Miss Alice, "I don't understand."
Margaret spoke up, "Oh, it's a terribly long story but I'm sure mother will catch you up."
Christy watched Alice's face fall then looked back to Margaret.
"God, you're so young. How do they expect someone to teach about life when you haven't even lived it?"
Christy's mind was still whirring. It did not register that she should reply to Margaret's veiled barb.
Miss Alice stepped in. "The children here are extremely fond of Miss Huddleston, and she of them."
Margaret kept talking but Christy's mind had finally settled on a thought and she didn't hear another word.
"Has anybody sent for your husband?" He would be so hurt. She wanted to protect him from this revelation, but he must be informed, and soon.
"I'll look after my own affairs thank you." The bitter smoke that escaped her lips wove into her words, "I'm sure you'll have your hands full with the children."
Mr Harland began playing again. The tune seemed more appropriate now.
Christy turned to Miss Alice, only to watch her turn away.
Fortunately, Christy did have her hands full with the children. Unfortunately, her efforts to keep her mind off Neil, and what was coming to him, were thwarted by the children's fascination with Margaret. She reassured Little Burl Allen that there was no such thing as ghosts, all the while wishing such an explanation for Margaret's presence was even possible. Chastising herself for such ungracious thoughts, she doggedly changed the subject and ploughed on with lessons despite the childrens' efforts to return the subject to gossip and ghost stories.
She wasn't sure if she was glad of it, but she'd promised to introduce Mr Harland to Miss Hattie. David was taking the afternoon's lessons so Christy returned to the mission to ready herself, descending from her room at the last moment so as to avoid spending any time at all in the company of Margaret.
She hadn't seen Neil since saying goodnight. The soft smile on his lips and moonlight dancing in his eyes were a world away from the expression on his face when he rode up to the mission.
He didn't look at Christy, only demanded, "Where is she?" Someone must have told him. He threw himself off his horse.
Margaret actually looked remorseful. "I know this must be a shock to you-"
He cut her off. "Don't you dare."
Christy couldn't tear her eyes away and yet watching felt like an intrusion.
Neil climbed the steps and seemed to restrain himself from shaking Margarent. "Only you could do something this hateful. You are dead to me woman."
"Neil," Margaret pleaded.
"You are dead." He shouted and turned away, mounting his horse and tearing off, at full gallop before he was out of sight.
Mr Harland started them moving again but thankfully didn't feel the need to converse. Christy gave directions as briefly as necessary and powerlessly wallowed in the cruel replay of events that had taken over her thoughts. The scenes from that morning and the confrontation on the steps of the mission, juxtaposed so shockingly with the previous evening. She inhaled sharply on recognizing the truth of it – she'd kissed a married man. She replayed the thought in her mind as if the punishment were her penance: Neil was married and she'd kissed him. Neil was married.
Neil was... she hated to think where he might be, what he might be doing, how he might cope with this. She knew him well enough to know that liquor was not out of the question. In fact it seemed like a pretty good answer to the question, even to Christy's mind. How could this have happened?
Christy willed herself to be distracted by Hattie's music, but it didn't work for long. She sang of beauty and romance and heartbreak. Not even the happy songs could free Christy of the hopelessness that weighed on her chest.
Of course she returned to the mission with Mr Harland, but she couldn't bare to go inside and play nice. And she was worried about Neil. "Could you tell Miss Alice I wanted to walk alittle? I'll be back for supper."
Mr Harland agreed and Christy forced herself not to run till she was out of sight.
She took the stairs to his porch, shaking off images from the previous evening, and let herself into his cabin, all the while calling out to him.
"It's me, Christy." She felt foolish, introducing herself to his empty cabin. No, he was here. He was hiding, but he was here. "Are you in there?"
She went to the door, not wanting to invade his privacy, but...
"I'm worried about you."
No reply. What if he'd injured himself, or drunk himself senseless?
She tried the door, rattled it, letting out some of her pent up anger on the innocent latch.
"Please, open the door, I know you're in there." She struggled to keep the emotion from her voice. God, what was she doing? She shouldn't be here – but he shouldn't be alone.
"I just want to talk to you."
She waited then knocked again.
"Neil!" She listened for some sign he was okay. "I know you're upset, but..." the thing she was about to say seemed so meaningless, hollow words that offered no real comfort or hope. "Please just let me know you're alright."
She leaned back against the door and waited. She couldn't bare to go back to the mission. She slumped down on the floor, waiting on some idea of what to do next, some shred of resolve to do what she must: return to the mission.
"I can't, Christy." His voice was quiet and close. He must be sitting on the other side of the door. "Not now."
"You don't have to do anything." She so wanted to comfort him.
It could have been a minute or ten later that he spoke again. "I'm so sorry – last night – I didn't know."
"I know. I'm at least as much to blame as you."
She hated to think that she might be making it worse for him, adding guilt to the miriad of burdens he was baring. "Don't give it another thought."
She heard him scoff. A while later he spoke again. "You shouldn't be here, Christy."
"I had to make sure you were alright."
He mumbled something.
"What was that?"
She heard him stand and unlatch the door, and she scrambled away, getting to her feet. There on the bench was the mess she'd left from making dinner the previous evening.
"I said, what a contrast. You're first thought is for someone else and she..."
Christy turned to him. He was flushed and his eyes bloodshot. "You're not hurt?"
He shook his head. "Only a broken bottle."
"You want me to clean it up?"
He turned away.
"Sorry, I'm making it worse aren't I?" She moved toward the door, pausing when he spoke.
"When I woke up this morning I thought... seems like a year ago."
She nodded but couldn't bare to look at him knowing she had to walk away, and soon. It was getting dark.
"I wish I could go back and have last night over and over again, and never wake up this morning."
"I have to go." Her voice came out in little more than a whisper.
Certain she was alone, she let her tears flow. She indulged in every groan of frustration and pumped, clenched fist her heart desired, knowing that she must hold it all in as soon as she was in sight of the Mission.
Passing the school house, almost composed, she remembered the preparations she still needed to do for tomorrow's lessons. She entered to find Miss Alice, head bowed, sitting at a desk.
She lifted her head. "Good evening Christy."
In the absence of Neil, Christy suddenly became aware of the other half of this picture – Miss Alice must be overjoyed. Her daughter was alive.
"Does thee want to hear the story? It has a happy ending."
Perhaps she was in part punishing herself, but she really did want to understand, as much as she could. "Yes. Please."
Miss Alice told of a spoiled child, a willful young woman. Christy could identify with such characteristics and yet she couldn't understand one key element -
"To let you both think she was dead?"
Miss Alice clearly blamed herself for giving up hope, but Margaret had intended they do just that. It occurred to Christy that Miss Alice was trying to forgive her daughter. She shook her head in wonderment.
"We have been given another chance," Miss Alice looked up to the altar, "And this time..." her hope was clear.
Christy watched her dear friend and hoped she would not be hurt again.
Christy buried herself in her work, planning lessons in great detail, undertaking ambitious projects and catching up on all her marking. If she was a little impatient with her students, no one called her out on it. She was anti-social at the mission, but no one mentioned that either. She worked at the school house till she was late for supper, and then took her supper with her to her room, where she worked till she was falling asleep at her desk.
One afternoon, while she was packing things away, she saw Neil, riding up to the mission. She wanted to see him and dreaded it at once. But he didn't come to her. She heard his departure and wouldn't indulge in watching him leave.
A short while later, Miss Alice walked up the school house steps and paused in the doorway. "Thou art here – I thought..." She walked up the aisle to Christy's desk, carrying a heavy text book. "Neil left this for thee at the mission. I assumed he had stopped here first and could not find thee."
"He did not."
"Is everything alright?"
"Of course." Christy took the offered book, Grey's Anatomy, "We certainly don't have this one. Thank you."
"I will." She tried to hold Miss Alice's gaze but faltered, turning back to her work.
"Will thee be late for supper?"
"No. I'll be there."
Miss Alice soon left.
Meanwhile, Neil and Margaret talk... but they don't resolve things so well. Neil is angrier, knowing that he might have had a shot with Christy if it weren't for Margaret.
So, Miss Alice would go with Margaret, seeking treatment for her ailment. No one else knew yet and so Christy and Miss Alice walked over to the singing as if there was nothing unusual. They sang and Christy was surprised to find that the music did lift her spirits.
David stood behind her and at one point put a hand to her shoulder. The gesture may have been meant kindly, but it felt proprietary and wrong. She could hardly shake him off without hurting him, and in front of all these people? She stood stock still.
And then some one walked out. She turned. Seeing it was Miss Alice, she followed. The loss of David's touch was a strange kind of relief. This thought was forgotten when she saw Alice fall to her knees.
Christy ran, and Alice straightened, hearing her approach. She reached out to the younger woman and burried her head against her belly.
The picture became clear. Margaret was gone. Again. Now what? They could only wait and wonder. She might return. She might never return. They had mourned her once, and now they were in a cruel kind of limbo, not knowing if they should mourn her again.
Christy wondered how Alice could forgive, and yet she knew that was the only answer, the only way forward. Talk about the narrow road: what could be more difficult?
On Sunday night Christy looked over her plan for the following week. It was well thought-out and detailed, and she felt confident the week would go as smooth as ever a week went teaching over seventy children, in every grade, in one room. She ran her eyes over each day, checking that she was covering everything, and then stopped. Neil was to take a science lesson on Tuesday – in fact they'd intended every Tuesday, after the dinner break. She did not know what he'd planned, certainly couldn't be sure he would remember, and yet it seemed rude to plan something else without his say so.
On monday, after school was out, she bit the bullet and saddled up Prince. There was no answer when she knocked at Neil's cabin door. She called out and opened the door. He'd tidied up – the only thing out of place was his study door, which hung ajar.
"Just a minute." He sounded panicked.
"It's just me," she stepped up to the threshold, wanting to reassure, knowing how he didn't want to explain his research to anyone and everyone.
"Oh. Christy." He took a step back. "Is everyone alright?"
"Yes. Everyone's fine. I just wanted to check we were still on for your lesson tomorrow – of course it's fine if you want to postpone, I just wanted to check."
The expression on his face gave him away. "I'd clean forgotten."
"No, I did plan something. I was going to teach them about blood cells and have them run around and then take their pulse – explain how the cells transport oxygen and energy to the muscles." He sat down, his desk chair facing her.
"I could use the distraction."
"If you're sure."
"I'm not ill, Christy, I don't need bedrest to recouperate."
"Neither do you need seventy two pairs of curious eyes and a few careless tongues trying to change the topic to your personal life."
He smiled. "They are insatiable, but I think I can handle the children."
She held up her hands in acquiesence, glad to see him smiling. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow then."
He nodded and watched her leave.
She stopped and turned back, "Oh, and thank you for the book."