River Deep, Mountain High

Standard disclaimers apply to this piece of Christy fan fiction.

This story continues where the TV series left off.

Any similarities to other works of Christy fan fiction are purely coincidental and unintentional.

A/N: OK…This is it – the very last chapter of RDMH. I want to thank everyone who read my story and took the time to send feedback and words of encouragement. I nearly abandoned the story before I started posting it, thinking that all possible scenarios for the continuation and conclusion of the TV series had already been written in previous fan fiction. I feared I had nothing new or unique to add and didn't want to look as though I'd copied existing ideas. Eventually, I began to map out the rest of the story, and it all just seemed to flow. The story was aching to be finished. While some of the themes in my story may resemble those in other stories, mostly due to the coincidence of having come to the same logical conclusion, I feel I had some unique twists and details in my story. I am pleased with how it turned out. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Thanks!

Chapter RatingNotice: This chapter contains some mature themes.

Chapter 50

The wedding ceremony and reception seemed to pass by quicker than a flash of lightning. After Christy and Neil sealed their marriage covenant, there was music, dancing, and much jollification around the MacNeill cabin. It was clear to see that everyone was having a wonderful time. As the music played around her, Christy felt swept away when she was in Neil's arms, dancing together for the first time as husband and wife.

The ladies of the Cove had worked tirelessly to provide the food for the reception. Long tables set with some of Julia Huddleston's lace tablecloths from Asheville were covered with containers of cold punch and lemonade and platters of fried chicken, smoked meats, fresh greens, and home baked breads and pies. Another table was laid out with great grandmother Rudd's fine china and silver and glassware borrowed from the Mission. If Christy was not going to be married in Asheville, than Julia Huddleston felt it her obligation as mother of the bride to bring a little piece of Asheville with her to Cutter Gap. Despite the rustic setting, she was quite pleased with how well everything turned out.

Night was beginning to descend in the mountains, and Christy began to feel both eager and anxious about what was to come. The shivaree was a tradition in the Cove, but the idea of everyone being just outside the cabin while she and Neil consummated their marriage vows…The notion brought a deep flush to her face and made her feel warm and tingly all over.

As it grew darker, some of the women and men began to separate into groups in preparation for the upcoming "ceremonies". Without warning, Christy was ushered away by Fairlight, Opal, and Mary Allen to go inside the cabin to get ready to be "put to bed". Miss Alice remained behind with Julia Huddleston and explained the mountain custom as delicately as she could. Turning back around just before the cabin door was shut behind her, Christy saw Neil being enveloped by the throng of men. And the last thing she saw was the horrified expression on her mother's face.

When Christy stepped into the cabin – her new home – her senses were immediately flooded with the sweet scent of honey. As she surveyed her surroundings, Christy saw that the ladies had taken the time to decorate the cabin. Garlands of green tied off with small clusters of wildflowers were laid across the mantle and strung from the rafters of the roof. At least a half dozen of Fairlight's beeswax candles were burning in the main room, filling the entire cabin with their lovely perfume. The flickering candle light cast soft shadows on the walls, further heightening the romantic mood. Other soft, feminine touches were spread throughout the cabin. The kind gesture of her friends warmed her soul.

"Fairlight, ladies…when did you have a chance to do all this?" she asked, eyes wide with wonder and face gleaming.

Mary Allen responded, a slyness in her lopsided grin, "Miz Christy, you an' Doc wuz so focused on one another durin' the party, ye hardly noticed what anyone else wuz doin'."

"That's right. We snuck in here when you two wuz dancin'," Fairlight elaborated. "Set out the candles an' decorations. I even took the liberty of doin' some unpackin' fer ye, to make it feel more like home."

With everything else her friends had done, Christy had not even noticed the absence of her trunks and bags that were previously stacked in the corner of the main room like an eyesore. She walked slowly into the bedroom, still in awe at their thoughtfulness and generosity. Her things had been hung in the wardrobe or carefully folded in the drawers. Everyday items and toiletries that she would need were arranged neatly on the vanity. More honey-scented candles were also lit on top of the dresser and bedside table. She was truly overwhelmed.

Spinning back around to face her friends, Christy stood speechless for several seconds. Finally finding some words, she said, "I don't know what to say. You ladies have put so much hard work into making my wedding day perfect. Between the dress, the shower earlier today, all the food and decorations…" She sighed and looked at each of the ladies in turn with gratitude radiating from her eyes. "I am truly beholden to all of you."

"Twern't nothin', Miz Christy," Opal told her. "We jes' did what we woulda done for any other gal in the Cove who wuz gettin' wed. Yer one o' us, even though ye maught not of been birthed here. We think o' ye jes' the same as if ye wuz one o' our own."

The notion of being fully accepted in Cutter Gap brought tears to her eyes. The people of the Cove could sometimes be as hard and unforgiving as the mountains themselves. But Christy had also seen the strength of their spirit, the unbreakable bonds of family and kinship, and the kindness and bounty of their love. She was honored to be considered their friend and neighbor. Their acceptance meant the world to her, and she never wanted to do anything that would betray their trust.

As the sound of the continuing jollifications grew louder outside the walls of the hundred-and-fifty-year-old cabin, the ladies drew the curtains on the windows and helped Christy out of her wedding dress and stays. Opal carefully hung the beautiful silk, lace, and chiffon gown in the wardrobe, the movement of her hands so delicate in the task that she looked almost afraid to touch it.

Then Fairlight presented Christy with a nightgown. It was beautiful. Made from the remnants of her grandmother's wedding dress, the gown was sheer gathered chiffon overtop of a simple satin sleeveless shift. Like her wedding gown, the sleeves were long but translucent over the satin lining. The fabric was lush and billowy. With nothing beneath the nightgown – not a corset or a petticoat – Christy felt very exposed and quite vulnerable.

Fairlight left her side for a brief instant and returned with the tartan fabric she had worn over her wedding dress. She draped it across the nightgown in a similar fashion, the bulk of the sash making Christy feel slightly less uncovered, and then placed the wreath of goldenrod over her just-brushed hair.

The older woman stood back and regarded her. A brilliant smile spread across her face. "Now ye look like a Highland princess."

"I don't know how to thank you enough," Christy said. "All of you. You are all such dear friends."

The women hugged the young bride in turn. With raised eyebrows, Fairlight placed her hands on Christy's shoulders encouragingly and asked, "Ye ready?"

Christy nodded, this time without hesitation. Suddenly, she did not care if there would be people whooping and hollering and dancing just outside the cabin. She would be with Neil. That was all she needed, all she would ever need.

The sound of the approaching men grew louder and louder. They were singing, mostly terribly out of tune, probably in part due to a nip or two from the secret stash of moonshine that usually accompanied any major festivity in the Cove. Christy could hear John Spencer's harmonica behind the boisterous voices, the volume increasing with each step closer to the cabin.

As the syncopated echo of boot steps fell across the front porch, Fairlight and Mary Allen stood in front of Christy to block the men's view of her when they came in with Neil. Opal stood close to the door, ready to fight off any man other than the groom who dared set foot inside the cabin. Seconds later, the cabin door was flung wide open, and the men pushed the groom inside, their loud cries and raucous whoops sent with him. The men stayed just outside the open door, and every now and then, Christy could see curious faces with wide eyes trying to catch a glimpse of what was inside. Harsh, warning looks from Opal kept them from being foolish enough to attempt anything more than stealing a quick glance at the waiting bride.

Peeking out over the women's shoulders, she saw Neil stumble when the men shoved him roughly inside. He looked a bit disheveled. The formal jacket and vest that he had worn during the ceremony and reception were gone so that only an un-tucked white shirt and his belted plaid remained. His hair was a mess of ruddy curls, his bonnet obviously discarded. He had a jovial appearance, obviously enjoying the good natured ribbing and teasing from the other men. He was still a mountain man after all, Christy reminded herself.

Neil's expression began to change, however, when Fairlight and Mary Allen parted like the Red Sea to reveal Christy in the ivory nightgown that matched her wedding dress and wearing his family's tartan and hair adorned with the crown of wildflowers and mountain laurel. The look on his face transformed to one of pure amazement, and his eyes were filled with such love…and longing. She looked so beautiful in the soft candlelight that illuminated the room. She looked like an angel, Neil thought.

The men's bawdy laughter seemed to fall away as Neil stood there and stared at his bride. He could tell that she was still a little nervous, no doubt in part because of the presence of the rowdy men nearby. Not wanting to delay any longer, Neil turned back around and gave the men a sharp look of warning. He had to shout initially to get them to stop the music and crude laughter in an attempt to make them listen.

"Alright now. You've had your fun, but this shivaree is officially over, at least as far as you are concerned. You can all continue the festivities outside the cabin." He glared at them and raised a cautionary finger to show he was serious. "But no man sets foot on these cabin steps tonight."

Suddenly, Bird's-Eye Taylor slid out from behind the shadows of the porch with his gun set across his shoulder. "At's right. Like Doc says. I'll be settin' at the bottom o' the stairs down yonder, an' iffin I see one move towards this here cabin, ye'll have to answer to me."

Christy was shocked. Bird's-Eye Taylor? She had not seen him in months, though she heard he had reformed and was no longer a menace to the Cove. His son Lundy's disappearance and failure to return had left a permanent imprint on him, as it had on her. She could barely make out Mr. Taylor's face as he stood just beyond the cabin door, dappled in moonlight. Even in the dimness, she could see his eyes were hard and looked like they could pierce through stone.

Her breath caught in her throat, and her hand came up instinctively to pull the tartan tighter around her nightgown. But then Neil glanced back at her with a reassuring look. It told her that Bird's-Eye would not harm anyone. He had come just to make sure that she and Neil could enjoy their wedding night in peace. Christy had not seen him earlier at the ceremony or reception, but in his typical fashion, the elusive mountain man was probably there the entire time, just hiding and looking on under the concealment of the dense forest.

"She's all yers, Doc," Mr. Taylor said with a firm slap on his shoulder. He cautiously glanced inside the cabin and looked at Christy. His face softened slightly, and he sent her an almost imperceptible smile and then a wink from his scarred eye before gesturing with his rifle for the men to make their descent down the steps.

"Thank you, Bird's-Eye," Neil said gratefully. Somehow, he did not seem so surprised to see the former troublemaker and moonshiner.

Christy was instantly relieved when the men grudgingly moved away from the door and began to file down the stairs back towards the river where the festivities would continue by torchlight into the late hours of the night. Bird's-Eye trailed after them, making certain they did not try to sneak back up to the cabin.

With a final hug from Opal, Fairlight, and Mary Allen, the women said goodnight to Christy, acknowledging Neil on their way out, and followed the men down the stairs and into the darkness of the night. Finally, the newlyweds were alone.

Neil closed the door behind them and secured it with a new lock that Christy had not noticed before. Reading her thoughts, he turned back to face her and said, "Just in case."

The sounds of the men and their music dissipated through the night air and eventually became only faint sounds carried on the summer breeze. Neil approached Christy slowly, his eyes full of love and his body hungry with wanting. He swept her up into his arms in a quick, fluid motion that nearly took her breath away. She squealed with delight and flung her arms around his neck, pulling herself still closer to him.

A slight awkwardness seemed to pass between them as the reality of the situation finally struck Christy. A girl always dreamt about her wedding day, but not as much thought was typically given to the wedding night until it was upon her. Yet, this seemed such a pivotal moment in her life. It was something that would irrevocably change her. There had been so much waiting, so much buildup and anticipation, but all the advice in the world could never have prepared her for how she felt that moment. Christy had to struggle to remind herself to just stop thinking, and instead, start feeling and doing what came naturally. A deep blush that began at her cheeks soon covered her entire face.

"Well, Mrs. MacNeill," he said, at last breaking the silence. "It seems we are alone at last."

"It seems so," Christy replied. The lingering nervousness was apparent in her voice.

Neil reached up with his free hand and caressed her face gently and reassuringly with his fingers. They were work-worn but soft, she thought. With his touch on her skin and the familiar masculine scent of him near her, she was immediately soothed and put at ease. Christy trusted Neil to be patient with her; she knew that she had nothing to fear.

Instinctively, she brought her own delicate fingers up to brush back that stray lock of hair that always fell in front of his eyes, gliding down his jaw line to trace the rugged features of his handsome face. She could feel the heat radiating from his skin. Christy trembled slightly with increasing anticipation under the intensity of his gaze and felt her insides grow warm with longing. Her pulse quickened, and she was consumed with a powerful and urgent need. She was still a little apprehensive about what was to come, but those feelings seemed to quickly diminish under the power of such primal human yearnings. Christy was surprised by the intensity of her own desire.

"I love you, Christy Huddleston MacNeill," he said, his voice low and husky, his breath warm on her skin. "My beautiful bride." He ran his fingers through her hair that shone like spun silk in the amber light and marveled for another time at the fact that she was actually his.

She loved the way her name rolled off his tongue in that melodic Scottish brogue of his. It sent shivers of delight down her spine.

"And I love you, Neil MacNeill. Husband." Christy giggled and flushed prettily. Husband, she mused. She loved the sound of that. There was never a more delightful word in the English language. She felt giddy, buoyant, even a little light-headed as a deluge of new sensations washed over her all at once. It was strange and new…and wonderful.

In her blue eyes, Neil began to see a look that seemed to mirror his own. In them was the same want, the same need, and he knew that she was ready. He pressed Christy closer to him, bent his head down, and engaged her in a passionate kiss. In three long strides, they disappeared behind the bedroom door.

***

Christy awoke early the next morning. Though she hadn't had much sleep, she felt well-rested and utterly sated. She propped herself up on one elbow and glanced over at her husband lying in the bed beside her. His curly hair was splayed on the pillow around him, framing his face like a golden halo. Neil looked so peaceful, and it felt right that she was next to him in his bed. Their bed, she corrected herself. This was now their cabin, where they would begin their new life together. And it felt like home.

She remembered the previous night with a bashful yet contented smile on her face. Neil had been a gentle and patient teacher. Always tender and attentive, he let Christy set the pace and put her immediately at ease. She willingly followed his lead and quickly learned her way as they explored each other on a journey through worlds and feelings previously unknown.

When the last of Christy's anxieties faded, giving way to her elemental urges, the sensations that filled her body soon had an intensity that matched his. The depth of her desire was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Their bodies moved together as they converged into one in a dance as old as time. Waves of passion flowing and surging with the rhythms of nature, Neil and Christy expressed the extent of their love for each other without words. When they were spent with exhaustion, they fell asleep entwined in each others arms.

Brought back to the present, Christy sighed deeply and looked at Neil. A smile formed on her mouth as she watched the way his lower lip twitched and fluttered each time he exhaled a breath. She wanted his handsome face to be the first thing she saw every morning and the last thing she saw each night. Never before had she imagined she could be this happy.

Not wanting to wake her husband, Christy carefully rolled out of bed and grabbed the robe that hung on a hook by the door. She eased the knob around and pulled the door open slowly. She paused when she heard it begin to creak and slid her thin body through the narrow gap until she was safely on the other side and then closed the door just as carefully.

Christy put a pot of coffee to percolate on the stovetop and stepped outside into the crisp morning air. The day was just beginning to dawn, and she could already see the outline of the mountains beyond the trees as the sun rose just over their jagged peaks. She listened to the sounds of nature all around her, reveling in the rhythmic gurgling of the river nearby.

The torches from the night's jollifications had burned out long ago, and now it was just Christy sitting on the rocking chair on the front porch with her husband sleeping inside while the coffee heated. She smiled to herself at that vision of domesticity and the idea that she was a wife and Neil was her husband. Mrs. MacNeill, she mused to herself. She wondered when she would get used to hearing her new name. She figured that the children and their parents would likely continue to call her 'Miz Christy', even though she was now a married woman.

The thought of returning to school to teach warmed her heart. Neil had agreed to it without reservation, and fortunately, so had the people of the Cove as well as Miss Alice and Doctor Ferrand. Christy realized that she would eventually have to leave her job once she and Neil had a child, but being allowed to continue teaching for the present seemed to ease the transition into her new life and role as a wife and mother. She enjoyed her independence far too much to give all that up just yet. Besides, the children needed her, and even more, she needed them. Someday, she hoped she and Neil would be blessed with the joy of their own children, although the school children would always hold a unique and special place in her heart.

The fragrant aroma of fresh roasted coffee floated on the air from inside the cabin. Realizing it was ready, she stepped inside and removed the pot from the stove. She poured herself a steaming cup and went back outside, contentedly rocking on the porch and enjoying the peaceful solitude of her new surroundings.

A few minutes later, she was awakened from a daydream by the sound of heavy footsteps on the floor boards behind her. Neil stepped out of the cabin to join her on the porch. He wore a pair of pants and old shirt, hastily put on as evidenced by the misaligned buttons and single suspender slung over his shoulder. His hair was still tousled in every which way. Christy glanced at him sideways with a smile, simultaneously blushing and chuckling at the image he presented.

"And a fine morning to you, too, Mrs. MacNeill," he quipped, pulling up another chair to sit beside her.

"Good morning, Neil," she said, finally able to contain her laughter. "There's a fresh pot of coffee inside."

"Yes, I know. It smells wonderful."

"I can go in and cook you up some breakfast, if you'd like," Christy offered.

Neil stretched out further in his chair, lounging languidly. "Is this what I have to look forward to each morning?" His eyes twinkled at her merrily, obviously enjoying the domestic benefits of marriage.

Christy swatted him lightly. "I expect this to be a marriage of equality, Neil MacNeill. If you expect me to wait on your hand and foot, you are sorely mistaken." Her lips were drawn in a tight line, but her eyes were clearly smiling.

"Of course, Mrs. MacNeill," he replied with an air of nonchalance. "I am a modern version of a mountain man after all, letting my wife continue to work after we are wed. And I am more than willing to contribute in my share of the household duties."

"Alright." She accepted his answer with a sharp head nod. Abandoning the teasing game, she said, "The offer of breakfast still stands, if you like."

"No, thank you. Not just yet."

Christy eyed him warily. "You're not still afraid of my cooking, are you? I told you I've had a week's worth of lessons with Fairlight and Opal. They have assured me that I am much improved."

Now it was Neil's turn to laugh. "I don't doubt your culinary skills, Christy, darling. We'll prepare breakfast together in a little while," he told her. He scooted his chair closer to her. "I just wanted to enjoy this first morning with you. Here outside our cabin, just like this…with the river below us, the mountains all around us, and the sun shining down upon us." His arms extended outward as if to encapsulate the wonder of their surroundings in them.

"It is truly magnificent, isn't it?" Christy sighed in utter contentment, leaning back into the rocking chair and taking a moment to soak in the beauty of everything around them. "I never want to leave this place, Neil."

"These mountains are magic," Neil admitted dreamily. "The land and these people have been largely frozen in time, though changes seem to be coming more frequently these days. I expect that someday, we might have to leave." He swiveled his head to look at her. "Not right away, but when our children are older, perhaps. We might find that Cutter Gap doesn't have everything we need for them to thrive, Christy."

Christy nodded in reluctant agreement at the very likely possibility. It was true that their resources were limited in Cutter Gap. Even with the telephone, the Mission, and a school, life would not be easy. Their children would have to leave to pursue higher education and job opportunities.

"I know," she acknowledged a little sadly. "But we don't need to think about that right now. We have everything we need for the time being. This is the place where I want to begin our life together, Neil…Where I want us to start building a family. I want our children to know this place…to know the heritage and strength of these people. Their people," Christy added with emphasis.

"It will not be an easy life, my love," Neil cautioned her, brushing her hair back from her forehead.

"No. But it will be a good one," she said with the most beautiful and serene smile he had ever seen.

Neil and Christy sat next to each other in a comforting silence and stared out at the flowing stream and the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. The river and the mountains were alive to them. They were always changing and evolving, never the same from one day to the next, just like their love for each other. Christy leaned her head to rest on Neil's shoulder. She could feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing and the rhythmic beating of his heart beneath her hand that lay on his chest.

"You never told me," Neil said softly.

"What?" She lifted her head up to look at her husband.

"Well, I told you that I started to fall in love with you that day you took a spill in the river. You never told me when you knew you loved me," he remarked.

Christy contemplated for a moment. "Oh, well, it's hard to pinpoint the exact moment. One minute you had swept me away with your stories of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the next we would end up arguing over something silly. You had me confused for the longest time, Neil MacNeill. You had my emotions on a teeter-totter, constantly going up and down until I was dizzy with trying to determine what you were feeling on the inside. You made me so angry at times it caused my blood to boil." The tone of her voice changed as she described the rollercoaster of her feelings. "But you were always there for me when I needed you the most. You became my best friend."

She paused again to think, still trying to search the catalog of her memory to find a moment when her feelings toward him began to change. "I didn't realize it at the time, but I suppose I fell in love with you that night when you told the tale of the Silkie, after you discovered Becky O'Teale had trachoma. Through the metaphor of your story, you opened yourself up in a way you never had before. I felt as if I saw you for the very first time."

His eyes locked with hers, and Neil gave a slight nod. He had never related the ancient fairy tale back to himself, but he agreed that his wife was right. Her insight into his heart, even when he had fought so hard to keep it guarded and locked away, was one of the reasons he fell in love with her.

"It looks as if the poor Silkie found his lost love after all," he said with a happy sigh, pulling Christy back into his warm embrace.

"Yes, so now he needn't rage and curse anymore, and they can live happily ever after," Christy added with a smile. Her voice and expression then took on a serious tone once more. "Remember Neil, it doesn't matter what happens, or how things change, or where we might go in the future. All I want is to grow old with you. I want to sit with you next to me like this and feel God's love all around us."

He looked down at his beloved wife, a bit cross-eyed, resting her head against his shoulder. He kissed her forehead tenderly, letting his lips linger on her skin for a few moments. "Christy, my love for you is deeper than this river and higher than these mountains. I will always be with you. I promise."

"Till death do us part," she said.

"Longer still."

"I love you so much, Neil."

"And I love you."

The MacNeills sat in quiet contentment on the front porch of their cabin as the sun continued its customary ascent from behind the mountains. The morning rays burned through the clouds and low-lying mist to paint the sky with a dazzling array of ambers, pinks, and golds. Christy brought the cup to her lips and took another sip of coffee, feeling the aromatic liquid permeate her senses and fill her insides with warmth. She clasped Neil's hand tightly in hers. The two rocked synchronously, knowing that while the threat of war loomed from a distant horizon, Christy and Neil had their own little slice of heaven alongside Big Spoon Creek in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountains…right there in Cutter Gap, Tennessee.

The new day dawned brighter than ever before, and the world around them was filled with possibilities.

- THE END -