Title: Broken

Author: Lady S

E-Mail: ladysewalton@yahoo.com

Summary: Well now that would just give it away wouldn't it?

Warning: There is a mildly gruesome dream in here. Just thought it was fair to warn you. Nothing too bad but if you're
easily squeamish, you might want to think twice.

Disclaimer: Christy and all it's characters belongs to the Lesourd family. I'm just taking them out for a non profit spin.
No money has been, nor will be made with this story. It is strictly for enjoyment purposes.

Author's Notes: This is my first Christy F.Fic. I've been reading all the completed stories and I cannot get over how well
everyone writes!! The title I'm not sure about, but I can never think of one that I like anyway so that's what I chose.
This is pretty short, only twenty-one pages, but I hope you enjoy it. I know Christy is a little bit out of character but
I had to stretch it a teeny bit to fit. Anywho... I hope you enjoy it and I would LOVE to hear what you thought! SEW




Cutter Gap - Spring of 1913

Christy raced through the woods, along the trail, to El Pano in a desperate attempt to get there in time. Ruby Mae's words
rang in her head like the bell in the church. 'Doc Neil be leavin' Miz Christy.' Now, on Prince, bounding through the
forest she prayed that she would be able to reach him before he left and answer the questions that plagued her. 'Why is he
leaving? Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't he tell her? How can he leave her like this? Doesn't he care?'

Breaking through the last of the brush Christy galloped for the train tracks at breakneck speed, not caring about anything
but catching that train. Yanking the reins back she stopped just short of crashing into the moving cars; the train was
leaving! Examining the passing windows she saw him, his eyes closed, head against the window, his face filled with pain.

"NEIL!!" she shouted, but it was to no avail. The noise from the train drowned her out and before she could do anything
the locomotive was gone. Sitting there in the saddle Christy felt her heart beat once and die. The man she loved was
gone. 'Neil...'


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


The night sky was dark as Christy unsaddled Prince and led him into the stable. 'How appropriate,' she thought to herself
as the sky let loose a clap of thunder that shook the ground, rain beginning to pelt her, soaking her in less than a
minute. Finishing her work in the stable Christy trudged into the mission. Opening the door she saw Miss Alice waiting
for her by the fire, tears in her eyes. Without words the two met the others eyes and knew the pain they were suffering.
Opening her arms Alice motioned Christy to come to her and she did so, falling to her knee's, head in Alice's lap. She
wept, unable to stop the torrent of tears that flooded her face.

Quietly Alice smoothed back the sopping hair that clung to Christy's face, her soft voice soothing the girl's pain. She
had tried to talk with Neil but he wouldn't listen, he wouldn't even answer his door. Alice prayed, she prayed that God
would help these two to find each other before it was too late. Thinking back over what Fairlight had told her she
wondered why Neil had given up so quickly.

'Christy was a standin' thar tween the two men, and she was a'ready ta burst in'ta tears, Miss Alice. Rev'rend put his
arms 'round her ta hold 'er and Neil jes took off. Don'no if'n he ever knew she'd dun said no t'the Rev'rend.'

'So what do we do now, Lord?' she thought to herself. 'How can I help this young woman to find the strength to live on
when her heart has been broken so severely?'

Almost immediately the answer came to her mind. 'The children.'

"Christy, thee must listen to me. I know thy heart is broken, I know thee is in pain, but thee must think of the children.
They need thee to teach them. Finish the school year, and then take some time to go home to thy parents. Always remember
that God is there for thee, give him thy burdens and he will take care of thee."

Lifting her head from Alice's lap Christy blinked up at her mentor, her friend. She was right, she was always right.
Wiping her tears from her eyes Christy nodded. "You're right, of course Miss Alice. The children need me."

Smiling sadly at her 'daughter' Alice placed a hand on her cheek. Before she could say anything else the door burst open
and Jeb Spencer burst through carrying Zady in his arms.

"Miss Alice, You gotta help 'er! She dun felled out'n a tree, she ain't waked up once."

Quickly the two women stepped into action, Alice calling out orders and Christy following them. The pair worked side by
side on the cuts and bruises that covered the little girl, first setting the broken arm that lay at an awkward angle. When
they had done all they could to heal her Christy left with a list of supplies she needed from Neil's cabin. Getting there
she lit a lamp and headed to the locked laboratory. Not know where the key was she grabbed his rifle from over the
fireplace and, praying for good aim, shot at the lock. Sprawled out on the floor from the shock of the rifles kickback she
looked at the lock and thanked God. It was open!

Scrambling to her feet she opened the door and retrieved the supplies, making her way back to the mission as fast as
possible. The rest of the night she sat up, watching Zady, praying for a recovery, and cursing Neil MacNeil. Christy
never thought she could do such a thing, but as she sat there she could think of nothing nice about the man. If he had
been there she wouldn't have to worry so much, Zady would be okay because the Doctor would be there to make her feel
better, to heal Zady with the gift he had been given. But instead he was God knows where, doing God knows what... and she
hated him for it. She hated him for breaking her heart and she hated herself for hating him.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


"All right then children, class dismissed."

Watching the children scramble out the door Christy sat back in her chair exhausted. She couldn't help but smile as Zady
left, her arm still wrapped in a sling. The little girl was recovering, slowly but nicely. Sparking a reminder in her
head Christy left on a mission she had put some thought into over the past week. Grabbing her books and bag she walked out
of the schoolhouse, promising to clean up when she returned, and left to find the one man she needed to speak to.

"Dan Scott?" she called as she neared the unfinished cabin. She smiled when his dark eyes peered back at her as he came
into view from the roof.

"Miss Christy? Is something wrong?"

"No, no. I needed to speak with you for a moment."

Climbing down from the roof he joined her in walking through the forest. "What can I do for you?"

"I need you to teach me everything you learned from Dr. MacNeil."

Dan stared at her, stopping mid stride to do so. "Miss Christy... why?"

"This cove has lost its Doctor, Dan, and I know you'll be returning to Cecile soon. I need to know that if something
happens I can do everything in my power to help." Christy turned to face Dan and put her hand on his arm. "I know I'm
asking a lot Dan, but I would appreciate it so very much."

Dan stared at her for a moment but nodded his head after only a minute. "All right. I'll come by the mission this evening
with some of my notes."

Christy shook her head. "No. Meet me at Dr. MacNeil's cabin. All his books are still there, it would be best to study
there."

Nodding his head they made arrangements to meet that night after supper.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


"I want to thank you all for coming and I hope that you have enjoyed the recitation. Please, join us for some refreshments
outside!"

The large crowd that had jammed itself into the small schoolhouse slowly made it's way outside leaving Christy to clean up
a little before joining them. Straightening up her desk of the small clutter left there she glanced up to see Miss Alice
regarding her from the back doorway. She smiled at her and stepped closer.

"The recitation went wonderfully."

"Yes it did. The children, as always, have blossomed under thy tutelage. Christy, I would have an opportunity with thee."

"Of course miss Alice, what did you want to talk about?"

"Thee is leaving tomorrow and I feel as though I have hardly seen thee this past month. Between teaching at the school and
thy lessons with Dan Scott, thee has been a very scarce person."

"I know, and I'm sorry Miss Alice. I have missed speaking with you like we used to. But..."

"But thee has so much to do, there simply is no time for it." Christy smiled, but Alice could see that it didn't reach her
eyes making them sparkle like they used to. "Thee is sad, child."

Christy glanced up at her mentor and knew immediately that she'd been caught. "I'm not as happy as I could be, no. But
then again, no one ever really can be, can they?"

"That is not something I should ever have thought to hear Christy Huddleston say."

Christy knew exactly what the Quaker woman was trying to do. "I've made my peace Miss Alice, there's nothing more I can
do."

Alice stared at her 'daughter' with keen, seeing eyes. "Has thee? I wonder."

Christy smiled sadly but would say no more. Lifting her skirt she stepped down and made her way out to the people waiting
to speak with 'Teacher!'




Philadelphia PA - Summer of 1913

Christy walked up the stairs to the hospital, her speech running over and over in her mind. She'd visited Asheville less
than a week ago, arriving in mid afternoon only to run into her fathers waiting arms at the train station. He'd been
shocked, to say the very least, by her plans when Christ had told him, but she knew he understood she couldn't sit back and
do nothing when there was something she could do. Convincing her mother had been much more difficult. She'd again begged
Christy to come home to Asheville, but 'home' was no longer there. 'Home' was in Cutter Gap. It had taken many
discussions to get her mother to realize that and, though she still didn't like it, Julia Huddleston had at last learned to
accept it.

Now, as she strode through the corridors of the Philadelphia hospital Christy prayed she could convince Dr. Jacobs of the
same thing. Quickly Christy found her way to the correct office and entered it to find herself face to face with a stern
looking secretary. A seed of fear tried to take root and grow but she firmly squashed it and asked to see Doctor Jacobs.

"Is he expecting you?"

"Yes ma'am. My name is Christy Huddleston, from Cutter Gap Tennessee."

"One moment."

Disappearing behind a large door she heard the secretary ask if he wished to see her. A second or two later Christy was
ushered into the inner office. Sitting down in a chair before the desk she took in all that was around her. Many
pictures, degree's and diploma's decorated the walls of the office, one that smelled of pipe tobacco; Christy's heart
lurched when she saw Neil's face peering down at her from the wall.

"So, you're a friend of Neil's?"

Her attention brought back to the man in front of her Christy smiled at him. "Yes. The Doctor was a good friend of mine
while he lived in the cove. When he left there was a need of medical attentions that I couldn't fill. That is why I came
to you Dr Jacobs. I know that I'm no doctor, I'm not even a nurse, but I need to learn everything I can about how to help
these people."

Richard Jacobs smiled, he like her already. "Tell me what kind of procedures you're talking about Miss and I'll see what I
can help you with."

Relaxing Christy smiled at him. "So many things! Gunshot's, disease, fever, typhoid, scarlet fever, broken limbs, cuts
and scrapes, sprained ankles or wrists, pregnancy..."

"Okay, Okay! Miss Huddleston!" Richard laughed holding up his hands to fend her off. "Tell me why you want to do this?
From what I hear there's a Miss Alice there who knows all of this."

"Yes she does, but she's only one person, she can only do so much. I want... no... not want, I NEED to help the people,
Dr. Jacobs. They're my family, I can't stand to see them in pain when there's something I can do about it."

"But you're a young woman, surely your time should be spent at tea parties and in dress shops, not spent with dying or
diseased people." The look that passed over her face told the doctor all he needed to know. "Very well. May I call you
Christy? Come back tomorrow and we'll get started. I'll allow you accompany on my rounds and work with me in surgery, but
first you must pass my inspection. Do we have an understanding?" Christy nodded and grinned, excited that it had worked
out as she planned. Taking a pen and paper from his desk Richard wrote down a small list and handed it to her. "Go to the
hospital library, get these books, and study the first three chapters of each one. There'll be a test on their contents
tomorrow. I must warn you, Christy, you're asking me to cram year's worth of learning into one summer. It's going to be a
lot of work."

"That's why I'm here, Dr., to work."

With a smile and a handshake the two parted company. Christy left for the library, determination to make this work filled
her giving her steps an even faster pace.



Cutter Gap, TN - 1915

Slowly the pain seeped into his mind, flickering on and off as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Coming to his
senses it was all he could do to not cry out from the sudden onslaught of pain. Gritting his teeth he tried to remember
how he had gotten into this mess in the first place. 'Ah yes,' he thought. 'The gunshots.' Neil had been travelling with
Jeb Spencer, having met him on the road from El Pano, to get to Cutter Gap. He had decided it was time to return for a
visit, no matter how painful it would be to see Christy married to David. They'd been on the road, almost to the mission,
when they got caught up in the middle of a feud, Allen vs. Taylor. Shot's had riddled past him until one hit his shoulder
and Neil went down from his horse. Lying there on the ground he saw Jeb take one, also in the arm, before he slipped into
a peaceful darkness.

That was the last thing he could remember, until just now when he woke to see Alice sitting in a hard backed chair between
two beds, his and Jeb's. With a small groan he opened the bandages to look at his wound. Was it Alice or Dan Scott that
had patched him up? Whichever it was he had to give them credit, their stitches were neat and in good order; the wound
closed and clean.

Sensing movement Alice opened her eyes from her prayer and smiled, though it was a worried smile, at him. "Thee are awake,
wonderful! How do thee feel?"

"Like I've been shot..." Neil said, attempting a smile. "You did a good job, Alice. Your stitches have improved since the
last time I saw them."

"I did not heal thee Neil. I returned from Lofty Branch only this morning."

Before he could ask another question Jeb groaned and opened his eyes. "Miss Alice? Doc Neil? You okay?"

"I'm fine Jeb, how's the arm?"

"Good, hurts though."

"That's to be expected. There's some aspirin in my bag Alice."

"No need, Neil, I'll get some from down stairs." Disappearing for a few moments Alice returned with some water mixed with
the aspirin powder. "Drink this Jeb, it will help with thy pain."

"Alice, when did the mission begin to stock medicine?"

The door opened, barring her from answering, and Neil's heart stopped when he saw her enter. She was a beautiful, as she
had been two years ago when he'd left, but she'd changed as well. Her eyes were tired, her entire body screamed
exhaustion. And she was thin, so very thin. Looking to her hand his heart began to beat itself out of his chest. There
was no ring on her hand. Was it possible...?

"And how are my patients this morning?" she asked. "Jeb, how's your arm?"

"Much better, Miss Christy. Thank ya kindly for fixin' me up like ya did."

Christy smiled. "Your welcome Jeb. Fairlight is downstairs waiting to walk you home. You can go but only if you give me
your word you'll rest. Absolutely no work, I mean that Jeb Spencer. I'll come and check on you after school. Miss Alice
would you help Jeb downstairs? Thank you."

As the two left the room Christy turned her attention to Neil. Not saying a word she moved back the blanket the covered
his chest and removed the bandages. "You've aggravated it by moving, Dr. MacNeil. You should have known better. It'll be
okay but I want you to stay in bed for the rest of the day. Ruby Mae will bring you some food, liquids only. I have to go
teach the school but I'm only a holler away. Call if you need anything."

Not giving him a chance to reply Christy left the room and he soon heard her leave the mission. His mind was ready to
explode with questions. "What is going on here!!?" he called out, voicing his first question aloud to an empty room.

A few moments passed and Alice re-entered the room, this time bearing a tray of food. "Broth, water, and some coffee; thy
breakfast Neil. Can thee sit up or would thee like some help?"

Neil sat up on his own, grimacing against the pain of the wound, and accepted the bowl of broth from Alice. Taking a sip
he raised his eyes to meet hers. "Alice, tell me what's going on here. Why did Christy call us her patients? When did
she become so adept at knowing when a wound is aggravated? Why isn't she married? How did she...?"

"Neil stop! I will explain to thee. Drink thy broth and listen." Making sure he was doing as ordered she began the tale
that started two years ago. "The day thee left we did not know thee was leaving until it was too late. Ruby Mae told us
that thee had left for El Pano and would not be returning. When Christy heard that she left on Prince to find thee. I do
not know whether she did or not but she did not return until late that evening. I do not know why thee left but I assume
it had something to do with David's proposal. She did not accept him and he left not long before the winter began."

"A few days after thee had gone Dan Scott was informed that his father was ill and close to dying, that he should come home
soon. Before he left Christy asked him to teach her everything he had been taught by thee. Every night they studied
together at thy cabin until he left to tend his father. When school ended for the summer Christy made plans to visit her
Family in Asheville for the entire summer. I found out when she returned that she had gone for another reason. After only
a few days in Asheville with her family she left to go to Philadelphia. There she contacted a friend of thy, a Doctor
Richard Jacobs. She asked him to teach her all that he could and he agreed. For the entire summer she studied and learned
everything she could about medicine and doctoring. When she returned to the cove she began to put into practice everything
she had learned."

"Christy has done miracles for this cove, Neil. She has been firm but fair with everyone and they have given ear to what
she says. Feuding has decreased some since she returned that summer thanks to Christy's payment policy." Alice could see
the confusion on his face and explained. "If someone is wounded because of a feud they must come work at the mission for
an entire day doing whatever chores need doing. Because it takes away an entire day from their own work they are taking
care with picking and choosing their battles more carefully. That is only one of the ways she has helped the people of
Cutter Gap."

Neil swallowed the bland broth. "What else has she done?" he asked. "Tell me everything Alice. I want to know."

"Thee needs thy rest, Neil MacNeil. Sleep, we shall talk more later."

"Alice!"

"Rest Neil." Accepting no further arguments Alice took the tray from the man and left the room. Glaring at the door Neil
found himself unable to keep his eyes open. As he fell asleep he wondered if there had been any drugs in that broth.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Sitting on the porch of the missions house, basking in the early morning sun, Neil watched as a rider came up the mountain
side approaching the mission, the brown horse meandering in it's own time. From the distance he could tell the rider was
dozing in the saddle, their head tilted to the one side and arms hanging limply. As they approached and became closer to
their destination he sat up with a start and a grimace, from the pain in his shoulder. "Christy?"

Hearing his exclamation Alice emerged from within the Mission house and watched as horse and rider came to a rest at the
mission railing. Her concern outweighed any amusement at the situation when she realized Christy was asleep in the saddle
for the third time this month. "Christy, thee is home," she called out.

With a groan from her protesting neck Christy raised her head and took in where she was. Twisting she tried to work out
the kinks in her back before getting off the horse. No sooner had she set foot on the ground than two men, carrying a
third, broke through the brush and ran toward the mission. Instantly alert Christy took in that it was Lundy being carried
by Birdseye and Michael Taylor, his cousin.

"Miz Christy yu got's'ta help'im! He dun been shot!"

"Bring him inside!"

Moving quickly they laid Lundy on the table inside a room that Neil hadn't noticed before. Looking around briefly he saw
that it was bare except for a table for the patient and a table for supplies. 'An operating room!' he realized with a
start. 'She's built herself an operating room!'

"How did it happen Birdseye?"

The man shuffled his feet but wouldn't answer. Looking up at him she saw that he still carried his gun. "Take that
outside Birdseye."

"No ma'am. My gun stays with me." Christy stood to her full height and backed away from Lundy, her arms folded over her
chest. "You got's'ta help'im!" Silently she stared at Birdseye. "Aww come one Miz Christy! My boy been shot! He's
gonna die!"

Still, she wouldn't move. Just when Neil thought he would have to do the surgery himself Birdseye relented and put his gun
outside on the mission porch. Moving with the speed of a doctor she sterilized her equipment and set to work on Lundy
ordering everyone but Alice out of the room. Caught up in the flow of people leaving the room Neil was about to go back in
when the door was slammed in his face and locked. Settling himself down in a chair he waited with everyone else, for the
first time realizing what it was like for the families when he had operated on them. The waiting seemed interminable.

Sitting there he recalled the conversation that had sent him to the porch to think. He'd been at the table, wondering
where Christy was, when Ruby Mae had struck up a conversation with him. Though he'd listened with little interest at
first, when she began to talk about her teacher his ears had perked up.

'I'm tellin' ya doc, surely, Miz Christy ain't had no time ta sleep. Eat ne'ther! She teaches in th' morn, gos callin' on
th' sick till past supper then stay up learnin' all night!'

'That explains the weight loss and exhaustion,' Neil had thought. 'But what about her spirit? Where'd her light go? Than
inner glow she always had? And I haven't seen her smile, really smile since I got here!'

His inner thoughts were cut short when the door opened and Alice emerged from the room, wiping her bloodied hands on her
apron. "Birdseye, thee may enter and speak with Miss Christy. Remember to touch nothing."

Birdseye slipped into the room and Alice Met Neil's gaze. "Lundy shall recover. The bullet did not bury itself too
deeply. We shall need to watch for infection but I believe he shall recover."

A few more moments passed and Christy called in a few of the men to help move Lundy to the other room to rest in bed. Once
he had been laid out and covered in quilts Christy disappeared into her own room. Just when Neil was beginning to think
she'd gone to bed she emerged in a fresh outfit, her hair pulled up into a soft bun, and her books in her arms. Descending
the stairs she double-checked her load and Neil could see that, beside the improvement of the clothing, her eyes were just
as bloodshot from the lack of sleep as before.

"Christy?" Alice called out. "Where is thee going?"

"To teach school Miss Alice. I'll be back to check on Lundy before I go on rounds."

Alice grabbed her arm and stopped the woman from going any further. "Christy... today is Saturday. Thee do not have to
teach to an empty classroom."

Christy glanced up at her mentor in confusion. "Saturday!?" Alice nodded. "Saturday?" she whispered to herself. "But I
thought..."

Alice shook her head and re-directed her up the stairs. "Go rest thy body and mind Miss Huddleston, thee obviously needs
it."

Neil chuckled quietly to himself. He'd been there before, so tired he couldn't even remember what day it was. So busy
with his thoughts he missed Alice turn and watch him. "And what is it that amuses thee, Neil?"

"Memories Alice, just memories." Alice smiled at him and went about her work. Following her, nothing else better to do,
he decided to try and get some of his questions answered. "That moment when she stepped away from Lundy, what was that all
about?"

"Christy has gained much ground with the feuding clans. She will not allow them to bring their guns into the mission for
any reason. If they do not comply she does not tend to their wounded. It is one way she fights their feuding."

"And what are the other ways?"

"Their payment for her services is more extreme is Christy find that the wound is a result of feuding. I promise thee,
Neil, within a few days thee shall see one of the Taylor's here to help Ruby Mae with her work at the mission. A man from
the patient's clan must work an entire day at the mission, doing women's work. It is humiliating to them, as I am sure
thee can imagine. The feuding has decreased more so in the last years than in all the years since I came to Cutter Gap."

Neil chuckled as he imagined Birdseye doing laundry and washing dishes at the mission. He could see the laughter in
Alice's eyes and knew she was thinking the same thing. But Neil's thoughts were soon sobered by another fact he could see
very clearly.

"Alice, what happened to Christy? I haven't heard her laugh or seen her smile since I got here."

Alice's eyes grew sad and distant as she thought of how to answer his question. "That is a question thee had best save for
Christy herself, Neil. I cannot answer it for thee."

Later that afternoon, Alice gone to Cataleechie, Neil decided to visit his cabin while he had the chance. Though walking
took longer then riding he enjoyed the peace and found himself at his cabin sooner than he had thought. Opening the door
he stood in shock at what lay before him. Not the dust and cobwebs he was expecting; rather it was in perfect order, as
though someone was still living there. The table held a few of his medical textbooks that were open and atop them was a
pad of paper with writing he knew to be Christy's.

'...to cauterize the wound a sterilized steel blade is best. Knife? Scalpel?'

With a sudden clarity of mind Neil realized that this was Christy's doing. His cabin, the books, the paper... she came
here to study and learn what she could to help the people of the cove. The force of what she had done forced Neil to sit,
the wind knocked out of him. 'Christy became a doctor!' he thought to himself. His mind played back to the time she had
to run from the room at the smell of the ether during the Allen surgery, and the time when she had barely hung on for
Little Burl's surgery. That same Christy was the one who had been doctoring the cove, treating all the wounds and sickness
he used to, for two years now! Neil had known this fact since he'd woken up and heard that she was the one who had
repaired his shoulder; but it was only now, seeing her hand written notes that he fully realized the implications of what
she had done.

He didn't know how long he sat there in that wooden chair but when his ears picked up a sound on the porch he looked out
and saw that the sky had darkened, the moon was just beginning to make it's appearance in the sky. His eyes turned to the
door and he saw Christy enter the room only to stop dead in her tracks when she saw him there, her notes in his hand.

"Doctor? What are you doing here?"

"I came back to check out my cabin. I thought I'd have to do some cleaning in order to sleep here again."

Neil saw the shock register in her eyes before she wiped it out, once more placing a cool mask in its place. "Of course.
I'll just remove my notes and be on my way then."

"No! I mean... after all you still have some studying to do it seems. I don't want to be in your way Christy," he said,
hoping to regain that friendly tone in her voice he missed so much.

Christy refused to meet his eyes and began to gather the few things that belonged to her. "Of course not Dr. MacNeil, this
is your home, I should never have intruded. I'll just be on my way."

"Christy..." No matter what he did or said Christy refused to meet his eyes. "Dammit woman! How can you be so distant? I
want to talk to you and you won't even look at me!"

Grabbing her hands he placed a finger under her chin forcing her to meet his eyes, and in that one instant he almost wished
he hadn't. There was nothing. The light he'd always seen, the passion, the friendship, the trust; gone. Her eyes were
dead.

Neil was so shocked he could only watch as she gathered her things and left his cabin, her small form disappearing into the
night. "Oh Christy," he breathed with despair. "What happened?"


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Almost a month had passed and Neil had settled himself nicely back into life here in the cove. He didn't know how long
he'd be staying but he knew there were people he wanted to see. Patients he wanted to check up on, friends he wanted to
see. But first... he needed a horse. With his shoulder he hadn't been able to ride but now that it was almost completely
healed he walked to the Spencer's cabin to retrieve Charlie, his oldest and best friend.

"Sorry, Doc. I ain't got Charlie here. He over yonder at th' mission. Miz Christy been rentin' him out fer her callin'
on th' sick. Ya best speak ta her."

"Renting, Jeb?"

"Aye. She gives us her doctorin' fer free 'n' we dun let her use Charlie."

Confusion drew his brow together and Neil turned to leave. "Thank you, Jeb," he called back as he left. As he walked to
the mission he thought back to the times he'd seen Christy on a horse. It hit him that it had been Charlie she was riding
that day she'd come back asleep in the saddle. He'd been so caught up with her he'd barely recognized the horse, his best
friend Charlie. Shaking his head at his own mistake he made his way to the mission house. Noting that the sun shining
brightly over head he guessed it was almost noon. Maybe he and Christy could go on rounds together?

As much as he wished they could he doubted it would happen. Christy had made it very clear she did not want to be around
him. If he was at the mission she made herself scarce, if there at all, if they met in the woods she would nod, perhaps a
hello, and continue on. He didn't dare go to the school. She was always cool, not cold or rude, but cool enough to let
him know she didn't want him there. It broke his heart to think of the way she used to look at him, those big blue eyes
filled with such trust and respect and ... dare he even say it... love. He missed their talks by the river or in the
schoolhouse.

Neil sighed. He missed Christy.

Climbing the steps to the mission he greeted Alice with a heavy heart.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


"Good. Class that was an excellent spelling test. Why don't we stop now and you can break for lunch recess. Reverend
Pierce will be here shortly for the afternoon classes."

With some confusion she watched as not one of the children moved from their seat. Furrowing her brow she opened her mouth
to re-dismiss them when Creed spoke.

"Teacher, we been wantin' ta ask ya' question," he said on behalf of the class. "We know ya'd never lie ta us, and we
trust th' Rev'rend an all but we jes had ta ask ya, strait out'n all."

"What is it Creed?"

Creed glanced at his classmates and received several nods of encouragement. "Umm... Miz Christy, is ya happy 'ere? In
Cutter Gap we mean."

Christy stared at her students, as they remained seated before her. "What?! What kind of question is that?"

"Well, Miz Christy, we been noticin' ya ain't been nearly as happy as b'fore. First we thought it was cuz of Doc Neil
leavin', but ya never got happy e'en when he dun com back. Ya stopped smilin' 'n' laughin' so we waz thinkin'... m'be ya
ain't happy here no more. M'be ya missed yer Ma and Pa back Asheville way. So we gots t'gether and we figgered that m'be
ya should go home... ta Asheville... ta yer family. M'be then... ya'd be happy 'gain."

Christy stared at her children as though they'd slapped her. "You all feel this way? You want me to leave?"

More than one student gasped but it was Creed who spoke. "Oh Lordy no Miz Christy! We jes want ya ta be happy 'gain. We
figgered that since we wasn't makin' ya happy that m'be yer family culd. We don't wan'ya ta leave, but we wan'ya ta be
happy 'gain! We miss the way ya uzed ta smile 'n' laugh wid us. The way ya made learnin' fun, even the bad stuff like
g'ography!" Creed came forward and took her hand in his own. "We love ya Mix Christy. We jes wan'ya ta be happy."

Christy stared, dumbfound, at the children before her. She couldn't think of anything to say to them, she couldn't think
at all. Sitting there, in silence, they all stared at each other, Christy stared at the children and that children stared
back at her.

The silence was interrupted when Reverend Harold Pierce entered the schoolroom. "What are y'all still doing in here? Get
on out there and enjoy you're lunch recess!"

Creed stood to leave the room and everyone else followed him out, following his cue to leave. They hadn't gotten their
answer but they'd let her know how they felt. Harry Pierce looked at Christy with concern as she sat behind her desk.
"Christy?" Reaching out he touched her shoulder.

His kind touch jolted Christy out of her trance and back into the real world, the world where her children had just
announced to her the truth, the one truth she'd managed to squash down and ignore for so long shed forgotten it was there.
Jumping to her feet she left, not even gathering her books, and fled for the mission house. Harry watched her go but his
concern for her outweighed by the concern for the children's silence. They were being much too much too quiet.

"Children? What just happened here?"

All eyes turned to Creed. Once more he spoke for the group. "We jes let Miz Christy know we wanted her ta be happy
'gain."

Once more Harry's eyes turned to watch Christy. He saw her just as she climbed the stairs to the mission house. She kept
tripping over them, again and again falling against the steps. Running to help her he got there just as she made it to the
top.

Christy stood in the doorway of the mission, her mind both blank and overwhelmed at the same time, unable to focus on
anything but one very vital fact. She couldn't breathe.

Alice Henderson, followed by Neil MacNeil, entered the main room of the mission. They'd heard the sounds of someone
falling on the steps and had come to see what was going on. They saw Christy, her skirt torn and dirty with little
splotches of blood from her scraped shins, standing in the doorway but it was her face that held them rooted in their
place. Her eyes were unfocused and roving the room wildly until they settled on Miss Alice.

"... Miss...Alice...c'n't...I...c'n't...Miss...c'n't..."

Both instantly became worried as they saw her trying, and failing, to draw in a breath. They were by her side even as
Harry reached her from behind. Alice sunk to her knees, catching Christy as she fell, still unable to breathe, while Neil
went in search of something to ease her breathing.

Christy's mind was a jumble as she tried to breathe, clutching Alice's shirt with the force of a woman trying desperately
to cling to life. She stared at Alice's eyes, big brown eyes that were filled with love and concern, fear and worry, until
the world around her went black.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Christy stood between the two men in her life and knew she had to make a choice. David stared at her, his eyes pleading,
but Neil spoke to her. 'Christy I need your help.'

Turning she found herself in the operating room she'd had built after returning to Cutter Gap from Philadelphia. Neil
stood before her, his curls awry and his eyes pleading with her to help him. Looking him over she saw his shoulder was
bleeding. Cutting away his shirt she cleaned the wound and removed the bullet. He turned and walked away from her,
through the mission to the world outside. Christy followed him, bloody scalpel and forceps still in hand, to see the
people of the cove gathered in the yard outside the mission. They were all wounded and so bloody it made her sick. Barely
keeping herself together she looked over the wounds. Zady's arm was broken, Lundy was shot, Jeb too, Mountie had a fever,
Creed's head was scraped and bleeding, Ruby Mae was sick with Scarlet Fever, Rob Allen was holding his die and moaning in
pain.

'Neil!? Neil where are you?! I need your help!? Neil...?' Christy called out.

Her eyes scanned the crowd searching for him but he was gone. 'Doc be gone, Miz Christy,' Ruby Mae told her as she
shivered from her sickness.

The people crowded around her, pleading for her help. 'Neil! Neil! Come back! I need you! Neil!' The crowds swarmed
over her until Neil suddenly appeared in front of her, at the head of the crowd. 'Neil! Oh thank God! I need you, Neil!
I love you!'

Without saying a word Neil took the scalpel from her hand and poured alcohol over it wiping the mixture of blood and
alcohol off onto her skirt. Without a word her reached forward and placed the scalpel over her chest. Christy tried to
get away but found herself unable to move. With quick movements he made a few cuts and reached into her chest, pulling out
her heart from within. In shock she watched as her heart was passed around the crowd, each one examining it before passing
it on. Neil put the scalpel back into her hands and turned from her, boarding a train and leaving her amidst the crowd,
screaming over and over as she fell to her knees.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Neil sat next to her bed, his head in his hands, as he had every hour fro the past four days. It had been four days since
Christy had come into the mission house unable to breathe and passing out in Alice's arms. Since then he'd done everything
he could think of to help her. Sitting there, by her side, he was lost. There was nothing he could do for her while she
lay there, on the brink of deaths door, absolutely nothing.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked. "What did she ever do to you?"

Alice stood just outside the doorway listening as Neil fought once more with God.

"All she has ever done was serve you! She devoted her life to these people, to help them find out that you're a loving
God, and now you're deserting her, you BASTARD!" Neil fell to his knees by her side, pulling her small hand into his own.
Staring down at her face he realized... "But you didn't desert her, did you? You're the one who helped her to heal these
people, weren't you? You helped her fight her fears and gave her the strength to do it. I'm..."

Neil sobbed. "I'm the bastard that deserted her. I left her here, alone. She tried so hard, so hard to take care of them
as a doctor, but that's not why she came here. She shouldn't have had to do that, that was my job and I left it to her. I
did this! This is my fault!" Laying his head on her stomach he sobbed, the full weight of what he had done coming to the
fore in his heart, soul and mind.

"I have never believed in you, I fought the fact that you ever existed, I never wanted to believe in you... but I beg of
you! Please, dear God help her! You're the only one who can!"

In the hallway Alice bowed her head, tears coursing down her cheeks. 'Please Almighty God, help this woman and this man.
The one cannot live without the other. Thee are the Creator, the Giver of Life. I beg of thee... give her back her life,
let her live it with this man. They have a love that has come through so much. Do not let it be snuffed out now when they
have come so far, so close to coming together. Dear God, I beg of thee...'

Alice's prayers were interrupted by a scream that tore through her very soul. Rushing into the room she saw Neil
struggling to hold Christy onto the bed, the young woman screaming wildly as she fought him with a strength that was not
possible in her weakened condition. Running to the other side of her 'daughter' she too tried to hold her back, calling
her name to wake Christy from whatever nightmare had her trapped.

"Christy! Christy thee must wake! Christy!"

Slowly Christy stopped fighting and laid back down with such stillness that both Alice and Neil feared the worst. As Neil
felt for a pulse Christy opened her eyes and looked up, her eyes seeing only Miss Alice as they filled with tears.

"Christy?" the woman gasped.

"Miss Alice?" she whispered. "Oh Miss Alice! Why? Why did he leave? I loved him and he left! He... he just... Oh Miss
Alice!" she sobbed. "He left me!"

Alice pulled the young woman into her arms as she had that night two years ago as she sobbed for a heart that had been
broken. Looking across at Neil she watched as he absorbed what he had just heard, taking in for the first time how much he
had hurt her, hurt the woman he loved with all his heart. Alice saw his already teary eyes fill once more as he watched
Christy sob.

'Please God, please...' she prayed, knowing He knew her heart as well as He did Christy's, and now He knew Neil's as well.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Alice watched as Neil stared into the fire, his eyes filled with pain and despair. He turned to face her as she sat down
in one of the chairs surrounding the fireplace. Silent for a moment he sat down across from her. "Alice, tell me
everything."

Alice sighed but began the story. "David proposed to Christy in the schoolhouse yard as you already know. And as I'm sure
you've guessed she turned him down. She and Fairlight went off for the morning to talk and when Christy returned to the
mission she was at peace with herself for the first time since David's original proposal some months back. When Ruby Mae
returned from her visit with Bessie Coburn she announced that you had left the cove for a train in El Pano. Christy
saddled Prince and galloped away to find you before you left. As I said before I do not know what happened in El Pano,
only that she returned that night in tears and thee did not come with her. I could not tend to her as I wished to for
young Zady was brought to us with a broken arm after falling from a tree. The next day Christy refused to talk about it
and she went on with her life as though nothing had happened."

"A few weeks later she began lessons with Dan Scott, these went on until he returned home to care for his father. When
school let out Christy made plans to leave, I assumed she was going to Asheville for the summer but I discovered that she
had not when she returned to us the day before school was to resume. That night she confessed to me that she had been in
Philadelphia under the tutelage of thy friend, Doctor Richard Jacobs. She had asked him to teach her all that he could
during the two months she was there. He agreed to teach her and thus began her summer. Years of studying and learning all
crammed into two months. She did not ever leave the hospital. If Christy was not seeing patients with Dr. Jacobs then she
was studying in the hospital library, and vise versa."

"When she had returned to us David again asked her to marry him. She refused and they argued, David telling her that thee
had left and that she should not pine for a man who did not love her in return. Christy became angry and slapped him. The
next morning David was gone. A few months later Harold Pierce came to Cutter Gap and has been the missions Reverend since.
He has been a godsend, the people have truly found a kindred spirit within him. He began to teach the afternoon classes so
that Christy would then be free to make rounds on her patients. Every morning she teaches in the school, every afternoon
she makes calls on the people of the cove, and every evening she studies at thy cabin to learn more about medicine. There
have been too many times, almost daily, when Harry or I have needed to remind her to eat or sleep. It is as though she
forgets and thee has seen the outcome of it."

"A month or two after she came back Margaret also returned to Cutter Gap. She was sick again and needed medicine. Christy
helped with everything she had but it was too no avail. Margaret died a week after coming home. She had brought with her
influenza and it tore through the cove. Many people got it, Christy, Harry and I were busy trying to keep them alive.
Mountie was the worst case. Christy stayed with her, here at the mission, for over a week, tending to the little girl day
and night. Mountie had finally turned around and began to recover when Christy caught it. We almost lost her. Had it not
been for a visit from Dr Jacobs, we would have. He helped her to recover before returning to Philadelphia."

"The people responded hesitantly at first to a woman doctoring them but they soon found that she was fair in all that she
did. She would tend to the sick or wounded and ask payment in return. Never money, the only payment she would accept was
service. If it was a child that she tended to that was not already attending classes then the child must return to school
and be allowed to stay for the rest of the year. Was the child already in school or if it was an adult who needed the
tending then the family must pay a service that Christy would then choose. For an example, young Creed was injured while
working with his father in the mill. 'Twas nothing too serious but enough to need stitches. In return the Allen's fixed
the O'Teale's roof which was leaking again. This was Christy's payment to Swannie for helping her to learn about, and
providing for her use, the herbs that carried medicinal value. It has become a circle of everyone helping out one another
through out the co!
ve."

"Christy's learning to heal are a blessing to the people and yet they are a curse to her. She has kept many in this cove
from dying but at the same time her spirit has slowly ebbed away. Thee once asked me what happened to the light in
Christy's eyes, Neil. It has left her, slowly, over the past two years. That light came from within, from her heart, it
was her laughter, her happiness, and without it she will never be the same. If thee has seen her eyes then thee has seen
the same thing I have. Christy is dying, her spirit, her will to live, is gone. I truly fear that without it... she will
die."

Their conversation was cut short when a cry rang out from the outside world. "U-nited States Mail!" Getting up Alice went
to answer Ben Pentland, drying the tears that had fallen before she greeted him with a small smile.

Neil sat where he was, unable to move, shocked by the testimony of what he had just heard. A loud thud echoed from
upstairs and Neil raced for Christy's room, his heart in his throat at what he would find. Throwing open the door he saw
Christy on the floor, in her nightgown, trying to get up. Her strength gone she could barely raise herself up with her
arms. In one swift swoop Neil had her in his arms and back into the bed, gently pulling the covers back up over her
shivering body. His heart had stopped when he had felt her ribs poking out through her skin. He had known she was thinner
but that was too much.

"Christy," he said softly as he tucked the covers around her. She was still awake, he could see her eyes as they stared
out the window. "Christy, you're too weak to get out of bed. You need bed rest and sleep." She refused to look at him
and Neil sighed. "Oh what have I done, lass? I've hurt you so badly, I know I have. I'll do whatever it takes to make
that up to you, Christy, I swear it. But you have to promise me you'll stay alive. I can't loose you."

Brushing a stay piece of hair off her face Neil left to get her some broth, he knew she needed to eat now that she was
awake. As the door clicked softly shut behind him Christy turned her head to look at its brown wood planks. He'd sounded
so sincere, so... so... Christy began to cry once more. What had happened to her? When did she allow herself to get this
way? She wasn't sick, so why was Neil so worried that she was going to die? How did he know that was all she had prayed
for?


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


A few days had passed since Neil had put her back in bed. He hadn't left the mission since she had first passed out and he
needed to get a few things from his cabin, so he had rushed off to get them and to get back as soon as he could. Alice was
holding a bowl of soup as she fed it to Christy, still too weak to steadily hold the bowl on her own.

"Christy, thee did scare me more so than I care to admit."

Christy looked at Alice in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Alice sighed and placed the almost empty bowl on the table next to the bed. Taking Christy's hands in her own she rubbed
them softly. "Does thee remember the last time thee smiled? Or laughed? Or cried? Or prayed? Over the last two years I
have watched thee die, little by little, everyday. I did not know how to stop thee from it, there was nothing I could do.
I knew it was only a matter of time until thee collapsed as thee did over a week ago. Every night I prayed that God would
save thee, as I could not. That He would help thee to find thy heart again. I think of thee as a daughter, I could not
bear to loose another as I did Margaret."

Kissing her 'daughter' on the cheek she got up from her chair and proceeded to take the bowl and tray downstairs, leaving
the young woman to rest. Descending the stairs she was surprised to find the floor covered with children, all waiting
patiently for something, or someone.

"Children? What are thee doing here? Thee should be in school."

"It be lunch recess Miz Alice. We jes wanna see Miz Christy."

"Please Miz Alice! We wanna see teacher!" Several of the children cried out to her similar things. But one caught her
attention.

"Mountie, why does thee wish to tell her thee is sorry? Sorry for what?"

Mountie looked scared but came forward to say her piece. "We the one's that dun did this Miz Alice. We made Miz Christy
sick."

"Oh no! Mountie thee did no such thing!"

"Yes we did, Miz Alice. It waz us that did this."

Before Alice could respond she heard several of the children gasp. Following their eyes up the staircase she saw Christy,
hanging onto the railing for dear life, trying to come down to them. Racing up the stairs she grabbed onto Christy and
stopped her in her place.

"Christy! Thee should be in bed!"

Christy shook her head. "No Miss Alice, I need to talk to them," she said, her weak voice filled with conviction. "I need
to. Only for a moment and then it's right back up to bed. I promise."

Against her better judgement Alice agreed and began to help her down the stairs.

"BLAST IT WOMAN!!" Both women looked up to see Neil, saddle bags on the floor, flying up the stairs two at a time. "What
in tarnation do you think you're doing!? Back to bed with you!"

Picking her up in his arms Neil began the trek back up the stairs. "No." he heard whispered. Looking down at her he saw
Christy's big blue eyes meeting his for the first time since he'd returned. "Please, I need to talk to them. Neil...
please."

He could hear the pleading in her voice, the urgent need that emanated from her weak words, and he was torn in two; Doctor
MacNeil telling him to get her to bed, but Neil telling him to do as she asked. The two sides warred for a moment before
Neil won. Descending the steps he placed her in the large chair nearest the fire and wrapped two quilts around her small
body.

Christy opened her arms and the children swarmed around her, each one wanting to be held or touched in some way, a
reassurance that their teacher was okay. Neil and Alice stood back, watching the children and their teacher, tears in
their eyes at the love that flooded the room.

"Listen to me all of you," she said, her soft voice barely loud enough for all to hear. "You did not do this to me, you
did not make me sick. I did this to myself. Do you remember when we talked about things that scared us or made us sad?"
Many of the children nodded, wondering why she was talking about that now. "You told me that when you hid from something
so that it couldn't find you that it made you feel safe, made you less scared of it. And I told you that facing it was
better than hiding from it, because it meant that you were stronger than whatever it was that scared you. Remember? Well
I was hiding from what made me sad so that I didn't have to think about it. I pushed it down so deep that I forgot it was
there. But you made me find it again. You all saved my life. If I had kept on living like I was, sad and angry and
hiding, then I would have died. But you made me face what I was hiding from... you saved my life."

Mountie crawled up into Christy's lap and wrapped her thin arms around her neck. "I love you teacher! Please don't die!"

Tears flooded her eyes at this innocent child's words. All the children leaned in, one over the other, and hugged their
teacher, each one letting her know how much they loved her. Overwhelmed and exhausted Christy looked at Neil, pleading to
be taken back to bed. Quickly he removed her from her seat, gathering her up in his arms, and climbed the stairs leaving
Alice to deal with the children. Christy clung to him, her tears soaking his shirt, as he carried her back to bed. His
heart broke as he listened to her sobs, further proof of how much he had hurt her. Laying her gently in the bed he covered
her with another quilt and turned to leave. He stopped when he felt something tug in his hand. Looking back Neil saw
Christy, holding his hand, her reddened eyes staring up at him.

"Why did you leave?" she asked. Christy didn't know if she was ready to hear the answer or not, but she needed to know.

Neil sat down on the bed; he could feel her body under quilts pressing against him. "I..." he began and stopped. He
wouldn't lie to her. He did know. "That day in the schoolyard, I saw him give you the ring and I saw you look back and
forth between both of us. When he wrapped his arms around you..." Neil took a deep breath. "I thought you had told him
yes. I couldn't bear the thought of seeing you, everyday, with that ring on your finger, every gleam of it telling me that
you didn't love me, that you loved him. So I left. I went to Chicago to do research and work in one of their hospitals.
I rang here once to speak with Alice when I'd heard that Margaret had died and Harry answered the phone. When he told me
that he was the Reverend I knew that Grantland had taken you away from Cutter Gap. I thought I could come back here and it
would be okay because I wouldn't have to be reminded that you had chosen him and not me."

"When I saw you come into that room to check on Jeb, and I saw that you didn't have a ring on your finger, I knew I'd made
a mistake, a very big mistake. But the more I heard about what you had done, going to Philadelphia, studying medicine to
help the cove, I didn't know what to think. I remembered how you ran from the cabin during the Allen surgery, and how you
barely made it through Little Burls. I wondered what had changed, what it was that made you do it. But it wasn't until I
saw your eyes at that cabin that night and heard Alice tell me about the last two years that I realized how much I hurt
you."

Neil stared at Christy, oblivious to the tears that coursed down his cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Christy! I'm so sorry! I
never meant... to hurt you, I swear I didn't! I would never do that knowingly." Dropping to his knees he kissed her
hands. "I almost lost you! There was nothing I could do to save you... so I prayed." Christy gasped. "I prayed that He
would heal you, that he would bring you back to me and let me tell you how much I loved you." Neil drew in a shuddering
breath. "Christy, lass, I know I've hurt you so much, more so than I could ever hope to be forgiven for, but please... can
you find it in your heart to forgive me? I love you so much!"

Christy trembled at the emotions coursing through her body, her heart over flowing with emotion for the first time in a
long, long while. 'He loves me! He never knew! He thought...! Oh dear God thank you! Thanks you!' Reaching out to the
head that rested atop their joined hands she stroked his red curls, reveling in the feel of them, in the knowledge that he
still loved her. Neil brought his head up and looked at her, his eyes filled with pain, despair, hope, and love all that
the same time. Though tears had soaked her cheeks Christy smiled at him.

"I love you, Neil."

With a cry of joy Neil crushed her within his arms, holding her as though he would never let her go. She clung to him,
wrapping her arms around his neck, holding him close, swearing she would never let him go.

In the doorway, Miss Alice stood, watching them, her hand over her heart and tears stinging her eyes. "Thank you, God.
Thank you!"


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Christy sat on the porch with Alice as the shelled the peas, watching the children play during recess in the schoolyard.
She would be back in the schoolroom next week and she couldn't wait. It had been over a month since she had woken up from
her terrible dreamlike life to find that Neil was here, that he loved her. They had agreed to take things slow, to work
back to the relationship they'd had before. And he was being true to his word. Neil had quit the hospital in Chicago,
moved back to the cove permanently and had taken over the doctoring of it. Oh he still loved to test her knowledge of
things, see how much she knew, but now he was the one who rode back on Charlie, dozing in the saddle after three days
without sleep. Christy worried about him, she always would, but she knew he would always come home to her, and the thought
that one day that her home would indeed be under the same roof as his never failed to bring a smile, and a blush, to her
face.

Neil emerged from the mission, saddlebags in hand, and smiled at the two women. Clara Spencer bounded down the steps, her
scraped knee all bandaged, calling back over her shoulder that she'd have her Ma stop over for payment tomorrow as she
rejoined her friends.

"And what shall the Spencer payment be this time?" Alice asked, watching with a knowing smile as Neil leaned against the
railing folding his arm in front of his broad chest as he chewed on a pea pod that he'd snagged from Christy's lap.

He grinned. "Well since they don't get 'rent' anymore I decided that Fairlight would have to double up on her reading
lessons for the rest of the month, to make up for the ones she missed while Miss Huddleston here was sick."

Christy smiled up at him, knowing full well the reason he'd done it. Just yesterday she'd told him how she missed seeing
Fairlight for her reading lessons. "You seem to like this payment plan, Doctor."

"Aye I do. It's a good thing I decided to keep it," he teased. They all knew full well that he didn't have a choice. The
people of Cutter Gap seemed to prefer it this way. "Well ladies I would love to stay and chat but I need to go check up on
one of the families in Raven Gap. Seems the mother has just given birth to twins." Kneeling down in front of Christy he
took her hands in his. "I'll only be a few days, I promise. Will you miss me?"

Christy smiled at him. Reaching out she pushed back a stray curl from his face. "But of course. I always miss you when
you're not here."

Neil smiled and kissed her forehead before gathering his saddlebags and calling for Charlie who was grazing in the field
nearby. The horse didn't respond but just kept on grazing, eating to his hearts content. "Charlie, blast it! Come here!"
Neil called.

With a smile Christy whistled a small musical song that sounded like a bird singing in the early morning sun. Immediately
Charlie trotted over to the railing and was rewarded with a pea pod. Looking at Neil she saw the look of surprise that
held his mouth open and his eyes on hers. Suddenly Christy burst into laughter at the hilarity of the situation, resigning
her body to it as she really laughed for the first time since Neil had been back, wiping the tears of mirth from her eyes.
Sharing a smile with Alice, Neil mounted Charlie and the sound of Christy's laughter dug itself a place in his heart as it
accompanied him away from the mission.


The End