Chapter 21

After the meal, everyone helped clearing the table and doing the dishes, after which everyone settled down on a couch or chair, some even sitting down on the floor. Gifts that had been awaiting under the Christmas tree, were now distributed, and Nate and Beverly had even managed to get a gift for Oliver, Lynn and Steven. When Oliver received his, Clint was on the receiving end of an amused glare. With a wide grin, the country doctor watched as Oliver took out a tie, still wrapped in its original box from when Oliver had given it to Clint as a Secret Santa gift.

After all gifts, except the one for Donna, were unwrapped, Nate took the Bible and read from Matthew 1 and 2 the story of how Jesus came to the Earth. They prayed, then Clint took out his guitar, and they sang several Christmas songs.

Oliver and Lynn sat on a couch together, and the doctor watched Raul as he sang along with the song 'Away in a Manger'. How much pain had the boy experienced already in his short life? Yet he hadn't let the sadness of losing his mother overwhelm him. He hadn't become bitter. Could it be because the boy was a Christian? No, surely it would have been because of the loving family he had found in Nate and Beverly Jackson… and also in doctor Cassidy. … But they were all Christians too…

Casting a look at the father of nurse Nichol, he wondered, did it really make such a big difference? Suddenly he knew with certainty that if he'd ask any of his colleagues, yes, he would even call them friends, they would all say 'yes'. He remembered Jenny, and how she'd touched his heart. He remembered the words she had said when he told her why he indeed had to leave. "Then I'll ask Jesus if He can bring you to your family soon, so they're not alone."

The sweet child was separated from her own family, and had prayed for the stranger to get home so his family wouldn't be alone. What a compassion that child had.

"Lynn?" he said quietly, his arm around his wife's shoulders. She leaned against him. "Yes?"

"Perhaps we should go to church on Sunday."

Lynn looked at him questioningly, but upon seeing her husband's serious look, decided she would ask him later.

Meanwhile, Tippy and Steven were sitting cozily together, catching up with each other after two months apart. Paul was playing with Mattie and Gracie, while talking to Nate from time to time.

"Hey, Paul… would you perhaps mind to coming to babysit every now and then?" Nate asked after a while. Paul looked up at him in surprise. "Babysit? Me? But… it's been ages since I've last looked after a baby. I mean, Nancy has grown up, don't you know?"

Nate chuckled. "Oh, I know. But the kids love you, and you certainly know how to handle them. Just, think about it, ok?" the police officer said, as he picked Mattie up to put him in bed. Gracie looked up, walked towards the older man, and whispered conspiratorially, "If you come watch over Mattie, I'll come sleep over."

Paul grinned, and hugged her tightly to him to cover up how overwhelmed he felt by the love he was given by these people. He looked around, then back at the girl smiling up at him, and realized that when you searched for human company itself, it would never be enough, but when you search for God's company, He will provide the human company in addition. The verse from Matthew… came to mind. 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God…' How true!

Inwardly, Paul shook his head when he remembered how he'd wanted to keep Clint and Nancy apart even for a second. He looked at them, and started to smile widely when he saw they were sitting close together on the floor. Clint leaning against the wall, Nancy leaning against him, and the guitar Clint had been playing up to a few moments before, now put against the wall as well. They were quietly talking to each other, occasionally laughing, a smile almost permanent on their faces. He was in no doubt of it anymore. Those two had talked. And he was genuinely happy for them.

Nellie, Derek, and Beverly had been chatting, with Raul occasionally speaking up as well from his new book. How the conversation turned in that direction, they weren't sure, but at some point they started talking about relationships. Nellie and Derek had been together since college, Nate and Beverly were slowly heading towards the ten year mark. Of course Tippy and Steven had only just been married. No one was quite sure about Oliver and Lynn – in fact, this had been the first time anyone apart from the Heberts had met Oliver Crane's wife. Well, Donna knew her too, but she had gone to her family's of course. And then there was the hopeless case of Nancy and Clint.

"I wonder when they'll ever realize they belong together?" Beverly said, shaking her head. "You know, if… what are you guys looking at?" she asked upon seeing that her conversation partners were staring at something behind her.

"I think," Nellie said softly, "they have realized it."

Beverly turned around in her seat slightly, and saw what Derek and Nellie, and Paul also, had already seen. "When did that happen?" she asked, seeing Nancy and Clint, shoulder to shoulder, completely focused on each other. They had always been close, and that would occasionally extend to giving each other a hug, or an arm around the shoulder, but even so, they never sat this close together for any length of time. Something was different.

"You don't think they…" Derek started to ask.

"They what?" Nellie asked.

"Well, you don't think they actually… you know… talked?"

"Derek, they talk constantly, you know that." Nellie shook her head, but she was just teasing her husband. Of course she knew what he was talking about. She was glad to see that Nancy had indeed done some thinking since they last talked a few days ago.

Derek gave her a look that told her he knew she was teasing him. "Nellie, you know what I mean. Do you think they might have realized they love each other, and have actually told each other?"

Nellie and Beverly exchanged an amused look. "Yes, Derek, it certainly looks that way."

Meanwhile, completely oblivious to all the looks and speculation, Nancy and Clint were in their own world. Nancy reveled in being able to just lean on Clint in more than the emotional sense of the word. She felt safe and loved in his presence, and wished she wouldn't ever have to leave his embrace. As if he read her mind, his arm tightened a little around her shoulders. She looked up into his eyes, and felt she could just gaze into them all night.

"Hey Nance?" Clint whispered.

"Yeah?" she whispered back.

"I think the others are catching on."

For a moment, Nancy didn't say a thing. Then a smile curled her lips, as she whispered, "In that case, we wouldn't be giving anything away if I did this…"

She drew a little closer and gave Clint a kiss.

Ignoring the whistles and the exclamations of joy, Clint breathed out slowly. "Nope, don't think we gave anything away."

"Do you think we can continue to ignore them?" Nancy whispered, wanting him to say yes, but knowing what his answer was likely to be.

"Unfortunately, I don't think so." Clint said softly. "But I know something to keep your mind off them for a little while longer…"

"Sounds good, Cowboy, what's that?"

From the look that got into Clint's eyes, she realized he hadn't meant the kiss she'd first been expecting.

"Nancy, I know this may be a little bit soon, but… well, I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you." Nancy gasped, sensing where this was going. "If it's too soon, that's ok, I'll back off…" Nancy started smiling and put her finger on Clint's lips to stop the flow of words. "Just say what you want to say."

Clint smiled a little, taking her hand away from his mouth, and asked, "Nancy Nichol, will you marry me?"

"Yes!" Raul's young voice suddenly rang out, startling everyone. "Raul!" Beverly scolded. "Sorry," Raul mumbled bashfully. Clint and Nancy grinned, before turning back to look at each other, not realizing everyone else in the room was holding their breath.

"Clint, I love you too, and I don't even want to imagine a life without you…" Nancy took a deep breath, looked Clint straight in the eyes, and said, "Yes, I'll marry you."

This time, there wasn't a soul that kept silent, and the air vibrated with excitement. Once everything had settled down again, Clint looked around contently, his arm once again around his now-fiancée's shoulders. He recalled the words he had spoken just before they had started the Christmas meal, about how God wanted to be together with them all, at Christmas and forever. He had realized this was also how he felt about Nancy, and had decided to pop the question tonight. It still amazed him a little Nancy had immediately said 'yes', but he was thrilled she had. They were now really together.

Looking around at his friends' faces, he knew that for many of them, those same words he'd spoken earlier had reminded them of the importance of both the relationship they had with their husband or wife, as well as with their Saviour. And wasn't that just what Christmas was all about?

The End

A/N: Thank you to all who've read and reviewed! It's both much appreciated. I hope you've all enjoyed this story. I do have another Christmas story if you're interested. In any case: Merry Christmas and a Blessed 2011!