Neil improved daily. He ate soup for Christmas dinner, but he did so in the dining room. On New Years day he chopped firewood. Christy watched him from the porch, concern etched into her features. He panted and fumbled it, but persisted. That evening, he proposed returning to his cabin.
Christy was about to protest but Miss Alice beat her to it.
"You chopped enough firewood to boil a single pot of water Neil. I can't spare Christy to cook and clean for you – not yet. There's no hurry to leave."
Ruby Mae looked from Christy to the Doctor, "What do you mean, Miss Alice? Not yet? It's no secret they're sweet on eachother but I didn't realise... Oh lordy."
Miss Alice put her hand to her mouth, an apologetic look in her eyes as she looked from Christy to Neil.
"It's alright," Christy smiled wryly, "My parents gave their blessing – there's no need to keep it a secret anymore."
"Oh lordy! Teacher's gonna marry the Doc! This is the best news ever." Ruby Mae pushed her chair back and hugged Christy, then bounced from the room.
Neil laughed. "And that is how you announce an engagement in Cutter Gap."
They were married in Cutter Gap in March. The snow was melting, crocuses dotting the hillsides. Miss Alice officiated. After so much loss, celebrating life was the natural response, healing and faith-restoring to every witness. The Huddlestons looked out of place, but celebrated without reservation.
"This is not how I imagined your wedding would be." Julia Huddleston, took Christy's arm and tugged her away from the crowd.
It was warm in the sun and they walked, holding shawls around their shoulders, arm in arm. "I know, Mother."
"But it was beautiful. I don't know how I missed it, but you grew up." She fingered Christy's hair. "No wonder the Doctor can't keep his eyes off you."
"We'll visit in the summer – or you could come to us. I'm sure Doctor MacNeil would like a guided tour of Ashville. So long as you're the guide, perhaps."
She nodded, "That might be the secret ingredient, yes."
"I must admit, this place is growing on me. I am looking forward to a few of the comforts at home, but leaving you is always hard."
"When do you go?"
"You'll want fewer visitors for a while," the older woman smiled, cheeky and knowing.
It was toasty under the covers and freezing everywhere else – well, the couple inches of forehead that she dared expose. She rolled from side to side, cocooning herself in blankets. Neil wasn't beside her, but a moment alone was nice – to blush without an audience, remembering the night past. It was a bewildering adjustment. She had to remind herself not to feel guilty, that she was allowed to grin stupidly at the recollection, and the anticipation.
She wanted to see him. Half out of bed, she realized she wasn't dressed. Her clothes were in the closet, her nightgown must be there too. Her wedding dress was draped not-so-carefully over a chair. She wrapped the blanket around herself and went to the wardrobe.
She looked around the wardrobe door. Neil grinned when he saw her.
"Goodmorning." He held out a cup of tea.
"Thank you." She held the blanket in place with one hand, and took the tea cup.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Very well." She could barely drink for smiling.
"This is an interesting dress." He reached out, hands tentative on her waist.
"Making you blush is a new favourite hobby of mine."
"Can't be very challenging."
"No, but life's full of challenges. I'll take easy when it comes." He rubbed her arm. "Are you cold?"
"A little – that's why I was looking for a dress."
"You could just go back to bed."
"That seems kind of lazy. What's the time?"
"Don't know – does it matter?" He guided her back to bed, putting the tea cup on her bedside table, then climbing in beside her. "It's not a bad dress." He unwrapped it to cover himself as well as her. His bare feet were cold against hers. "Obviously I'd prefer you without it."
She giggled and cuddled up to him, as much to avoid being looked at. "Nonetheless I should probably get dressed most mornings."
He sighed, comically disappointed. "Okay, you can wear the blanket dress."
"What if someone came to the door?"
"I'll tell them to go away. You're on your honeymoon – if not now, then when?"
"What if it's an emergency? You should probably start getting used to the idea of my wearing actual clothes."
"But I was just starting to get used to your not wearing them."
She poked him in the ribs and he grabbed her hand, kissing her fingers. She wriggled away to get her cup of tea, sitting up just enough to drink it, blanket tucked securely under her arms.
He lay on his side and watched her. "It is somewhat surreal, having you here."
She nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. It was quite the mental adjustment. This was now her bed – her bedroom. Her clothes were hung up in the closet next to Neil's trousers. Strange. So strange. Wonderful, but strange. She finished her tea and put the cup down. "Oh, I didn't think – you must be hungry."
"I could eat. You must be hungry too. I suppose I'll have to let you get dressed some time." He lay back, as if waiting for her to get on with it, right there in front of him.
She rolled toward him, "Neil, maybe you could..." she couldn't think of an excuse for privacy.
"I haven't had my eyes closed, Christy."
"I know, it's just... all very new."
He smiled, touched her cheek, her hair. "I'll start on breakfast."
"You don't have to."
"It's alright. Take your time." He kissed her and left.
She dressed quickly and found him chopping mushrooms. There was a fire blazing in the hearth and it was a few degrees warmer as soon as she stepped through from their bedroom into the living room. "What can I do?"
He handed her two eggs and a fork. "Omlette?"
"Sounds good. I'm so hungry. What time is it?"
He looked over her shoulder to the clock on the mantlepiece. "Ten to Ten."
"That's not so bad."
"No, considering how little sleep you got. Sorry, couldn't resist."
She'd have plenty of opportunity to learn to stop herself from blushing if he continued the way he was going. "How long have you been up?"
"Not long – I made a fire and a pot of tea." He shrugged. "I didn't want you to be cold when you woke up."
"Thank you. Between the fire and the tea you've set the standard pretty high for a morning routine."
"I remember you once saying you found it hard getting up in the morning."
She smiled – a strange, but kind of sweet thing for him to remember – and added milk to her beaten eggs.
"But you were up before I got through bringing your tea to bed."
"I was coming to find you. If you'd been in bed when I'd woken up I doubt I'd have been up so soon."
They put together a breakfast of kings and ate by the fire.
"This is delicious. Where'd you get the mushrooms?" Christy finished the last one on her plate.
"A patient. But there are a few places nearby you can pick them. I'll show you sometime."
She nodded, "There's so much I need to learn."
"What?" he shook his head, "I've been fending for myself for years. I don't expect you to suddenly start doing it all – certainly not by yourself. You'll still have schoolwork, after all."
"But..." she wasn't sure exactly why this concerned her. She didn't want to let him down, for starters, but there were other considerations.
"We might do things a little differently from our neighbours. For a while, at least."
"Alright, but I do want to learn."
"You will. No hurry though." he leaned over and kissed her, "It's you that I want, everything else is just details."