A/N: Apologies for the long silence. We moved to France. Yep. Been a little crazy. But hopefully I can get this wrapped up soon. As for my other stories: I think they are finished. If there's a particular aspect of one that you feel is really unresolved, let me know and I'll have another look. Please be specific :)
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Walking out into the first day of spring, and out of view of the school house, Christy breathed a sigh of relief. She'd been inside far too much lately, due predominantly to the weather; weather and mood. Her mood had been flat, or if she was totally honest, low.
Waiting was exhausting. With no end in sight, and no clear picture of what she was waiting for, it seemed interminable. She tried to focus on the children, on her work, and succeeded some of the time.
She saw very little of Neil. It was probably for the best. Twice, he had shown his face at church. She knew it must be difficult, being the object of such speculation and interest for doing something as ordinary as attending church. She could hardly blame him for avoiding it most of the time. He'd been by to stock the mission's medical supplies, and she'd seen him at the Spencer's once, another time at the McHone's, and for one lesson at the school.
She'd been nervous that day, fearing herself as much as Neil, if they were left alone after the children went home. Miss Alice's vote of confidence was cold comfort. Christy knew that there was a line, be it ever-so-blurry, which might easily be crossed without intent. When he arrived for his lesson, she hadn't seen him for two weeks. Her stomach knotted under his gaze. Her mouth went dry when he grinned at her; she was all too aware of how he affected her.
But sunshine and the view across the mountains lifted her out of her funk. She took a deep breath of cold mountain air, stretched her arms up above her head, and remembered that she'd been fine before all of this had happened. It was possible, no matter how hard to believe, that she could be fine again, even if everything went pear-shaped.
And it wasn't everything. Just one friendship; one very important friendship. But just one friendship. One person.
She sighed, unconvinced, and let her arms dropped to her sides. A good walk might help.
She wound her way through the trees and up a familiar path to one of her favourite views. Heading back, a while later, she could see most of the way back to the mission. She saw Neil coming long before he reached her. She could avoid him if she really wanted to. Making up her mind was a challenge. She continued on her route, hoping certainty would come to her.
"Christy!" He spotted her and called out.
She waved, then walked on to meet him. Too late to escape now.
"Alice said I'd find you out here."
"You found me."
"Were you hiding?"
She smiled. "Not well."
"You don't mind some company?" He seemed anxious, hesitant and restless at once.
"Not at all."
They continued walking down the mountain but veered off the direct path back to the mission, meandering along the side of a small stream. Further down it fed into the river.
Christy was loathe to break the silence, but he'd come in search of her for a reason and he might be waiting for her to ask. "Was there a reason you were looking for me?"
"Would you believe just the pleasure of your company?"
"No, there was something." He sighed, slowed, then stopped walking.
She watched him, waiting.
"I got a letter today." He sunk his hands deep in his pockets. She half expected him to pull out said letter, but no. He hesitated to say more.
There was only one subject that made him hesitate like that. "From Margaret?"
He shook his head. "From my lawyer." He smiled an irrepressible smile. "The divorce. It's done. He said it was relatively uncomplicated, considering all the circumstances." He exhaled, trying to keep control of his clearly confused feelings. "It's done."
Christy smiled, then wondered if she should but couldn't stop it.
He looked at her her. "I'm free."
She nodded, watching him nervously, trying to take it in.
He moved his mouth, as if contemplating several things to say, and then settled on one: "Shall we keep going?" He pointed to the path.
She nodded, relieved. She could keep walking, no problem. She'd known this was coming, she'd even hoped for it, but now that it had happened, she didn't know what to think or say or do.
Neil didn't speak initially either. "I thought you should hear it from me."
"Thank you. Yes, I suppose you'll be the talk of the cove for some time."
"And just when they'd gotten over my darkening the door of the church."
She dared to look over at him and then couldn't pull her gaze away.
"I only hope this won't keep me from my work. People are bound to take it seriously – I mean, it is serious, but I'll be unwelcome in some cabins, at first at least. I just hope no one's put in danger because of some..." He sighed and shook his head.
"Perhaps you needn't tell people. I mean, what difference does it make to any of them?"
"I don't want you tainted if it all comes out at once, Christy. I'll weather this storm – perhaps it won't be so bad."
"I don't think anyone paints you as the villain in this tale."
"Well I certainly deserve some share of the blame, but I suppose you're right. The cove won't necessarily see it that way." He stopped at a fork in the path. "I don't have quite your talent for expecting the best in everyone."
"Talent? I thought it was naivete."
Neil grinned cheekily. "Which way?"
Christy looked across the babbling stream, then down past Neil, back toward his cabin.
"We've a decent way to go even if we cross now, but my cabin's not far. I've not much to offer but a pot of tea. Still, if you'd like."
"I know where we are Neil." She assured him. "Tea would be lovely, but perhaps back at the mission."
He gave a nod and waited for her to pass him. "Very wise."
She laughed, finding her footing on a slippery stone. "Maybe I've just walked a long way today."
"Maybe we should let one storm pass before walking into another."
She hesitated in the middle of the stream, trying to determine which route across the stones was least likely to result in wet petticoats.
Neil took another path entirely and leapt up onto the bank, holding out his hand to her.
"Well, I'd have done that too, if I were wearing trousers."
"Of course." He pulled her up to him and kept hold of her hand. "I know you can cross the mountain by yourself. You've nothing to prove to me."
She smiled up at him, gave his hand a quick squeeze and then pulled hers free and continued up the bank. There seemed too little a barrier between them. She didn't trust herself, and he could be entirely unpredictable.
"I've hardly seen you lately, it seems." He broke the silence once they reached a path where they could walk side-by-side again.
"It's been busy."
"And I suppose, if I'm honest, I've kept my distance."
"I thought as much. And now?"
She sighed. "I feel like this shouldn't make any difference, but of course it does."
"It doesn't have to Christy. You've made no promise."
She realised he must be experiencing all the turmoil she felt, and more. They were nearing the edge of the trees. If she wanted a private moment, now was the time. She couldn't let him doubt her, and yet it was all happening so quickly. Only a few hours ago she'd lamented the endless waiting, the interminable, indefinite 'maybe' that had been hanging over her head for weeks, months even. And now it felt too quick.
She turned off the path and sat down on a damp log.
He realised a moment later and followed her. "Are you all right?"
She nodded and stood up again, fighting the desire to pace. "I know things have changed and, no doubt, will continue to do so. I may be," she sighed, "nervous and inexperienced, but my feelings haven't changed – won't change. You've no reason to doubt me. Do you?"
He smiled and shook his head. "None at all. But you'll have to forgive me if I occasionally doubt you, and everything else. Reason aside."
She reached over and took his hand, pulled the glove from his fingers and put it in her pocket. His hands were rough and strong, and yet capable of such delicate, tenderness. She held his hand between the both of hers, and looked at their fingers intertwined, wondering at the strange and wonderful reality before her.
Eventually she looked up at him, wondering at his silence, and was struck by the emotion in his expression. His jaw was tense, eyes swimming with un-shed tears.
He blinked, and moved to turn away.
She let go of his hand. If this was going quickly for her then surely, for Neil, it must be at least as fast – at least as overwhelming.
He stopped mid-escape and smiled. "Shall we continue? To the mission."
She handed him his glove and nodded. "Very wise."