I have just finished re-watching the TV series starring Kellie Martin, Tyne Daly, Stewart Finlay-McLennan and Randall Batinkoff so it was definitely their voices that I heard in my head as I was writing this story.
This is my first Christy fanfic and, while not necessarily as in depth as I might like, I wanted to post it before I chickened out. If you like it, I have a few other ideas for Christy, David, Neil and the others rolling around in my head.
The Hostage – Epilogue
"Miss Alice, may I speak to you for a moment?" Christy Huddleston asked, sitting down at the table in the Mission house.
"Of course. Willst thou join me in a cup of tea?" The Quaker woman asked, reaching for another of her Haviland cups.
"Thank you," Christy said, smiling as the rich scent of Earl Grey reached her nostrils. Alice Henderson was as frugal as anyone that Christy had ever known, but the woman refused to skimp on a good cup of tea. Every other month a box containing a tin each of Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Darjeeling made it's way to the Mission from a tea shop in Knoxville.
"Miss Alice, do you think there's something wrong with Dr. MacNeill?" Christy asked, absently stirring a teaspoonful of sugar into the hot liquid.
Miss Alice paused, peering speculatively into the concerned blue eyes across from her.
"Why does thee ask?" she finally asked, gently. She knew that Christy sometimes was hesitant to talk to her about Neil for fear of inadvertently saying something that would upset Alice. Miss Alice knew that she had only herself to blame for that, given her prickly attitude towards Christy during that time before Margaret had come back last year; the time in which Alice could see Neil's growing affection towards the young teacher. Alice had asked Christy's forgiveness and had received it wholeheartedly; however she also knew that Christy sometimes sidestepped talking with her about personal matters pertaining to the doctor.
"Well, he's been stopping by every few days to check on David's shoulder, and he hardly says two words to me. Just 'hello' and 'goodbye'. And even at school during Chemistry lessons, he never speaks to me directly," she struggled to explain. "He'll tell the students 'Now, Miss Huddleston will be quizzing you on this before next week's class, so pay attention" or something along those lines, as if he's talking to me through them. He never looks me directly in the eye, either. And, is it my imagination or….does he seem to be … losing weight?"
Miss Alice sighed and sat her cup into the delicate saucer.
"No, Christy, I don't believe that it's thy imagination. I've noticed it as well, not that he'd entertain the notion when I mentioned it to him yesterday," the older woman said in the half serious, half humorous tone that was so characteristic of her. "I believe that Neil is struggling with guilt."
"Guilt? Over Mrs. Tatum? Miss Alice, I knew that he felt that he was responsible but you said that you'd talked to him and…." Christy trailed off as Miss Alice held up her hand.
"While I do, indeed, believe that Neil is still blaming himself over Mrs. Tatum's tragic death, I believe that the heart of Neil's guilt lies with you," Alice said, removing her glasses and rubbing the bridge of her nose.
"With me?" Christy asked, her expressive eyes widening.
"With thee, with David….but mostly with thee," Miss Alice nodded.
"Miss Alice, I don't blame Neil for anything that happened, neither does David. It's not his fault that Mr. Tatum did the things that he did," Christy said, sick at heart to think that Neil would be blaming himself over the events that occured two weeks ago.
"Miss Huddelston, thee knows that and I know that, however convincing Neil MacNeill of that is a completely separate matter," Miss Alice said, once again taking a sip of her tea. "Not only is he a man…an exceptionally stubborn man….but when Mr. Tatum threatened your life…. well, Neil immediately was ready to exchange his life for yours. I took the decision for him to meet Mr. Tatum alone out of his hands because I feared the outcome."
Christy had been so preoccupied with David's wellbeing that she hadn't heard this part of the story. She knew that Sam Houston had made it back to Cutter Gap and had gotten reinforcements, although Miss Alice had been even more effective in the long run than the armed men. And after Mr. Tatum had released her, she had been so relieved, so very thankful that David's hadn't been killed that she hadn't taken in how very quiet Neil had been. Now she wondered how she could have been so blind.
"Christy, I do believe," Miss Alice began, clearing her throat, "I believe that Neil might benefit from a visit from you."
"Of course," Christy said quietly. "I'll go right away."
As Christy wandered through the woods towards Dr. MacNeill's cabin, she was struck once again by the serenity that surrounded it. The sound of the river that ran alongside it was both soothing and refreshing to the senses. The cabin itself was as old as most of the other cabins in Cutter Gap but it was always kept in good repair. There was an assortment of straight backed chairs, primitive tables and odds and ends of fishing equipment on the porch that made it clear that a male occupied the premises, but it wasn't untidy.
Christy couldn't repress a small smile over the fact that sometimes the porch was in better shape than the inside of the cabin. She had been inside the cabin when it had been very neat and orderly, however she had also been inside it when the kitchen/living area appeared to have been inhabited by a bear. But on the occasions that she had been in his laboratory it was always immaculate with everything in it's proper place and neat notes piled on the desk. She reflected on that for a moment….he was willing to sacrifice personal order for himself but didn't compromise on his patients.
Climbing the steps she saw Neil MacNeill sitting on the porch in a straight backed chair reading some kind of magazine that was spread out on a table in front of him. He looked up as she approached.
"Miss Huddleston," he said in a neutral tone, diverting his gaze from hers. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
The fact that it wasn't a pleasure and that the doctor was decidedly uncomfortable was clear to Christy.
"I feel as if I haven't talked to you in a very long time so I thought I'd come to 'Swap Howdys', as Little Burl would say," Christy said, attempting a tone of lightness. "What are you reading?"
"Medical journal," Neil said in an abrupt tone. "Perhaps if I'd read it a few weeks ago I could have actually helped my patient instead of doing more harm than good."
Christy looked over his shoulder and saw the title of the article that he was reading; "The Mentally Unstable in Relation to the Medical Profession".
"Neil, you have got to stop blaming yourself," Christy said, dropping down onto a small wooden footstool beside the doctor's chair and looking up into his face. "You were just trying to help Mrs. Tatum, you had absolutely no way of knowing that she would take her own life."
"You sound just like Alice Henderson," Neil muttered, slapping the magazine shut and shoving it away from him.
"I'll take that as a compliment," she said and then continued gently. "She's right, you know. Neil, none of what happened was your fault."
"Oh really? Then whose fault was it?" Neil fumed, his voice rising. "A woman is DEAD. David Grantland was shot and LEFT for dead and Sam Houston and you were kidnapped. Who do you think is responsible for all of it, Christy? Answer me that!"
"Mrs. Tatum was heartbroken after her baby died and even before that she had trouble, emotionally. Miss Alice told me that," Christy said. "She made a terrible decision, but that wasn't your fault. And Mr. Tatum made more terrible decisions by acting out of pain too, but for him to blame you makes no more sense than for you to blame yourself."
"Christy, what if Jarvis Tatum had shot you?" Neil exploded, grabbing her shoulders and squeezing them so tightly that Christy winced. He quickly let go but angry, desperate words continued to flow forth from him. "He DID shoot Grantland, you can't say that he would never have intentionally hurt you! If he had hurt you or ….worse…I would never be able to live with myself," he finished, his voice shaking with emotion.
"I believe that God has a purpose for everything but I can't even begin to understand why He allows some people to die and others to live," Christy said, desperately clutching one of Neil's hands in both of her smaller ones as he started to turn away. "No, please….listen to me. You're one of the best doctors that I've ever known and you work SO hard to take care of everyone here in the Cove. I look around my classroom and at church on Sundays and I can't begin to count how many people that you've helped….how many people who wouldn't be here if you hadn't saved their lives. Bob Allen, Little Burl, Lundy Taylor….and so many others."
The doctor hadn't interrupted so Christy pressed on, holding his gaze.
"But even the best doctor in the whole world can't save every single patient," she said softly, squeezing his hand. "Sometimes people will die and you can't carry that weight on your shoulders. And other times people will make terrible decisions but, in the end, they're responsible for those decisions, not you."
Looking into Neil MacNeill's eyes, Christy saw something that she'd seldom, if ever, seen. Uncertainty. She could tell that he was listening to her and wanted to believe what she was saying, but the guilt that had such a hold on him was hard to let go of.
Reaching up, she lay a hand on his upper arm and gently finished.
"David is getting better every day and I am just fine. Neither one of us blames you for anything that happened, Neil. One of the smartest men that I've ever known once told me 'If you flog yourself over this, you're no good to anyone'," Christy said, softly. "I just wish that he could take his own advice."
Neil studied her upturned face for a few moments more then, almost imperceptibly, nodded. His eyes dropped to the remaining small hand that was clutching his, absently tracing a small crescent shaped scar upon one of the knuckles with his thumb.
"Besides," Christy said, the corners of her lips turning up in the smallest of smiles to attempt to break the tension. "If you keep avoiding me, who am I going to argue with?"
The sight of those familiar lines creasing in the corners of the doctor's eyes lifted Christy's heart. It wasn't a full on smile, but his mouth relaxed and the lines on his forehead eased.
"We DO do a bit of that, don't we," he said, his voice quiet and warm, in such contrast to the anger that had been there such a short time ago.
"Yes, we do," she smiled, squeezing his arm before releasing it. "But I'll tell you a secret. I've come to enjoy it….well…most of the time."
"As do I," he admitted still gazing at her hand as his thumb continued to play over her knuckle. To Christy's surprise he raised her hand and gently pressed a kiss against the small scar before, reluctantly it seemed, releasing it.
Raising his head, it seemed that Neil suddenly became aware of his surroundings and realized that the sun was beginning to drop behind the trees.
"Did you walk here?" he asked, clearly just now realizing that neither Prince nor Theo were anywhere around.
"Let me saddle Charlie, I'll ride you back to the Mission," Neil said, standing and starting down the porch steps.
"It was part of my plan, you know," Christy said, a bit of smugness creeping into her tone.
"Plan?" Neil questioned, pausing half way down the steps.
"Yes. Miss Alice and I don't think you're eating enough so she told me to convince you to come back with me for dinner," Christy said, a smile quirking the corners of her mouth as she leaned against the porch railing. "I knew that you were too much of a gentleman to let me walk home in the dark."
That earned her a genuine laugh that was pure music to her ears as Neil MacNeill walked down the remaining stairs with a much lighter step than he'd had in weeks.
As she watched Neil walk to the barn, Christy offered up a prayer of thanks to the Lord for giving her the words to help ease the doctor's heart. He had been such an important part of her life ever since she'd arrived in Cutter Gap and, even though he professed that he didn't believe in God, he had been a source of her own deepening faith. He challenged her to think about what she believed and not just accept what others said. And she was thankful for the fact that, as she had questioned her faith and searched for answers, she discovered for herself a God that never failed.
Gazing down at her hand that rested on the porch railing, Christy saw the small scar there, a souvenir from an encounter with a barbed wire fence at her Granny Huddleston's farm when she was small. She touched it and remembered the warmth of Neil's lips against it.
Looking off into the sun setting through the trees, turning the leaves brilliant shades of red, gold and brown, Christy drew in a deep, contented breath.
It was a beautiful day.