This is my second Christy Fanfic. I know that you're supposed to write a story from one individuals perspective but Christy AND Neil's voice were vying for top billing in my head, so I started out with Christy's observations and ended with the Good Doctor's. I hope it doesn't make for a confusing read. AND, imagine my horror when I realized that I've been spelling Neil MacNeill's last name incorrectly? ACK! But I think I've got it corrected now.
Christy Huddleston looked out of the window of the Mission house and, to her relief, saw Alice Henderson approaching on foot, leading her horse. Christy envied Miss Alice the brisk walk through the beautiful fall countryside. Christy felt as if she had been cooped up in the house for days with Miss Ida; cooking, cleaning and re-arranging the furniture in addition to teaching at the school during the day and planning her school lessons in the evening. While Miss Ida was incredibly industrious, clearly having been raised in the "idle hands are the Devil's workshop" school of thought, she did come up as severely lacking as a conversationalist. Therefore, with Miss Alice away and David having been home only sporadically in the evenings, Christy hadn't had the opportunity to indulge in the kinds of in depth conversations that she routinely enjoyed with Miss Alice.
Christy's mind had been whirling for the last week, ever since her parents had left after Thanksgiving. Fairlight Spencer had brought over baskets of persimmons and she and Miss Ida had showed Christy how to turn the beautiful orange fruit into persimmon preserves, persimmon butter and scads of other good things to eat. Christy couldn't wait to tell Miss Alice about the shipment that they'd sent to Asheville to her parents house as Christy's mother had been convinced that the women from her church would be eager to purchase the items.
Not only that, but the women had decided to pitch in together and make three quilts to send to Asheville to sell. While this wouldn't completely make up for the lost crops, the money would definitely help to ease the financial burdens for several of the families.
Miss Alice had spent the last several days in Cataleeche, assisting an entire family who had come down with influenza. She had spent her time not only caring for their health needs but also doing laundry for them. She was already tired to the bone when her horse had come up lame from a loose shoe about four miles from the Mission house, causing her to walk the final distance. All she craved was a warm bath and her nice, soft bed but, by the time she finally reached the house, she was willing to forego the bath and just collapse into her bed.
Christy burst out of the double doors of the Mission, waving at Miss Alice as she hopped down the stairs. The sight of her eager face managed to put a smile on that of the older woman.
"Miss Alice, I'm so glad you're back! How is the family in Cataleeche? Just wait till I tell you about all the things that Fairlight and Miss Ida and I made…" Christy launched into a thread of chatter as she accompanied Miss Alice to the barn and assisted in unsaddling the horse.
For her part, Miss Alice's eyes had glazed over after Christy's initial greeting. By the time they'd finished grooming her horse Miss Alice couldn't help but stare at the young teacher. She saw Christy's mouth moving but could swear that she heard Ruby Mae's voice coming out of it. Finally, she held up her hand.
Christy paused in mid sentence, looking at Miss Alice curiously.
"There are times in our life ... when our mind is overly excited ... that silence and personal solitude is necessary," the Quaker woman said in what she hoped was an encouraging tone, however she felt as if she was battling for self preservation.
"But….I've had a week of near solitude already," Christy said in a puzzled tone. "At least in the evenings with Miss Ida."
"Yes…but that was inside," Miss Alice said, grasping at straws. "Now, there's finally a nip in the air, the leaves are turning and God has painted the entire outdoors with His glory. It will be here for such a short time before the snows begin that it would be unconscionable to spend such a glorious day cooped up in the house. What you need is a nice, long walk…and perhaps a good book…or your sketch pad! And perhaps a picnic basket with a sandwich, maybe some cheese…and a blanket to spread out on the ground to enjoy it all."
The entire time that Miss Alice had been talking she had been prodding Christy along towards the Mission house, ignoring the "But's" and "I wanted to tell you's" that spilled from her mouth. They ended up in the kitchen with Miss Alice politely smiling at Ida Grantland.
"Miss Huddleston has decided that this is the perfect day for a picnic and I heartily concur. Good morning, ladies, I'm now off to bed," she said, heading towards the stairs.
Christy stared at the woman's retreating figure and then shifted her gaze to Miss Ida.
"I guess I'm going on a picnic," Christy shrugged as she heard the "thunk" of Miss Alice collapsing in her bed overhead.
Christy smiled as she walked through the beautiful countryside, swinging the basket by the sturdy wooden handle. It really was a gorgeous day, the colors had turned overnight and it was just cool enough to make a sweater feel comfortable.
She had decided that she wasn't going to be able to stick to the original plan of complete solitude and made her way to the Spencer cabin to visit with Fairlight for a bit. She was delighted when Fairlight showed her a roughed out sketch of the new quilt that she and some of the other women in the sewing circle were going to make. It was an intricate scene with mountains, trees and a cabin nestled in the middle of it all. It was beautiful.
Fairlight sent her on her way with two fluffy buttermilk biscuits leftover from breakfast and a pint of her delicious apple cider in a mason jar. She knew that Christy loved her cider and thought it would be a welcome addition to the impromptu picnic.
Christy walked to one of her favorite overlooks and spread the well worn quilt under a tree, sighing with pleasure as she sat down and took in the beautiful vista. Miss Alice was right, this was a welcome solitude. Even though she still didn't have anyone to talk to, her visit with Fairlight had soothed her soul and she was content to enjoy the day alone with God.
Leaning back against the tree, she withdrew the copy of David Copperfield that her father had sent and lost herself in the story of the engaging little orphan and the eccentric cast of characters that surrounded him.
Some time later, she had no idea how much time had passed except that David had begun his lonely trek from London to his Aunt Betsy Trotwood's house, she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. In the distance she saw a man walking up the ridge and, even at this distance, she knew that she would recognize that wild red hair anywhere.
She laid the book in her lap and shielded her eyes to get a better look at Neil MacNeill as he approached and her eyes widened at his appearance. He looked absolutely exhausted.
"And what are you doing out in the middle of nowhere, Miss Huddleston?" the doctor asked, leaning heavily against the tree that Christy was sitting beneath.
"I'm reading a book and enjoying my afternoon….you, on the other hand, look like you're ready to collapse. Neil, why don't you sit down before you fall down," Christy invited, scooting over on the quilt to make room for the doctor.
"Don't mind if I do," the weary man grunted, sinking down next to Christy and dropping his bags beside the tree.
"Where on earth have you been? You look terrible," Christy asked, concern written all over her face.
"Well, yesterday I started out at the O'Teale cabin, the oldest boy stepped on a rusty nail and put it through his foot. They're only a couple of miles from my place, it was a beautiful day and I decided to walk," Neil said, running his hand through his hair and then, looking at Christy, he continued dryly. "That was my first mistake."
"Well, just as I was leaving the O'Teale's, Jim Beck came running through the woods and said that he and Will had killed a deer and Will had sliced his hand open while they were dressing it," Neil continued, unable to hide a small smile as Christy wrinkled her nose. "Let's just say that Jim has a gift for understatement. When I got there, I ended up sewing Will's palm back together and reattaching one of his fingers."
"Oh my," Christy said, not sure if she was nauseated more by the image of the men butchering the deer or of Will Beck's hand being sliced opened.
"Then, I was standing in the Beck's front yard when Birds-eye Taylor came along saying one of his 'boys' had been shot," Neil sighed, weary of the never ending feuding that was part of these mountains. "So I ended up pulling a bullet out of his chest without a nurse and with only Birdseye as an assistant. I tell you, Miss Huddleston, I know that you don't have a very high opinion of yourself as a surgical assistant but I would have given my right arm to have you there last night. No," he finished, darkly. "I take that back. I wouldn't have you come anywhere near the kinds of men I had to deal with last night."
"Neil, Birdseye's cabin is miles and miles from yours," Christy gasped.
"About eleven," the doctor nodded, wearily waving his hand in the air. "I seemed to leap frog from one place to the next and the next thing I knew I was over ten miles from home without a horse. I was up all night with the gunshot wound; he was thrashing around when he came out of the ether, I had to stitch the wound closed twice."
Christy looked at this man in sympathy. He worked so hard to take care of people in the cove and it seemed that he was getting less and less sleep. She was also incredibly grateful for what he'd done for her father when he had had his stroke. She knew that Neil had been the difference between her father being an invalid for the rest of his life and giving him the opportunity to regain some, if not all of his health. And, right now, the exhaustion that was written all over Neil's face tugged at her heart. Suddenly, another thought popped into her thoughts.
"When was the last time you ate? You must be…" Christy paused as a loud growl split the air as if on cue "…starving."
"My apologies," the doctor said, his face flushing a deep red.
"Well, I can't do anything about your horse, but I can certainly feed you," Christy smiled brightly, reaching for the picnic basket.
"Oh, I don't want to disturb your lunch," Neil protested, all the while looking at what was being removed from the basket with interest.
"Don't be silly, there's plenty," she said, cheerfully.
Christy removed a large sandwich wrapped in newspaper, a small jar of bread and butter pickles that she'd snuck into the basket when Miss Ida's back was turned, two apples, the buttermilk biscuits that were slathered with some of Jeb Spencer's honey, a few slices of cheese tied in a napkin and half of a small loaf of persimmon bread. She completed the meal with the mason jar of Fairlight's cider and another of water.
"Miss Ida made turkey salad out of the last of the Thanksgiving turkey," Christy said, unwrapping the sandwich made with thick slices of homemade bread. "Do you have a knife? You could slice the apples."
The doctor pulled a pocket knife from his rumpled green trousers and quickly sliced the apples into very precise wedges, a fact that didn't escape Christy's notice and caused her to giggle. At Neil's questioning look, she explained.
"I'm sorry, I've just never seen anyone as meticulous at slicing an apple," she laughed.
"I'm a very handy fellow to have around, Miss Huddleston," Neil said solemnly although the corners of his eyes crinkled into the lines that Christy found oddly appealing.
"I'm sorry, I didn't bring a cup with me, I wasn't expecting company," Christy said as she unscrewed the lid of the mason jar full of cider. "We'll have to use the jar lids."
"Do you mind if I use some of the water to wash my hands? I feel filthy," the doctor asked.
"It's just like having lunch with Little Burl," Christy teased, pouring water into his cupped hands. "There's a napkin in the basket that you can dry on."
Neil rubbed his hands together and then, as an afterthought, rubbed them over his dusty face. He felt minimally better and reached inside the basket for the napkin, when his eyes came to rest upon Christy's sketchbook. Deciding to ask her about it later, he turned back to the feast before them.
Christy bowed her head and said a quick grace then the two settled into a companionable silence as they enjoyed the food. Neil personally couldn't remember the last time that food had tasted quite so good, although he also couldn't remember the last time that he'd been quite this hungry.
"Isn't this delicious?" Christy asked as she refilled Neil's makeshift cup with cider. "If you ask me, this is what they should be bottling and selling on this mountain."
"It is." He nodded in agreement. "At Christmas you'll have to ask her to let you sample some of her wassail. I've never tasted finer."
They talked about this and that, from the children at school to some of the news about the people that lived in the cove as they finished the last of the food. Christy had been subtly (or so she thought) passing most of the food to the doctor until he smiled and leaned back against the tree with a contented sigh.
"Enough," he chuckled as she offered another slice of the persimmon bread. "I'm full and you've not had more than half a sandwich and a few slices of apple."
"But I had breakfast….not to mention dinner last night," the school teacher pointed out.
"Possum again?" Neil asked in amusement.
"No. I'm so glad Miss Ida's back," Christy said, the corners of her lips quirking.
"Now that's not something that you hear every day," the doctor said lightly.
Reaching into the basket once again, he drew out the burgundy sketch book.
"Some of the children have mentioned your drawings. Would it be too presumptuous to ask if I could look at some of them?"
Christy hesitated for a moment, suddenly self conscious about the sketches in her book. She did them purely for her own pleasure but, for reasons that she could never quite put her finger on, Neil's good opinion was always important to her and she knew that she would be embarrassed if he found them lacking. But, shaking off her concerns, she answered.
"Of course not," she said, shifting closer to him to explain some of the first sketches that were of her home and friends.
Neil carefully wiped his hands on the napkin again before opening the book to the first page. What he found was a combination of a sketchbook and diary, and he gazed at the first drawing of a stately two story house. He flipped through the next few pages, quickly perusing the drawings before he looked up at Christy in surprise.
"These are very good," he said, his voice tinged with admiration. "Becky O'Teale told me about them when I thanked her again for the drawing that she gave to me. She said that it wasn't nearly as good as 'Teacher's' and now I understand what she meant. Have you taken classes?"
Christy flushed in pleasure at his praise.
"Thank you. I've always enjoyed drawing and when I started high school I took art classes but I learned the most from a woman who lived in the next block from us," Christy explained, leaning over to turn to a sketch of a tall, slim woman several pages past the drawing of the Huddleston home. "She was a retired art teacher at the local college. I took lessons from her for three years."
Flipping back to the beginning, Christy told him about the different drawings from her home in Asheville. But once that they got to the drawings from Cutter Gap, Neil once again looked up at her in wonder before continuing through the book. The pictures managed to capture not just the features of subject, but their very personality. The sketches of the children made the doctor smile.
"Do you know what the very first thing that I ever heard Mountie O'Teale say was?" Neil asked, his gaze roving over the picture of the little girl in the too big, plaid coat. When Christy shook her head, he continued. "She said 'Looky Doc MacNeill, Teacher gave me new buttons.'"
"Mountie's the reason that I stayed here," Christy said, smiling softly as she gazed over the doctor's shoulder. "After the fire at the church, I had packed and was just going to leave before anyone woke up, but I couldn't go without seeing the schoolhouse one more time. By that point I felt as useless and discouraged as I've ever felt in my life, and then I saw Mountie's coat still hanging on the peg at the back of the room. As silly as it sounds, I was bound and determined to do one useful thing before I left, so I yanked the buttons off of my cape and sewed them on her coat. I didn't know that she was in the doorway watching me, but the next thing I knew she was standing in front of me talking to me about the buttons on her coat. I decided that maybe I could do some good after all."
"Well then, thank goodness for Mountie O'Teale," Neil said, gently.
Neil quickly realized that the most detailed sketches were those of the people that Christy cared most about. The loving touches in the images of Fairlight Spencer and Alice Henderson made them come to life. There were sketches of many of the scenic overlooks that Neil was very familiar with, along with several of the family cabins in the cove. There was a portrait of David Grantland with the mountains in the background that was nearly lifelike. While it caused something to constrict in Neil's stomach, he had to admit that it was a perfect likeness.
Flipping to the next page, his eyes widened.
"This is me," he said, a smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"I drew it as a memory exercise," Christy said, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear as was her habit when she was trying not to show her nervousness. "I seem to always think of you on your horse."
The sketch showed Neil astride Charlie on top of a mountain ridge, his stance erect yet relaxed. He was looking off into the distance pensively, the reins in his right hand with his left resting on his thigh. One of the curls that seemed to forever fall down on his forehead was lifted in an imaginary breeze and he was clad in his familiar corduroy jacket and riding boots. The grooves in his forehead and the lines in the corners of his eyes added flawless detail to his face. Neil recognized each groove in the face of the drawing as being the same that he saw on the face that looked back at him in the mirror when he shaved in the mornings.
"Remarkable," he murmured, shaking his head.
"I'm glad you like it," Christy said, almost shyly.
"I do. Very much," he confirmed, studying the page a moment longer before turning to the next.
They looked through the rest of the book, with a sketch of Creed Allen and his pet raccoon, Scaliwag, drawing a genuine laugh from the doctor. The drawings ended half way through the book with the remaining pages being blank.
"I'm glad there are so many empty pages," Neil said, closing the book and running his hand over the cover. "That means you'll have room for more drawings."
"I was thinking of asking Hattie if she'd let me do a portrait of her," Christy confessed as the doctor handed the book back to her. "Do you think she'd mind?"
"I don't think you should have any trouble talking her into it, she likes you," Neil said, smiling at her.
"I like her too. I could listen to her sing all day, her voice is like the water that sparkles in the river," Christy said, tucking the book into the basket as Neil suddenly stifled a yawn behind his hand.
"Christy, I've truly enjoyed every minute with you today, but if I don't get on my way I'm never going to make it home," he said, the weariness coming back into his face as he reached for his saddlebags. "Remind me never to leave home again without a horse to throw these over, will you?"
Christy knew that Neil had a good five miles left to walk and impulsively reached out to touch his arm before he could stand.
"Neil, wait," she said, hesitating just for a moment before continuing. "You still have so far to go. Why don't you lie down and take a nap?"
"A nap?" the doctor asked, his eyebrows shooting up.
"Well….yes," Christy nodded. "I'm just going to sit here and read or draw. You could sleep for a couple of hours…."
Neil couldn't believe that he was seriously considering taking Christy up on her offer but suddenly the rest of the walk home seemed an impossible distance and nothing in the world was as appealing as the thought of just lying down on this blanket and sinking into oblivion.
"You're sure it wouldn't be an intrusion?" he asked, looking at her speculatively.
"Here," Christy said, reaching into the basket once more. "Take my shawl, fold it up into a pillow and lay down for a while."
She held the thick, soft shawl towards Neil as an offering and he found himself unable to resist, partly because of the appeal of the young woman who offered it and partly because he was simply dog tired.
"Thank you," he said, placing the shawl down on the quilt, removing his jacket, stretching out and then draping the jacket over his chest as an impromptu blanket. He sighed with pleasure as he felt his back pop.
"Good Lord, it feels good to lie down," he half groaned and half laughed, running a hand through his hair.
"Well, close your eyes and you'll be asleep before you know it," Christy said in her best teacherly tone as she retrieved her book and scooted back on the blanket so that she could once again lean against the tree.
"What are you reading," the doctor asked, his voice becoming deeper as sleep crept up on him.
"David Copperfield," she said, settling back into a comfortable position.
"Ahhh, that's one of my favorites. Why don't you read out loud for a bit," he sleepily suggested.
"Out loud?" she laughed. "It really is like spending the afternoon with Little Burl! He's always asking someone to tell him a story."
Christy good naturedly opened the book to where she had left off with David's arrival at his Aunty Betsy's house and began to read, glancing sideways to see Neil's eyes slide completely shut and a small smile grace his lips. She continued on for another page or so until she heard deep, even breathing coming from the other side of the quilt.
She turned her gaze to the sleeping figure beside her, watching the tired features slowly relaxing into a more peaceful countenance as the weary doctor sank into a deep, restful sleep. Christy was possessed with a nearly irresistible urge to run her hands over the tumbled red hair and smooth it away from his face. What was it about this man that made her want to tear out her hair in frustration one minute and seek out his company the next?
She was relieved that their friendship was returning to level ground. After Margaret had returned, there had been a restraint between Christy and the doctor that had saddened her, even though it had been largely her decision. Even though Christy would never in her lifetime be able to fathom how a woman could allow the two people who loved her most think that she had died, she also acknowledged that Margaret was still Neil's wife. She also acknowledged that there were likely valid reasons, both biblical and otherwise, for Neil to divorce Margaret, but that hadn't happened since Margaret had once again disappeared. While it hurt Christy to see the pain that Margaret had caused, she also felt sad for her. She could have had so much, if she had only wanted the things that she had.
As a result of all of that, Christy hadn't quite known how to proceed with Doctor MacNeill, but his care of her father previously in the month had strengthened their friendship. And this afternoon was another step towards returning them to where they had been before Margaret had arrived. She had missed simply talking with Neil. Even though they didn't always agree and had frequently argued, she still respected him. She felt that she always came away from one of their conversations with a better understanding of the people in Cutter Gap, and for that she was infinitely grateful.
Turning her eyes and her concentration back to David Copperfield, she once again lost herself in the story. Two hours later she decided to stretch her legs for a bit, taking another deep drink of the cider before carefully settling back on the blanket so as not to disturb Neil. Just as she leaned back against the trunk of the tree once again, the doctor rolled onto his right side, stretching his right arm out above his head beneath his makeshift pillow, with his left arm coming to rest atop the plaid fabric of Christy's skirt that was spread across the quilt.
Christy sat stock still with the ridiculous thought running through her mind that, aside from her father, she'd never been this close to a sleeping man before! Shaking her head, she gently pulled the jacket back over him, it having become dislodged when he rolled over. She watched as he sighed deeply, turning his face deeper into her shawl before his breathing returned to a slow, deep rhythm. She decided then and there that, even if she had to stay there till midnight, she wasn't going to wake this man up. He clearly needed to sleep and she was bound and determined to see that he not wake till he was rested!
So, she resumed her travels with David, Agnes, Uriah Heep, Peggotty and the rest of Dickens characters. She was just a few chapters from the end when she felt the doctor stir beside her. Looking down, she watched as his eyes fluttered for a moment before he rolled onto his back once again.
When Neil MacNeill opened his eyes, he was disconcerted for a moment and wondered why he was asleep outside. Then the memory of running across Christy on the hillside and the unscheduled picnic returned to him and he looked to his right, seeing that she was looking down at him with a smile on her face.
"Hello, did you sleep well?" she asked.
Neil pushed himself up with one hand and then sat completely upright, nodding. He had slept well and felt surprisingly refreshed.
"I did," he confirmed, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes to rub away the remaining drowsiness. "How long was I asleep?"
Christy pulled a small woman's pocket watch from the pocket in her sweater and flipped it open.
"About five hours," she said, smiling as he dropped his hands and looked at her in disbelief.
"You can't be serious!" he exclaimed, gazing at the watch in a dumbfounded manner before looking back at Christy. "I can't remember the last time I slept five hours together at night, let alone in the middle of the afternoon!"
"I told you that you needed a nap," Christy said in a satisfied tone that seemed to strike the doctor as funny since he began to laugh.
"Apparently you were right," he said, his laughter ending in a chuckle as he pulled his knees up and rested his arms on them. He looked around the magnificent countryside and drew a deep, contented breath before looking over at his afternoon companion. He knew that he wasn't a free man and that he had no business harboring the feelings that had developed for this sweet young woman over the last few months, but, bless his soul, it did feel good to have someone looking after him for a change. He loved the mountain families that he served, but sometimes he felt that he had given so much of himself that there was nothing left. He realized that, while the sleep had refreshed his body this afternoon, Christy's companionship had helped to refresh his heart.
"Thank you for letting me do this," he said, the warmth in his eyes causing butterflies to flutter in Christy's stomach. "I fear that I was a rude lunch companion but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an afternoon more."
"You're welcome. And you weren't rude at all, I was the one who suggested it," Christy smiled, although she averted her eyes and began to gather the remaining items to pack away in the picnic basket. "But, if I don't head back soon David and Miss Ida are going to think I've gotten lost and wandered off to the next county."
"Is Alice back yet?" Neil asked, standing to help Christy shake the quilt out and then fold it.
"Yes she got home this morning. She was the one who encouraged me to come up here ….although, now that I think about it, I think she may have done it just to get rid of me so that she could go to bed," Christy said, laughter bubbling in her voice as she related the story of how she'd verbally ambushed the weary Quaker woman earlier in the morning.
Christy offered the last of the cider to Neil, who declined it but tipped the mason jar of water into one hand then rubbed them together once again before running them through his hair to settle it into some semblance of order. Christy quickly drank the cider and then placed both jars and the quilt back into the basket before they headed back towards the Mission.
Part of the walk was mostly spent in comfortable silence which was broken occasionally when a thought would pop into one of their heads and they would share it with the other. The three miles to the Mission passed in a surprisingly short amount of time.
"Would you like to stay for dinner?" Christy asked, seeing the glow of lights coming from the place that she had begun to think of as home. "You could ride one of the horses or Theo back to your house and bring them back tomorrow."
"No, thank you," Neil said. "I appreciate the offer but I need to go home. I've got to get a few things ready for the calls that I'm going to make tomorrow and I'd like to spend some time doing some research in my laboratory."
"But you'll go to bed at a decent hour, won't you?" Christy asked, phrasing the question more as a statement and fixing the doctor with her best "firm teacher" stare, prompting an amused smile from the doctor.
"Yes ma'am. Cross my heart," he said, following his words by making an X across his heart in a completely unconscious imitation of Creed Allen, which in turn prompted laughter from Christy.
"Thank you for a lovely afternoon, Christy," he said, the levity evaporating from his tone. "I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a day more."
"I enjoyed it too," Christy said quietly, her eyes soft as they looked into those of the man standing in front of her.
"Christy, there you are!" David Grantland said in a relieved tone as he came out on the porch of the Mission. "You were gone so long we'd started to worry."
"No need to worry, Grantland. She was perfectly safe," the doctor said in an innocent tone which was belied by the twinkle in his eye. "She was with me."
With a wave of his hand towards Christy and David, Neil MacNeill strode towards the woods on the final trek towards his cabin, envisioning (correctly) the daggers that were issuing forth from David Grantland's eyes.
"You went on a picnic with Dr. MacNeill?" David asked in measured tones, turning his gaze towards Christy.
"I didn't GO on a picnic with Dr. MacNeill, he just…stumbled across me when I was on a picnic by myself," Christy explained in what she felt was a perfectly reasonable tone. "He stopped, I offered to share my lunch with him, he took a nap…"
"A NAP?" David said, his voice raising several levels.
Christy sighed as they went through the door of the Mission.
It was going to be a long evening.
During the rest of the walk home Neil MacNeill replayed different parts of the afternoon over in his head. He tried to figure out why, when nothing out of the ordinary had been said or done, it had been such a wonderful day. And, finally, he decided that maybe that was exactly why. Nothing had been wrong, no catastrophes had come their way, no one had been laying near death, no presumed dead wives had materialized to wreak havoc with his senses….it had just been a blissfully peaceful afternoon.
He thought back on his relationship with Margaret and knew that, while they had had passion in the beginning, there had been very little peace. What had attracted them had been the rebellion that they'd seen in the other, mostly rebellion against God. But while sometimes rebellion against one thing can bring positive results towards something else, Neil realized that neither he nor Margaret had tried to seek anything to strive towards together. They wanted to disprove that there was a God; Neil because he hated the vindictive God of the mountain people for taking away his beloved mother at such a young age, and Margaret because of what she perceived to be her Mother's completely unattainable Christian standards. But to what end?
But then Neil thought about Christy and her version of God. A God who was loving and kind and wanted His followers to be likewise. And Neil had watched this young woman follow that God. She wasn't perfect but, then again, she didn't ever claim to be. She made mistakes but it was always when she was seeking to try to make something better. And when she made mistakes, no one was harder on her than she was on herself … he had discovered that for himself on more than one occasion. She had simply come here because she had wanted to teach these mountain children and, as he had overheard her tell someone once, she wanted her life to count for something. He had watched the love that had grown in her heart for the mountain people….HIS people…even when there were those of them who had hurt her and, in the case of the fire at the school, tried to harm her. But she had forgiven them…not a pious version of forgiveness proclaimed in front of others….and not done easily, but Neil had seen her genuinely forgive those who had done her harm. He would never forget Christy and Opal McHone talking the men of the cove out of hanging Birds Eye Taylor, even though nearly everyone believed that Birds Eye and Lundy had set the fire at the school…the fire in which Christy could have easily been killed. Yet she had been instrumental in saving this very man's life.
And he thought of the day that he had come to see her after Margaret had returned. He had been so full of hatred for the woman that he'd once called his wife that he'd refused to open the door when Christy had come to his cabin to check on his welfare. He hadn't wanted to see anyone, let alone the young woman whom he'd begun to have feelings for….. and who, he'd started to hope, had begun to have feelings for him…feelings that had been dashed to bits by Margaret's return. But the following day he'd found himself craving Christy's company because …. because ….Why? Because there was something about her very presence that soothed him. And what had she told him? That he had to forgive Margaret. Her eyes and voice had been gentle and, perhaps, a little sad but she still encouraged him to forgive his wife instead of clinging to the bitterness and rage that had consumed him.
All of these thoughts rolled through Neil's mind as he approached his cabin after what seemed like weeks, and he finally came to the conclusion that, even though they didn't always see eye to eye and argued frequently, he felt a closeness to Christy that he'd felt with few people in his life. He could tell her things that he couldn't tell anyone else and knew that she would keep his confidence. When they talked over a problem, she helped him see things through new eyes. Her friendship was a source of peace to him and he found himself feeling a sense of gratitude for it.
He walked up the steps and into the door, thankful that this was one of his tidy periods and that the cabin wasn't a mess. He laid his saddle bags down on the table and went to build a fire in the fireplace to take the chill out of the room. He then returned to the saddlebags and unpacked the medical supplies that they contained, sorting bottles and equipment that would need sterilized, setting aside bottles that simply needed returned to the shelf and discarding some of the odds and ends of things that had been soiled during the treatment of his patients over the last 30 or so hours.
He spent another half hour gathering the supplies that he'd need for the planned calls tomorrow. He had an infected burn to tend to at the Hanson home then he needed to check on Cletus Barker's broken arm, not to mention the fact that Ault Allen had taken him aside when he'd been at the Beck house earlier and said that he had three large boils on his backside that were "painin' him somethun' fierce." Ault had informed him that his wife had tried doctoring them herself but they just got bigger so Neil packed everything from a syringe to a scalpel to tweezers to have on hand. It wasn't uncommon for folks to get splinters from the privy and not realize it until it turned into something decidedly uncomfortable. Neil couldn't help but roll his eyes and silently sigh over the joys of being a country doctor although his next thought was that he'd rather lance a boil on Ault Allen's posterior than have to pull another bullet out of someone's chest.
Once he felt ready for the next day he lit the lamp in his laboratory and pulled out the notes that he'd been working on two days before, sliding them next to his microscope. Try as he might to concentrate, he found his mind wandering.
Roses. The shawl that he'd used as a pillow this afternoon had been infused with the soft scent of roses that Christy always wore. It had smelled so good and felt so soft against his cheek. He idly wondered if it was normal for a grown man to feel jealousy towards a piece of cloth, simply because it was able to wrap itself around a particular young lady's shoulders.
Throwing his pencil down in defeat, Neil picked up the lamp and wandered back into the main room of the cabin. He was restless and wasn't interested in going to bed yet….. to that lonely, solitary bed that seemed all the more lonely and solitary tonight for reasons that he preferred not to dwell upon.
He finally found himself in front of his bookshelf when his eyes lit upon a particular volume which brought a smile to his face. Removing it, he blew the dust off of the top and walked over to his chair in front of the fireplace, setting the lamp down on the table beside it. He used to read for pleasure regularly, but it seemed that lately everything that he'd read had been a medical text pertaining to one of his cases or a chemistry textbook in order to assist with one of Christy's classes.
Settling down in front of the fire, he slid a footstool closer and propped his feet up on it. He opened the book to the beginning and savored the first line:
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
and was immediately absorbed into the life story of David Copperfield.