For personal use and select distribution only © July 1998 by C. Foust

This story coincides with the episodes "Another Woman" and "Orphan Train" but includes some of the thoughts Michaela verbally expressed later in "Man In The Moon." The misunderstanding about Katherine will surface again in "Ready Or Not," finally to be resolved and forgiven

Hand in Hand
by C. Foust

Michaela watched as Sully turned and walked down the slope back toward town. Her heart which had been continually filling with love for him now felt a gaping emptiness that made her feel as though she had been drained of her very being. In spite of her cautious nature she had accepted and nurtured the new and wonderful feelings that Sully evoked in her. All the precious words of love and adoration she had treasured now reared themselves before her as enemies, mocking her breaking heart. He said that he meant "all those things," but at this moment her heart and mind rejected any belief that he did.

She thought back over the last few days to the morning that Sully had bounced into the clinic having completely changed his plans for a day of hunting, wanting instead to be with her on such a beautiful day. She had been reluctant to let his impulsiveness take her away from what she considered necessary work, but when he had swept her off her feet into his arms her heart had raced as she felt so adored and happy. Now that feeling had flown a million miles away. If it tried to come back would she trust it as true? He said that he would "always be here" when she felt she could be with him again. Would she want to be with him again? If the pain that was overtaking her soul ever subsided would she risk being vulnerable to it again? "It's not supposed to be this way," she groaned tearfully. "Love should be pure...simple...true," she had told Dorothy. This unexpected turn was alien to anything remotely pure, simple, or true.

That was the same morning, she remembered, that Katherine had arrived. Sully's tender heart was apparent from the moment they uncovered her in the wagon and discovered she was a white woman who had been living with the Indians. His concern and attention had grown as Katherine remained in Colorado Springs. Not kowing about Sully and Michaela’s relationship, Katherine innocently revealed to Michaela that she and Sully felt a special understanding. Michaela had tried hard to keep her jealous thoughts in check remembering that she had been jealous before without just cause, but it became easy to see that Katherine had fallen in love with Sully. And then Brian had seen Sully and Katherine kiss.

Had Sully turned to Katherine for what Michaela herself knew she was afraid to give—physical affection—the hugs and kisses he seemed always wanting. Was it that necessary to him that he would seek it from another woman? Michaela thought back to Sully’s stinging accusation of her—that she was too nervous to be alone with him—too afraid to kiss him. It was true. But why? Deep in her heart she knew. She loved him so deeply already...she did feel affection…desire…for him, but she was afraid that she did not know how to please him—afraid that he would think her responses silly or immature—afraid she wouldn’t measure up to Abagail. She [wanted] to lose herself in his arms, to welcome his gentle touch, to return his tender kisses, but her fear of rejection proved all-powerful. Then she admitted to herself a deeper and more frightening fear—would there come a time when he would expect more than hugs and kisses…more than an innocent touch? Had her inability to conquer these fears now cost her what she knew might very well be lost forever?

Michaela turned and continued on to the first of her house calls. "I can't think about him anymore without breaking down completely," she said to herself. "Better to just concentrate on what I do best—being a doctor." After all, preparing to be and now being a doctor had been a fulfilling and consuming pursuit for as much of her life as she could remember. Her love for medicine had been surpassed only by her love for the children—and for Sully . Thoughts of him flew into her mind even though she had just determined not to think of him any more. She must work hard to lock them out.

Days came and went, none bringing relief to her aching heart. She had few patients to occupy her time. Everyone within miles seemed in excellent health. She determined to stay busy. The clinic was cleaned and recleaned, medical journals read and reread, but activity did not ease the pain that overwhelmed her. Outings to gather herbs only served to fill her memory with thoughts of Sully and the things he had shown her…taught her…said to her. She saw him often. He did not stay away from town. Nor did he stay away from the homestead. He continued to bring meat and firewood and to assist Matthew and Brian with the chores that often required his help. He was congenial to her but without the comfortable familiarity they had begun to enjoy. He did not stay for meals or pressure her in any way. He was doing what he said he would do, "being here." She knew it would be up to her to make her way back to him—if she could.

At last came diversion for Michaela’s thoughts—the orphans. She devoted herself to them day and night—taking them into her home, providing food and clothing for them, offering them the love they had been deprived of. The Reverend had assumed that it would not be difficult to find homes for such desperate children. It turned out, however, to be an impossible mission even with Michaela's persuasive attempts to stir sympathy from local families. She had poured her energy into trying to establish a better life for them. Constant efforts proved fruitless and they’d had to send the orphans on to others who might be able to help in providing them with homes and families.

Michaela sadly faced the reality that she had neglected and alienated her own children for the sake of the orphans. With her apology to Matthew, Colleen, and Brian she promised a special day together—just the family and, of course, Sully. Of course, Sully. The children loved him so much and he loved them. He knew how to have fun with them…encourage them… teach them. In their minds it was unthinkable to have a family outing without him.

Sully spent the special day at their command—fishing, playing games, helping Colleen find a particular wildflower she wanted to press. Michaela occupied herself with serving and then packing away the picnic food. She dug worms for Brian’s hook, helped Colleen identify her wildflowers, and walked with Matthew as he recited his dreams of life with Ingrid. The only time she and Sully found themselves really near each other was on the wagon ride to the lake and then back home. They both felt the strain that now existed in their relationship, but they had done their best to be carefree for the children’s sake.

Matthew, Colleen, and Brian were refreshed in spirit by an enjoyable day, and as they drove up to the barn at nightfall Michaela realized how much she had missed their laughter and how good it was to feel like a family again. Sully left immediately after unhitching the wagon, his "G’night" voiced to the family as they were crowding in together through the back door. Brian and Matthew retired to the barn after getting a drink of water. Michaela and Colleen washed the picnic dishes and gladly went to bed.

It was late and she was tired, but sleep would not come to Michaela. Her mind vividly replayed the last few days' events with the orphans. One disturbing scene loomed centerstage—she and the Reverend kissing. She felt the astonishment all over again. They had kissed. Standing there in the yard he had asked her to marry him and help him make a home for the orphans. And then they had kissed. Now her heart found its way to her throat as the truth confronted her—she had not kissed—the Reverend had kissed. Shaken by his sudden proposal she had not had the presence of mind to distance herself as he placed his lips on hers. It had happened so unexpectedly.

Another memory suddenly seized centerstage—the painful memory that Sully and Katherine had kissed. Her throat tightened even more. Slowly into Michaela’s mind a reasonable, coherent, and strangely comforting thought emerged. "Perhaps it happened unexpectedly to Sully. Perhaps Katherine had kissed him." Oh, she had to know. Was it too late to talk to Sully tonight? Could she find him out there in the darkness? She would attempt it. She had to talk to him. Whether or not their relationship progressed any further, she at least wanted to know. "I should have let him explain when he tried to," she berated herself as she dressed and slipped out the door.

Thankfully, a full moon provided light for the trail to where she hoped to find him. Her pace slowed as she neared his leanto. She was relieved to find him camped where she had last visited with him. Approaching hesitantly she stood for a moment watching him stoke the fire and then prepare his bedding. Her heart once again found its way to her throat. She swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and spoke. "Sully?" As he looked up and their eyes met, hers began to fill with tears. She managed to speak. "May we talk?"

"I'm here," he replied.

"Yes, I know, just as you said you would be."

He stood as she made her way to him. As soon as she was near enough she fell into his arms and began to sob. The frayed emotions she had been working so hard to bury since Katherine's departure flooded forth uncontrollably. In his special way he held and comforted her—for how long neither could say. At last she was composed enough to speak. "I don't know how to begin…what to say…I know that I love you…but my heart is in such turmoil." He drew her even closer into his arms but remained silent.

At last they eased down to sit in front of the campfire. She continued. "I think I understand how things might have happened with you and Katherine, about the kiss—about the bond the two of you must have felt from living with the Indians. It came to me that the Reverend and I shared a common bond—the orphans—and that it led him to think more of our relationship than he should have—that it led to a kiss…his kiss…not mine. Oh, Sully, is that the way it happened with you and Katherine? Was it her kiss and not yours? Was the relationship in her heart and mind—not yours? Is that what you would have told me if I had not been so angry when you wanted to explain it to me?"

Now it was his eyes that filled with tears. "Katherine left because I told her my heart belonged to you. The kiss was hers. The idea of something between us was hers. There never was anyone before Abagail or after, until you, and there never will be anyone else but you for the rest of my life. I wanted so bad to comfort you…to hold you…to talk it all out, but you were too angry to listen. I know how you've been hurtin'—the same way I've been hurtin’ since I saw the Reverend kiss you—the way I’ve been hurtin’ from knowin’ you considered marryin’ him."

Michaela now comforted him. "I'm so sorry...sorry I didn't listen when you tried to explain...sorry I didn't trust you." Sully tenderly but firmly confronted her. "Why can't you trust me? Why are you so afraid of being alone with me—afraid of us showin’ affection? Why can't you believe that I love you with all my heart?" She couldn’t tell him that these were the same questions that had plagued her since their courtship began. She couldn't tell him the truth that she had admitted that day as she watched him walk away. The truth that she was afraid of being rejected—afraid of being compared to Abigail—afraid of how far their affection…their passion…might take them.

She knew it true as well that he had never evidenced rejection of her in any way…he had never treated her in any manner that could be considered inappropriate…he had shown her in countless ways that his love was without condition. She realized she had no sound reason to be afraid or distrust him. She detested the irrational thinking that she found herself guilty of. It was as if her mind and her heart were at war with each other—and in her anquish she didn’t know which was which.

What is wrong with me! Why do I think this way! Why do these unfounded fears possess me! Why can’t I just trust him and believe in him the way he does me? These questions silently screamed within her weary soul. She found no courage to put her agonizing thoughts into words.

Finally she spoke. "Sully, I need time to sort out the answers to your questions. It really has to do with me and my understanding of my own thoughts and feelings…not with any fault in you. I don’t know how long it will take, but for now can we just say we're sorry for all the hurt and let our hearts recover before we go on with courting? We need some time to heal before our courtship can progress any further. Is it possible to just put things ‘on hold’ for a while?"

He answered softly, "I don't think that slowing down our courtship will help us heal, but if that’s what you want, I’ll wait as long as it takes for you to settle your doubts and fears…for you to be happy and confident about us…about bein' with me. But you can know this one thing for sure and forever—you need never doubt my love for you…only you. The love I feel for you is true and strong, and I know it’s gonna keep growin' stronger even if you want to consider our courtin' to be 'on hold.' Like I said before, when you're ready I'll be always be here." They sat quietly side by side with his arm around her for a few moments longer. Sully gave her a tender squeeze and helped her to her feet. "I'll walk you home. With work tomorrow you need to get some rest."

When they reached the homestead she surprised him with a goodnight hug—just long enough for him to gently kiss her forehead and once again say, "I love you." As they parted she replied softly, "I love you, too." A smile found its way to her beautiful face—not the big happy smile he missed so much but the slightly one-sided one that came when she felt nervous or shy. "G’night," he whispered as she stepped through the door. Closing it after her, Sully stood quietly on the porch gazing out across the mountains that were illumined by the bright full moon that had led her to him that night.

His thoughts likened their relationship to climbing one of those mountains. "Sometimes you have to rest awhile and renew your strength ...recognize the obstacles…adjust your course…then set out again." He breathed a sigh. "That's what we’re doin’ now," he told himself almost audibly. "No matter how rough or steep the climb, we’ll reach the top," his heart promised hers, "slowly but surely...with patience and love...together ...hand in hand."

The End