Angels Among Us

Part 1of 3

AUTHORS: FANDOMWAMS WTRVS Round Robin

Mare (dancemomri@aol.com)

Christy (Kristiangrace@aol.com)

Diane (dwoneill99@hotmail.com)

Lelani (Lelani.Dixon@att.net)

SUMMARY: Alex has taken a needy young mother and her ailing child under her wing. The mother, Geneva Taylor, has lost her job due to excessive absenteeism.  Geneva was forced to take extensive time out of work to care for her sickly daughter, Shelby, who is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant to save her young life.  Time is running out for the little girl.  The doctors predict that she will not survive through the holidays if she doesn’t receive a transplant.

Guest Characters:

Travis Taylor: convicted of bank robbery, he is serving a ten-year sentence.

Geneva Taylor: young mother of Shelby and ex-wife to Travis Taylor.

Shelby Taylor: a nine year old girl who’s only chance to survive leukemia is a bone marrow transplant from her father, Travis.

Dex Canton: one of Travis’ partners in crime, he wants to know where the money was hidden.

Toby Nickerson: The third bank robbery partner and the ‘mastermind’ behind the crimes.

Kyle Jefferson: Rich oilman from Okalahoma and former employer of Travis’.

December 10th, 2001 – 12:15 p.m. – H.O.P.E. Center

Alex is sitting on the edge of a twin bed in one of the guestrooms at the H.O.P.E. Center.  She holds the tiny hand of a little girl, who lies weak and pale before her. The child’s mother is standing by the window, staring aimlessly at the infrequent traffic that passes by the Center. She feels helpless as she reminds herself that she can do nothing for her child except wait to see if a donor can be found.  After nine months of waiting, and hoping that the next volunteer would be the perfect match, the young woman has aged long past her twenty seven years; both in appearance and in spirit.

“How are you feeling today, Shelby?”  Alex musters a bright and hopeful smile for the little girl.

“Bout the same.   Miss Josie made me a waffle this mornin’ and it’s still in my tummy so I reckon I might be feeling a tad better.”

Alex’s smile widens, as she listens to the charming rhythm of the little girl’s thick Oklahoma accent.  “Well, I’m glad your breakfast stayed down. Josie’s famous waffles are just what you need to build your strength up, so you’ll be ready for your transplant when they find you a donor.”

“Do you think they’ll find one soon, Miss Alex?”

“We’re working on it day and night, Shelby.  Ranger Walker is leading the search to find you a donor, and we both know how determined he is - don’t we?  Don’t worry, Shelby.  I’m sure we’ll find a match very soon.”

“Oh, I’m not worried, Miss Alex.  Gabriel says I’m gonna be just fine.”

“Who’s Gabriel? Is he a friend of yours?”

“Gabriel’s my angel. Grandma says I’ve been ridin’ on his wings since the day I was born.  Gabriel was the archangel in the bible, and Grandma says that Jesus only sends the higher-ranking angels out on the very special cases. Even if they don’t find a donor, Gabriel promised that he’d carry me up to heaven when the time comes, so I can be with my granddaddy.  Do you believe in angels, Miss Alex?”

Geneva Taylor looks towards her nine-year old daughter for the first time since Alex has entered the room.  Her eyes are filled with tears of pain, as she listens to her child’s proclamation of her unwavering, adolescent faith, and wishes she could find the same kind of solace in her own questionable credence.  Alex’s eyes are also moist, and she swallows hard to clear the swell of emotion that has instantly formed in her throat.  Her thoughts drift back to the vision her husband had had on the day their daughter was born.  While Baby Walker lay in her hospital bassinet, struggling to survive, an angel had taken Walker on a journey through his daughter’s future life; assuring him that she would be healthy, happy, and strong.  Alex had given no argument when Walker insisted on naming their baby Angela, after the comforting angel who had eased his fears when their child’s life rested in the almighty hands of God.

“I definitely believe in angels, Shelby.  And I’m so glad that you have your very own angel looking out for you.“  Alex forces a smile yet her watery eyes reflect the sadness she feels for the brave little girl who has been forced to grow up too quickly.

Josie enters the room holding a lunch tray. Her timely entrance breaks the somberness of the moment.  “Hey…. how’s our girl doing this afternoon?  Are you ready for some of my famous soup and buttermilk biscuits?”

“I’m not real hungry, Miss Josie, but I’ll try to eat a little bit.”

“That’s my girl. Alex, Geneva - there’s a certain Texas Ranger downstairs waiting to see the two of you.  I’ll stay with Shelby until you’re through.”

“Ranger Walker’s here? Is he gonna come up and see me before he goes?”

Shelby’s face fills with color and excitement at the mention of Ranger Walker’s presence, and Alex is able to catch a glimpse of the vibrant, healthy child that dwells inside of the frail, ailing little girl.

“I’ll make sure Ranger Walker pays you a visit, Shelby.  You have your lunch first, okay?”

“Okay, Miss Alex.”

Josie and Shelby are already busy with girlish chitchat when Alex and Geneva leave the room.

The ladies find Walker in the nursery playing tug-of-war with his daughter.  Angela is lying in her crib, giggling happily as she pulls on her daddy’s fingers with her ever-strengthening grip.

“Hi, there.”

Walker automatically turns at the sound of his wife’s voice.  He removes his hat and shares the warm smile that his daughter has brought to his face.

“Hi. Let’s go somewhere where we can talk.”

Walker nods to the caregiver in the nursery, to let her know that he is leaving his daughter in her capable hands. He kisses Alex lightly on the lips before he guides her and Geneva to the sitting room across the hallway.  Walker sits in the armchair in front of the coffee table, while Alex positions herself on the sofa beside the anxious mother.

“I just got a call from the prison doctor.  Travis is a perfect match.”

“Thank God!”

Alex breathes a sigh of relief, but she and Walker can’t help but notice Geneva’s indifference to the positive news.  She remains silent as she stares into her wrenching hands.

“What’s wrong, Geneva?  This is wonderful news! Shelby’s going to have her transplant.  She’s got a fighting chance now.”

Geneva Taylor struggles with her inner emotions. After a long moment, she speaks with a cautious reserve that tells her small audience that Walker’s news has frightened her beyond belief.

“Shelby hasn’t seen her daddy since she was four years old. She thinks he’s dead. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was in prison for drivin’ the get-away car in a bank robbery.  I don’t want him to see her, Ranger Walker.  I don’t even know if I can handle seeing ‘im.  Does Shelby have to know who the donor is?”

“Geneva, Shelby and Travis are going to be in the same hospital when the doctors perform the bone marrow transplant. Shelby is one tenacious little girl and she will want to know who the donor is. You’re going to have to tell her that her biological father is the donor before the transplant takes place.”

Walker cautiously breaks the unavoidable truth to the overwhelmed mother, as Alex comforts her with a supporting arm.

“The doctors say she’s too weak to travel. She could never survive the trip to Oklahoma for the transplant.”

“The state of Oklahoma has agreed to release Travis into my custody.  I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning to bring him back to Dallas.  Shelby will remain under the care and supervision of her regular doctors.  The transplant will take place at Methodist Hospital, where both of you will feel comfortable.”

“What about the men who are lookin’ for Travis? Shelby and I had to leave Oklahoma because of them. They think we know where Travis hid the money. What if they follow you here?”

“The Oklahoma authorities are keeping this under tight wraps. Travis will be extricated with minimal paperwork and I’ll have him back in his cell before the riffraff even knows he’s been gone. Trust me on this Geneva. I won’t let anything happen to you and Shelby.”

“What about the costs?   Methodist is a private hospital. We don’t have any insurance and my checking account is bone dry.  We can’t pay for the transplant, Ranger Walker. We can’t even pay for the paperwork to be processed.”

Geneva Taylor buries her head in her hands, as she gives in to all of the tension that has been mounting since the very beginning of her daughter’s difficult bout with leukemia.  Alex circles a comforting arm around Geneva’s shoulder before she leans in to ease her worries with her ever-gracious words.

“Don’t worry about the cost, Geneva.  We’ll raise the money for Shelby’s transplant. That should be the furthest thing from your mind right now.  Just focus on staying strong for Shelby and yourself. It’s going to be a long and difficult road to her recovery. Let us worry about the finances, okay?”

Geneva’s eyes flood with tears of hope and eternal gratitude.  “Both of you have done so much already.  And now…. All of this… I can’t begin to thank you for your kindness. Shelby has her imaginary angel Gabriel to comfort her, but I have two real live angels in the two of you.  May God bless you both.  I don’t think I could make it through all of this without your strength and support.”

“Go and tell your daughter the good news, Geneva.  That’s all the thanks we could ask for.”

Walker extends a hand of comfort to the young woman.   Though his heart is always filled with benevolence, his wife knows firsthand how his actions rarely express his true feelings.  Alex takes noticeable pride in the significance of her husband’s uncharacteristic behavior, as he physically reaches out to a frightened mother in her time of need.

“I will, Ranger Walker.  Thank you for givin’ my baby a second chance. I don’t know how we’ll ever repay you.”

“Seeing Shelby well again will be payment enough for us.  She’s a very special little girl.”

“She is...isn’t she?”

Geneva dons a hopeful expression as she is finally allowed to think of her child growing up into a beautiful young woman.  Her anxious spirit has somehow been eased by the resolute assurance of a caring Texas Ranger and she has gathered the strength to move forward to the next incline that she and her daughter must climb together.

“I’m going to tell her the wonderful news.  I can’t promise I’ll be able to tell her who the donor is just yet, but I want her to know that she has a chance.”

After one last encouraging squeeze from Walker’s hand, Geneva releases herself from his encouraging hold before she scurries up the stairs to share the optimistic news with her ailing daughter.

Alex looks into her husband’s eyes with a loving gaze.  After a long moment, she rises up from the sofa to join him in the wingback chair.  She scans the area for privacy before she climbs onto his lap and drapes her arms behind his rugged shoulders. Now, nose-to-nose…she speaks in an impassioned whisper.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“I don’t think so. How does it go again?”

“It goes something like this.”

Alex cradles Walker’s handsome face in her soft hands as she brushes her cheek against his. Her moist lips graze the lobe of his ear as she eagerly whispers the words “I love you madly, darling.”  Alex continues to speak to him in a smooth and tempting tone. Her private ‘sweet nothings’ succeed in making Walker blush at the sound of them.  She eases her cheek backward, brushing it against the invigorating whiskers of his beard, before their lips meet in a smoldering kiss.  Just as his hands start to roam over Alex’s back, they hear a smiling voice say,  “I swear I outta rent you two a room during your lunch breaks.”

Josie is standing at the base of the staircase, lunch tray in hand, and grinning earnestly at the enthusiastic couple. Walker and Alex quickly pull themselves apart and they nervously begin to smooth their clothing and tousled hair.  Josie can’t help but chuckle, as they act like two embarrassed high school kids who just got caught necking in the backseat of a car.

“Sorry, Josie. We forgot where we were.”  Alex apologizes for both of them as she bashfully rises up from her husband’s lap.

“Don’t get up on my account.  You two have a good thing going. I wish I had an inviting lap to sit in during my lunch break. Take your time! Enjoy each other! I’ll go and change your daughter so she’ll be ready for her feeding when you come to get her.”

Still grinning from ear to ear, Josie leaves the Walker’s alone to finish their ‘lunch date’. Walker stands up to join his wife.

“You’re blushing.”  Walker smiles gleefully at his wife’s self-conscious expression.

“So are you, Cowboy! How come she always catches us?”

“Because you can’t keep your hands off of me in public, that’s why.”

Alex gives his chest a playful smack as he gathers her into his devoted arms.

“You were wonderful with Geneva. Seeing Travis again isn’t going to be easy for her, but she trusts you and she knows you’ll do everything in your power to protect her and Shelby. I pray to God that this transplant is successful. That little girl and her mother have been through so much.”

“Yeah, I know. Some people sure do get more then their share of heartache.“

“Well, we can do our part to makes things a little easier for them. While you’re off collecting Travis, I’ll get working on a black tie benefit to raise money for Shelby’s transplant.”

“We don’t have very much time.  The doctors will want to do the transplant as soon as possible. Shelby is getting weaker by the day, and with Christmas coming, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place to hold such a large-scale function.”

“Well, that’s where you come in.”

“I’m not the one with the social connections, Alex. That’s your job.  You know I hate that kind of stuff.”

“I’ll take care of all the arrangements. I just need you to help with the location.”

“Me? Help you with the location?  The only function halls that I can think of off the top of my head are CD’s and the loft over our barn, but I don’t think the horses would appreciate all the noise.”

“No, silly.  You don’t need to find a place. I already have one in mind. I just need you to do the asking.”  Walker’s look is a puzzled one as he tries to translate what his wife is getting at.

“On the day of our wedding, you and Mark were talking, and I heard him extend an open invitation to use the mansion whenever you’d like.  It was absolutely perfect for our wedding, and it would be just as perfect for the benefit.  Could you ask him for me?……Please?”

“Alex, I’d hate to impose on Mark on such short notice. It is his home, after all. I’d feel like we were barging in on his private life.”

“We won’t be interrupting his private life because I have every intention of inviting him to the benefit.  I need his pledge. So you see…he’ll be there anyway. Now he doesn’t even have to leave his own house to attend.  It’s perfect!  Ask him today, will you?  I’ve got to go and feed our daughter before she starts to fuss.  Stop and see Shelby on your way out. She’s looking forward to seeing you.  I love you. You’re the best!”

Alex plants a spirited kiss on his lips and hurries off to attend to her daughter before Walker can argue the matter any further.  Walker shakes his head as he tries to replay his wife’s abrupt ending to their conversation.   He is sure that his worthy opponent has set him up, and he chastises himself because he didn’t see it coming. Walker was only kidding himself. He never saw it coming when it came to Alex.  She had a natural ability to charm her way around him, and his usually sharp senses always turned to putty in her capable hands.

“How come she always gets the last word? I’ve got to find a way to get that woman’s powers revoked.”

In spite of his uneasiness towards his latest dictated chore, Walker smiles to himself as he heads up the stairs to visit with Shelby.  He decides it would be best to stop and see Mark at his office on his way back to Ranger Headquarters.  He hated to ask for favors, but for Shelby’s and Alex’s sake, he would do it without hesitation.

Flight 143 – Southwest Airlines – On Approach to Dallas International Airport.

Walker is positioned strategically in an aisle seat at the rear of the plane. His left wrist is securely fastened with handcuffs to Travis Taylor’s right arm. The short flight from Tulsa to Dallas is almost over and the two traveling companions have barely spoken to each other. The pilot’s voice comes through the overhead speakers with an important announcement.

“We’ve gained clearance to make our descent into Dallas International.  Flight attendants - please prepare for landing. We should be on the ground in approximately 15 minutes. Please remain seated until the ‘fasten seatbelts’ lights have gone off and we have docked at the gate.  The time in Dallas is 2:46 PM and the weather report is a pleasant one.  The temperature is a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the skies are clear.  Enjoy your stay in Dallas, folks, and thank you for choosing Southwest.”

Travis Taylor can no longer handle the agonizing silence that the Ranger has readily allowed during their brief time together.  He speculates that the Texas Ranger doesn’t care if he lives or dies, and he assumes he is most likely doing a job that he doesn’t want to do.  What Travis was not privy to was the fact that Walker had intentionally remained silent to leave the door open for him. Walker was sure that the essence of the true man would break through if he made an effort to show any degree of remorse or concern for his family’s circumstances.  His silence was simply a test of morality for Travis Taylor, and the young outlaw would soon prove to the Ranger that he held more than a glimmer of promise.

“Ranger Walker...”

“Yes, Travis.”

“I gotta know… Is my little girl gonna die?”

“I can’t answer that, Travis. Her life is in the hands of her doctors and God.”

“I would have asked to come sooner if Geneva had told me she was sick.  I had no idea. Why didn’t she ask for me to be tested when all of this started with Shelby?”

“Only Geneva can answer that, Travis. But, I do know that the two of them have been to hell and back.  They’ve endured a lifetime of pain over the past several months. I think Geneva was afraid to notify you because she couldn’t afford to open old wounds while she was dealing with so many fresh ones. They’re both in a pretty vulnerable place right now.”

“I hear that, Ranger.  I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it’s been for my girls...I mean, for Geneva and Shelby.”

Walker makes a mental note of Travis’s revealing comment.  It is obvious that he still has feelings for his wife and daughter.

“Does anyone know that I’m goin’ to Dallas?”

“Do you mean, do Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson know your whereabouts?  No!  Your movement from the prison is confidential information.”

Travis Taylor breathes a grateful sigh of relief.  Walker jumps on the slight opening, and he pushes the conversation further.

“Travis?”

“Yeah?”

“I’ve read up on your case, and the money was last seen in the getaway car, but it was never recovered.  Canton and Nickerson did three years before they were released on legal loopholes and poor documentation. You turned yourself in and pleaded guilty without contest, so you were left behind to serve your full term, but yet you refused to testify against them. I know they’ve been stalking your family ever since. When you were arrested, you swore that you didn’t know where the cash ended up. Off the record… do you know where the money is?”

“Off the record?  I got hooked up with the wrong crowd when I lost my job and I couldn’t even feed my family. I was a twenty-two-year-old kid who made some bad choices.  Those guys asked me to do the drivin’ in what they called a ‘small-scale bank robbery’.  I convinced myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I was just drivin’. The plan went sour when two cops showed up outta nowhere and one of ‘em got shot.  I panicked and took off with the money. At that point, I knew I’d already lost my family. I hid out for a few hours, then I figured I’d best cut my losses and do my time, so I turned myself in.  If I couldn’t be with my family, Ranger Walker, I was gonna make damned sure that they were financially taken care of for the rest of their lives, once I was released from that snake hole they call a prison. I’m not sayin’ anything more about it. If you repeat this to anyone, I’ll deny it to my grave.”

“Like I said, Travis…we’re off the record. Thanks for being honest with me.”

Tulsa, Oklahoma – Grady’s Diner

An off-duty prison corrections officer sits at the counter, sipping a stale cup of coffee.  A shady character joins him and orders two Joe’s for the road.  A file is passed between them, and a sealed envelope of money is exchanged for the exclusive information.  The passerby leaves with his papers and coffee and the crooked officer gloats over his lucrative profit for another day’s work. 

The man gets into the passenger seat of a Ford Bronco that waits outside the door of the diner. Toby Nickerson previews the covert information on the temporary release of Travis Taylor before he hands it to the driver of the Bronco.  Dex Canton scans the particulars. The SUV backs out of the parking lot and heads south for Dallas, Texas.

Back in Dallas

Walker has just dropped his charge off at the Dallas County Correctional Facility, where he will stay while waiting to donate his bone marrow.  After releasing custody of Travis to the capable hands of the corrections officers, Walker heads out and is on his way to Ranger Headquarters to catch up on what he’d missed while he was gone.  He heads straight to the District Attorney’s office.

“Hey, honey” he states with a slight knock on the door as he opens it and peeks his head in.

“Hey, Cowboy!  I didn’t expect you back until tonight,” his wife answers with a bright smile on her face, as she stands to greet her husband.

“We got an earlier flight.  How’s Shelby doing?”

“She’s doing as well as can be expected.  I think Geneva is going to try to tell her today that her father is her donor.  I’m going over there in a little while to see if she needs any moral support.”

“Okay, I should be home early tonight.  I just want to check in with Trivette and see if I missed anything.  I’ll talk to you later.”  He embraces her with a tight hug and a lingering kiss to the mouth, then he turns to leave.

H.O.P.E. CENTER – 5:00 p.m.

“Shelby?” Geneva asks as she enters the quiet room.  All that can be heard is the low volume on the television, airing some late afternoon cartoons on Nickelodeon.

“Hey, Momma,” the child answers with a slight smile.

“How you feelin’, kiddo?” she asks as she strokes the child’s cheek.

“I’m tired, but other than that, I’m alright.  How’re you?”

“I’m fine, honey.  I need to talk to you about something.”

“Sounds serious, Mom.  What is it?  I’m still gonna have my transplant, right?” she asks, worried.

“Yeah, honey.  It’s still gonna happen.  That’s part of what I need to talk to you about.”

“What about it?  It’s gonna be okay, Momma.  Gabriel’s gonna take care of me.  Don’t worry.”  Geneva smiles at her daughter’s wisdom beyond her short years.  She bends down and hugs the slight girl.

“I know, honey.  I just need to tell you somethin’ and I don’t know how you’re gonna take it, so bear with me for a minute, okay?”  Shelby nods her head and gives her mother a puzzled look.

“Shelby, I did something a few years ago and I’m not proud of it.  At the time, I thought it was the best thing for both of us, and especially you.  Now, I regret doing it more than ever, but I need you to know why I did it.”

“Momma, what are you talkin’ about?  What does this have to do with my transplant?” 

Geneva takes a deep breath and decides to go for it. “It has to do with who your donor is.”

“Well, who is it?  Is it Uncle Carl?  I know you don’t git along with ‘im, but you won’t have to talk to ‘im if you don’t want to.”  She smiles at the innocence of her daughter, and fears for the outcome of what she’s about to tell her.

“No, honey, it isn’t Uncle Carl.  Your donor is your dad.”  She looks intently into Shelby’s eyes for any clue as to her reaction, but it’s written all over her face.

“My dad?  You said he died in a car accident.  How can he give me his bone marrow?”  Shelby is confused and shocked by this information.

“That’s what I meant by telling you I did somethin’ terrible so many years ago.  Your daddy didn’t die in a car accident, honey,” Geneva confesses, as the tears begin to flow down her cheeks and spill onto the hand of her little girl.

“Whadya mean, Momma?  If he didn’t die, where’s he been all this time?  How come he didn’t come to see me?  Doesn’t he love me?  Is it because I’m sick?” Shelby starts to cry too, trying to imagine all the reasons a 9-year-old girl can think of as to why her father would neglect seeing her.

“Shhhh, no, honey.  It has nothin’ to do with you being sick.  Your daddy loves you so much.”  She embraces the girl and strokes the short blonde hair and prays that she can make her understand what happened so many years ago.

“Then why hasn’t he been to see me?  Where’s he been?” the child cries in her mother’s arms.  Geneva lays Shelby’s head back down on the pillow and covers the tiny hand in hers.

“Your daddy was involved in a bank robbery a few years ago.  He drove the car that the robbers left in.  One of the robbers shot a police officer at the bank and when it was over, your dad felt bad for what he did and he turned himself in to the police.  They put him in jail.  We thought it would be easier on you if you didn’t know where he really was.  We didn’t want your friends to make fun of you because your daddy was in jail, and we didn’t want you feelin’ bad for having a daddy in jail.  Do you understand?  I know this is hard for you, and I am so sorry that I’ve lied to you all these years.  I thought it was for the best and now I see that it wasn’t.  Can you ever forgive me, baby?” 

Shelby looks at her mother, and with child-like innocence, says, “Of course, I forgive you, Momma.  God forgives you, too.  You always forgave me when I told you lies when I was a kid.  But, I want to see ‘im.  Does he want to see me?  Does he still love me?  When can I see ‘im?” she asks excitedly, seeming to have forgotten the lie she had been told so many years ago.  She was lost in the moment of knowing she had a dad, just like all the other kids.

“He loves you, honey, more than you’ll ever know.  He wants to see you, I’m sure.  He hasn’t seen you in a very long time.  But, I have to check with Mr. and Mrs. Walker first, to see if it’s okay.”  Just then, Alex rounds the corner and, hearing her name, she pokes her head in the door.

“Hi guys, I heard my name.  What did you need to ask me?” she inquires, taking in the scene in front of her and the tear stained cheeks she sees on both girls.

“I just explained to Shelby who her donor is.”

“It’s my daddy!” Shelby proudly exclaims.

“She wants to know if she can see ‘im.” Geneva explains to Alex.  Alex knew this would be desired and has already started looking into the possibility of setting up a meeting prior to the transplant.

“I’ve already started the paperwork to get a visit for you.  I should have a definite answer for you tomorrow, okay?” Alex answers with a grin.  The look in Shelby’s eyes shows all the gratitude that makes this part of her job wonderful.

“Thank you, Miss Alex!” Shelby answers excitedly, while holding out her arms in an offer of a hug for Alex.  Alex moves toward the little girl to embrace her, knowing what it’s like to finally have your dad back in your life, even if it isn’t under the best circumstances at the moment.  They break off the hug and Alex excuses herself.

“I have to go get Angela and take her home.  She’s probably starving by now!  I’ll call tomorrow and let you know if I was able to arrange a visit, okay?”

“Okay, thank you so much for everything, Mrs. Walker, you and your husband.” Geneva offers, with a hug to Alex’s neck. 

“You’re welcome.  You and Shelby are very special, and we’ll help in any way that we can.”  Alex smiles at them, and leaves them to spend some quality time together.

Walker Ranch – 7:00 p.m.

Alex is in the kitchen making dinner.  Angela is sitting in her highchair banging on the plastic tray with her spoon, knocking her Cheerios all over the floor.  The phone rings and as Alex answers, she immediately recognizes the voice of her father.

“Hello, Pumpkin.”

“Hi, Dad!  How are you?”

“I’m fine.  Am I calling at a bad time?” he asks, hearing the ruckus that Angela is making in the background.

“No, that’s just your granddaughter telling me that she’s had enough Cheerios and I’m not making dinner fast enough.” Alex smiles at her daughter, who is busy babbling to her mother in a very loud voice.

“Oh, I see.  I remember when you were that age.  She sounds like she got your temper, and patience, or lack thereof.” He laughs into the phone.  Alex can’t help but laugh at the comment as well. 

“Hey!  That’s not funny.  Have you been talking to Walker? He says the same thing.”

“Well, we can’t lie,” Gordon teases her back.  She knows it’s true, though.  The baby is the spitting image of her, in more ways than just looks.

“Baaaaaabaaaaaa!!!!!!!” comes from the tiny tot, along with a few bangs of the spoon.  Cheerios are flying and Alex notices the mess on the floor.

“I was calling to see if it’s okay if I were to make a short trip down there for Christmas.  I haven’t seen you all in a while and I need to get a look at that lovely granddaughter of mine.”

“Oh, Dad!  That would be great!  We would love to have you spend Christmas with us!” Alex gushes, thinking how nice it is to have her dad to spend holidays with, after so many years without him.  She thinks that she has to get Shelby and her dad together before the transplant!  Just then, the front door slams shut, and Walker’s bellowing voice echoes through the house…

“I’m home.”

He has to announce his arrival after scaring the tar out of Alex one too many times by quietly creeping through the house.  He was afraid he’d give her a heart attack one of these days, otherwise.

“Baaaaaadaaaaaaaaaaa!” Angela sings out, upon hearing her father’s voice.  He makes his way over to the little sunshine in his life and gives her a kiss on top of her head, as he steps on a Cheerio and hears the ‘crunch’.

“Hello, munchkin!” he whispers to the baby, as he moves to take her out of the confines of her chair.  “Come see your daddy!”  He smiles at his wife, as he takes note of her being on the phone, and he takes his daughter into the living room where they can play and be loud.

“Okay, great!  I’ll let you know my flight arrangements and when I’ll be in.  I’m looking forward to it, pumpkin.  I love you!”

“I am too, Dad.  I love you, too.  Take care, and I’ll talk to you in a few days.” She hangs up the phone and goes into the living room for a proper greeting with her husband.  She finds them on the couch and sits next to him and their daughter.  Giving Walker a kiss, she tells him about Gordon’s expected visit.

“That’s great, hon. It’ll be nice having your dad here with us for Angela’s first Christmas.”

Alex’s thoughts quickly shift to another topic, as she remembers that Mark was out of the office yesterday when Walker stopped by to see him, and she is more than anxious to find out if Walker made the time to call him today, as promised. Knowing that she needs to schmooze a little for the liberties she took in planning a party at Mark’s home before he actually agreed to it, she starts running her fingers through Walker’s hair and calmly asks, “Honey, did you talk to Mark today about us borrowing his house for the fund-raiser?”

“Maybe,” he answers, playing with her.

“Was it okay with him?”

“He’s not going to be home.  He’s leaving to go out of town.”

“Drat!  Now what?”

“The barn’s still available,” he suggests, smiling at her.

“You’re messing with me, aren’t you?” she demands, as she stops playing with his hair.

“Keep running your fingers through my hair and I’ll tell you.”  She picks up where she left off.  “He says we can use the house.  When I told him about Shelby, he said he would do anything to help.  You know how he loves kids.”

“I know.  That’s why I suggested it.  You guys just want everyone to think you’re so tough.  Ya’ll are really just a bunch of softies at heart,” she purrs in his ear. 

“Don’t tell anyone,” he warns her.

“I won’t.  And I’ll show you a proper thank-you after Angela goes to bed,” she turns and winks at him.  He lifts the baby into the air above his head and stares at her face as Alex gets off the couch.

“I think she’s looking pretty sleepy to me,” Walker suggests with a twinkle in his eye.

“Later, Cowboy,” and they enjoy a quiet evening at home.

H.O.P.E. Center – December 13, 1:30 p.m.

“Hey, Josie.” Alex greets the manager of her organization in the office.  “How’s my little munchkin doing today?” she asks about her daughter.

“She’s fine.  Keeping everyone occupied, as usual,” Josie laughs. 

“She’s probably about ready for lunch, too.  I’m gonna feed her, and then I promised Geneva that I’d take her and Shelby to the hospital for their pre-check-in appointment.  I hope everything goes smoothly for them.”

“Me, too.  That’s one brave little girl,” Josie acknowledges.

“Yes, she is.  Her mom is, too,” Alex concurs.  She goes to retrieve Angela and takes her into her private office and begins to nurse her.  Within twenty minutes, the baby is asleep and Alex, regretfully but lovingly, returns her back to her crib in the daycare center with a kiss.  “Sleep tight, angel girl,” she coos to her.  She then heads upstairs to find Geneva and Shelby.

“Hello, ladies,” she greets them in Shelby’s room.  “How are you today?” she asks, peeking her head in the room before entering.

“I’m fine, Miss Alex.  Are you ready to take me to the hospital?  Did you find out if I can see my daddy?”

“Yes, and yes.  We are trying to set up a meeting for you for Sunday morning, if that meets with your schedule,” Alex teases the girl.  Excitedly, Shelby hugs Alex and lets her know that it is perfectly okay.

“He’s very excited to see you, Shelby.  He’s excited about seeing you, too, Geneva,” she informs the young woman.

“He is?” Geneva asks, surprised.

“Yes, he specifically asked that you be there as well.”  Alex notices the soft look in Geneva’s eyes at the mention of her husband.

“Okay…sure…yes…I’ll be there,” Geneva nervously states.

“Good.  Are you two ladies ready to go to the hospital?”

“I’m ready.  Can we ride with the roof open?” Shelby asks, referring to the sunroof in Alex’s gold Durango.

“Sure, Shelby.  We can open the sunroof.” Alex smiles, thinking it doesn’t take much to make this child happy.  They drive to the hospital, talking about the expectations of what will happen in the next week, each hoping and praying that the procedure will cure the ailing little girl.

METHODIST HOSPITAL

“Good morning, everyone,” the handsome, middle-aged doctor greets them as he enters the room.  Everyone states their greetings and the doctor sits behind his large mahogany desk to begin filling Shelby and her mom in on what the procedure will entail.

“Shelby,” he begins, “how are you feeling today?”

“I’m fine, Dr. Schaffer.  How’re you feelin’?” the inquisitive child asks him.  She looks so small and frail sitting in the big blue chair across from his desk.  She is wiggling her feet nervously, but seems excited.

“I’m feeling fine,” he answers as he smiles at the two adult women, who are also smiling and trying to hide their laughter at the innocence of this child. 

“What’s gonna happen to me when I come to the hospital?” Shelby asks, sounding rather frightened now.

“Well, when you come into the hospital on Monday, we’re gonna do some blood work first.”

“Does that mean you’re gonna stick me with a needle again?”

“Yes, honey.  I’m afraid there will be some more needle sticking this time around.  But we’ll give you an I.V. so that we will, hopefully, only have to stick you once.  You’ll come into the hospital on Monday morning at 7:30 and check in downstairs.  Then, when they show you to your room, you can put on your pajamas and one of the nurses will fill out some paperwork.  After that, I want you to go get a good breakfast because we’re going to be doing some radiation on you about 10:30 or 11:00 and you may not feel like eating lunch right after that.”

“Can I have Popsicles?”  The adults laugh at her concerned question.

“Yes, you can have Popsicles.  You’ll be able to eat lunch if you want, but you might be a little nauseous or just plain tired.  We’ll let you decide if you want to eat or not.  We’re going to do radiation on you everyday for three days.  Wednesday afternoon, we’ll do one more blood test to make sure you don’t have any infections, and that everything is safe for the transplant to take place.  On Thursday, we’ll go ahead and do the transplant if everything checks out okay. With the radiation, you’ll probably lose some of that pretty blond hair of yours, so you might want to bring a kerchief or a favorite hat along to wear after the transplant. It’ll grow back and then some, once you’re feeling better. Do any of you have any other questions for me?”

“I do,” Shelby answers, as she raises her hand.

“Go ahead.”

“How come I’ve gotta have radiation again?  I thought I was done with that, and that’s why I have to have the transplant, cause it didn’t work.”

“You’re right, Shelby.  It didn’t work because it didn’t kill all of the cancer cells, which is what we were hoping it would do.  But, this time we are going to use the radiation to take away your immune cells which help you fight off infections.  We are going to do this because when we give you your new bone marrow, it will know what kind of cells to become and, hopefully, it won’t make the cancer cells.  Does that make sense to you?”

“Oh…yes.  I guess so.”

“Now, because we are taking away your immune cells with the radiation, this can leave your body vulnerable to infections, so when anyone comes into your room before your transplant, they are going to have to wear a mask, gloves and these funky yellow gowns, okay?  I don’t want you to be scared or anything.  It’ll look like they are all doctors who are doing a surgery, but it’s only so that if any of them have a cold or something, they won’t pass it on to you before your transplant, okay?”

“Okay.  Will Momma and Miss Alex have to wear them, too?”

“Yes, anyone who comes into your room will have to wear them, even me,” the kind doctor answers her honestly.

“Okay.  I understand all that.  Will my daddy get to be in the room with me?”

“I think he’s gonna be in the room right next door to you during the transplant. You’ll be able to see each other, but you won’t be able to talk to him because there will be a glass observation window between you. We’ll see what we can do about getting him in there with you as soon as it’s over and you are feeling better, okay?”

“All right.  Momma, is that okay?” Shelby turns to her mother to make sure she is all right with all of this.  Geneva touches the concerned child’s face, and wonders at how mature this little girl is at such a young age.  Sometimes it frightens her.

“Yes, honey, it’s perfectly okay.  Do you have anything else you wanted to ask Dr. Schaffer?”

“No, I think I know enough now.  How ‘bout you, Miss Alex?” she asks, turning to see tears in Alex’s eyes.

“No, kiddo, I think I know enough, too,” Alex answers her.

“Well, if there are no more questions, I’ll have the Nurse Manager from the 6th floor come down and get you.  She is going to give you a tour of the floor you’ll be on, and introduce you to the nurses that will be taking care of you.  Shelby, don’t be scared.  I’m gonna take really good care of you, okay?” he tells her as he stands from his chair to open the door for them.

“Okay, Dr. Schaffer.  Take care of my daddy, too, okay?  And don’t let my mom be too scared, either,” Shelby requests, as she hugs the doctor’s waist.

“You’re a good girl, Miss Shelby,” he tells her as she releases him and walks away to wait for her tour guide.  He says a silent prayer that the transplant will work and this poor child and her mother will no longer have this heartache to bear.

H.O.P.E. Center-Sunday 10:30 a.m.

It had been decided that the most neutral place for Shelby to meet her father was at H.O.P.E. House. Walker had arranged for transport and security and Travis was escorted to the H.O.P.E. Center, where Shelby waited anxiously. Once he was inside the door, his cuffs were removed, so that when Shelby met her father, it would be less traumatic. He was dressed in street clothes for the same reason. Alex and Walker were both there, and Sydney and Gage had acted as his Ranger escort. Tensions were high, and Alex looked at the man thinking that there was as much tension upstairs in Shelby’s room as anywhere. Shelby and Geneva had each changed four separate times. Shelby had finally settled on a baby blue silk nightgown with rosebuds circling the neckline. Geneva was in a skirt and blouse, with her hair done and makeup on.

By mutual consent, Alex and Walker were the only two who accompanied Travis to the second floor. They reached Shelby’s room, and Travis raised his hand to knock.

“Come on in,” came Shelby’s drawl.

Alex noted that Travis’ hand shook as he turned the knob. He slowly opened the door and peered around into the room. This meeting meant a great deal to all involved, and Alex could only hope that it went well.

“Daddy! You’re my daddy!” Shelby squealed.

“That’s right, sweet cakes, I’m you’re daddy,” Travis agreed as he went to the bed. He sat cautiously on the edge, but Shelby would have none of it. Whatever hesitation the grownups felt was clearly not shared by this little soul. She pressed herself against her daddy’s chest and wrapped her frail arms around his neck to cling to him as tightly as her weakened body would allow.

Travis’ arms went around to reciprocate the loving hug and tears coursed quietly down his cheeks. Finally, Shelby loosened her grip and leaned back and looked at her daddy’s face.

“Daddy, why are you crying?” she asked concerned.

“These are happy tears. I’m just so happy to see you, baby,” he told her in a raspy, emotion-filled voice.

“I’m happy to see you, too. I’m so glad you’re not dead. You’re my favorite daddy of all time,” she stated emphatically.

Geneva watched the reunion between daughter and father with a mixture of jealousy and joy. She’d always wanted her daughter to have a daddy, but Travis’ actions had caused her more grief that she could handle. Not only had he been arrested and sentenced to a ten-year prison term, but his two accomplices had begun stalking her, trying to find out where he’d hidden the money. Travis had refused to testify against them for a lighter sentence, so when the other two had been released after only serving three-year sentences due to loopholes in the legal system, he alone was left to serve the full term.

It was that last visit in the prison, when Geneva had begged him to turn state’s witness and give up the two masterminds behind the crime, that had ended their marriage. He had refused and she hadn’t understood why. His code of silence had cost them all dearly. He wanted to be honorable and pay for his mistakes, but he wasn’t aware of how much that cost Geneva and Shelby.

He looked away from his pale daughter and looked up into the eyes of his former wife. There were tears standing in them, but there was hurt and anger, too. Travis had a lot of making up to do. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to atone for the past, but first he needed to make his little girl well.

“Shelby, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I was a match for you,” he told her sincerely.

“Me too, Daddy, I’m right glad. I thought my angel Gabriel was gonna be takin’ me up to Grandpa soon.”

“Well, sweet cakes, I’d rather you stayed around here so I could get to know you,” he told her.

“I’d like that, Daddy,” she said, as her eyes began to droop.

“Shelby, you best get some rest now. Tomorrow is a big day, and you wore yourself out frettin’ over your daddy’s visit,” Geneva intervened.

“Okay, Momma. Daddy, will you tuck me in?” she asked.

“I’d love to,” he said.

Alex and Walker stepped out of the room to allow them to get her settled. Walker had an obligation to keep Travis in his line of vision, but he stood outside the doorway to let them have some privacy.

The four grownups headed down the stairs to the first floor and into a sitting room.

“God, she looks so frail…” Travis moaned with his head in his hands.

“She is, she’s been through hell and back,” Geneva said in an accusing tone.

“Is there anything else I can do?”

“I don’t know what it could be. But, now that she knows you’re alive, she’ll expect you to stay in her life. Giving her your bone marrow doesn’t make you her father. It’s going to take a lot more than that.”

“I know. I want to do whatever I can to be a part of her life. I know I messed up. If it had just been my life, but it messed up yours and Shelby’s, too,” Travis beat himself up for his past mistakes.

Walker remembered hearing Gordon Cahill say much the same thing the night he’d slapped Alex.

Geneva wasn’t ready to forgive or forget. When those two dirt bags had been released from prison two years before, they had begun stalking and harassing her and Shelby, to the point that she’d been forced to relocate and not tell anyone where she was headed. Anyone that is, except for her mother. Her mother was just 62, and lived on a fixed income, but she’d been such a support for Geneva through all the trials and tribulations, and then she had to take away her precious granddaughter from her. Her mother deserved so very much more from life. They all did.

And Shelby, it seemed they had barely gotten settled in Dallas before she’d begun to be ill. Geneva had protected her daughter from her father’s mistakes by telling her that he had died. It wasn’t an easy decision, but she had decided that she had to cut him from her life in one clean sweep. He refused to corroborate evidence that Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson were involved in the robbery. They had received three years for lesser crimes, and Travis had quietly taken the fall for them. Geneva felt the need to scream well up in her just as it had five years ago, standing in that jail trying to make him see reason.

After months of Shelby’s frequent doctor’s visits, and chemotherapy, and radiation, and on and on, Geneva found that she could no longer hold a job. Shelby came first, and she needed her there with her. Through the grace of God, she’d found the H.O.P.E. Center and Alex and Josie and Alex’s husband, Ranger Walker. They had done so much for them, given them a place to stay and lots of love. And now, Travis just walks back into their lives, the hero: the man, the only one, who can save their daughter’s life. The simmering anger was reaching a boil.

“What about the cost of this procedure? How is all this going to be paid for?” Travis asked.

“Don’t worry about that. My wife can squeeze blood out of a turnip when it comes to fundraisers. There’s one scheduled for tonight at Mark Cuban’s estate,” Walker informed him.

“But how much money are we talking?” Travis asked.

“More than you’ll make in a lifetime,” his ex-wife told him.

“How much?” he insisted.

“With all the unpaid bills to date, and the procedures still to follow, it’ll all come to right at two hundred thousand dollars,” Geneva spat at him.

Travis turned pale and then red, as he thought of all the hardships his family had had to endure, and how much strangers had been forced to step in. “That’s a lot of money. There’s no chance you could raise that in one night.”

“No, but we’ll put a dent in the bill. Don’t worry, things will work out in the end,” Alex tried to reassure him.

Gage knocked on the door to the sitting room. “Boss, sorry to interrupt, but we better get Mr. Taylor, here, back to the jail.”

“Right, let’s go Travis. Besides, Alex and I have a lot to do for tonight and you have a pretty important date coming up now, don’t you?” Walker reminded him of the appointment scheduled for Thursday, the day he would hopefully give his daughter a chance at a healthy life.

Travis was handcuffed and led out of the room. He went peaceably, but turned at the door on his way out and looked at Geneva. He remembered the vibrant young woman he’d married. She was pretty, not beautiful, at least not feature-by-feature, but he remembered that all it had taken was one look into those sparkling eyes and he had been lost. Now her eyes were flat and filled with pain and anguish. When she turned them on him, it wasn’t love that gazed back at him; it was hatred.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a wealth of feeling, and turned to leave.

Alex walked over to Geneva and put her hand on her arm. “I know that this was very difficult on you, but he seems to sincerely care for Shelby. Maybe that’s what you need to focus on to get through this.”

Geneva looked at Alex. She wondered if the beautiful blond was psychic. How did she know just the thing to say to help her get through this? She was right. Dwelling on the past wasn’t going to change it and it was the future she needed to focus on now. A future where her child ran and played with other children. She looked at Alex and gave one brief decisive nod. Squeezing Alex’s hand, she smiled a ghost of a smile at Walker, and turned to head upstairs to check on Shelby.

Outside H.O.P.E. Center

A car sat parked two houses down, observing the comings and goings at the H.O.P.E. Center. Toby Nickerson sat in the driver’s seat, watching Sydney and Gage load Travis Taylor into an unmarked police car. Travis was sitting in the back alone, while the two rangers sat in front. Toby called his partner.

“This is it; this is our best shot,” he told Dex Canton, who sat in a bulldozer a few blocks over.

“Okay, you tell me when they’re about to pass my way and I’ll run ‘em off the road.”

The two men waited patiently as Gage started the car and pulled out. Another car pulled out behind them and Toby called Dex. “There’s a second car, it’s tailing ‘em. More cops.”

“I’ll take care of the Ranger’s, you get the other car.”

“Got it,” Toby said, as he pulled in behind the second car and wound through the residential neighborhood. New construction was underway at a housing area that bordered the older established residential area in which the H.O.P.E. House was located. They had to pass through the construction zone on the way to the freeway.

It was Sunday and construction was halted, so it took Gage by surprise when a front loader pulled out from a side street and plowed into the front of the car on the passenger’s side. Gage fought the steering wheel, but it was no use. The bulk of the heavy equipment pushed it towards a huge pile of excavated dirt.

In the meantime, Toby rammed the second car from behind. The driver put the brakes on, but Toby floored his vehicle and the left wheels of the police car ran into a ditch, and the car flipped on it’s side as it fell into the ditch wedged sideways.

The front loader had done its job and Gage’s car was pushed into the piled dirt, causing the top of the pile to collapse onto the car, burying it. Dex backed the heavy machinery up and rammed it again, pushing it further into the heavy pile. Then he took the huge shovel and knocked even more dirt onto the car. Within a few minutes, only the tail end of the vehicle was showing.

Dex shut off the engine and scrambled down to the rear of the car. Toby jumped out of his rented vehicle and joined him. The two men worked frantically to dislodge enough dirt from the back of the car to expose the rear windshield. They took a crowbar and bashed it in and reached in to pull Travis Taylor out from it. He wasn’t there.

“What? Where the hell could he be?” Toby shouted.

The two men heard a noise and they saw that the officer who had been in the passenger’s side of the second vehicle was making an effort to get the door open and to crawl out.

“Let’s get out of here!” Dex shouted, and the two ran to the rental car and hopped in and sped away.

Officer Styles crawled out and stood on the side of the road. He looked around and saw that Ranger Gage’s car was buried and the back window was smashed in. He looked back at his partner who was unconscious and bleeding from a cut on his forehead. Reaching back into the car, he picked up the radio and called dispatch.

“Dispatch, this is unit D57. We are located on Sage Way near block 2100. We’ve been forced off the road. My partner is injured and a ranger vehicle transporting a prisoner is also damaged. I need ambulances and back-up right away.”

“They’re coming now,” the dispatcher promised and signed off to put out the alert.

Officer Styles headed over to the car and peered in through the back window. There was no sign of Travis Taylor, and both Rangers’ were covered in dirt, as the windshield had given way under all the weight and the soil had poured in. He crawled in and scooped the dirt away from their faces, trying to give them access to air.

A gray Dodge Ram pulled up behind him and he looked back out of the broken glass to see Ranger Walker emerge, with his wife close behind.

“How are they?” Walker shouted, peering through the broken window.

“I don’t know, sir. I smashed my left hand and I’m not able to do much more than clear their faces.

“Crawl on back out and let me in,” came his urgent voice.

Officer Styles did as ordered, and Alex helped him to the Ram, where he sat on the bumper. “Your partner?”

“He’s still in the car in the ditch. I couldn’t move him.”

Alex ran over to see what the situation was there.

“Alex!” Walker shouted.

In mid-stride, Alex turned and rerouted herself back over to her husband. He was crawling out of the back window.

“There’s too much weight on them. Their diaphragms are being crushed. I’m going to have to try and move some of this earth.”

Alex just nodded acknowledgment to her husband’s plan as she watched him scramble onto the bulldozer. His first task was to shift the weight of the pile of dirt off of the front end of the car. He was able to move a lot of dirt, but the car was deeply embedded, and it would take a more delicate machine to remove more soil without further smashing the car in. He looked at Alex and saw that she, too, had come to the same conclusion. She ran over to the Ram and got out the towing rope. They were completely in tune with each other.

Walker hopped off of the bulldozer and caught the rope she threw to him. While he tied one end securely to the back of Gage’s car, Alex tied the other to the front hitch of the Ram. She ran to the driver’s side and hopped in and started the truck.

“Slow and smooth,” Walker cautioned his wife.

She backed the Ram up far enough that the rope was pulled taught. Then she put the truck into four-wheel drive and geared down to the lowest gear. Inch by inch, she pulled the car backwards. Soon, she pulled it a foot and then two. The sound of sirens could be heard drawing nearer, but they wouldn’t reach the victims of this crime in time if they didn’t extricate them from the crushing soil.

“That’s it! Hold up!” Walker yelled as he raced to the passenger door of the car and tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge.

“Here, use this!” Officer Styles yelled, as he handed Walker the crowbar he’d found lying on the ground. Walker began prying the door open as Alex raced to the other side of the car and tried to open the driver’s door.

Walker strained and gritted his teeth, but the sound of metal bending showed that his effort wasn’t in vain. Officer Styles helped all he could as well, pulling on the door handle as Walker braced his foot against the car to get more leverage.

Alex was luckier, as her door opened with minimal tugging. She reached in and began scooping large handfuls of dirt off of Gage. He was buried up to his chin and he wasn’t breathing. She dug faster, until his chest was uncovered. Checking for a pulse, she found a weak one, but there was no sign of breathing. Alex brushed the dirt from Gage’s nose and mouth and then tilted his head back to give him rescue breaths. After pinching off his nose and covering his mouth with hers, she gave him two rescue breaths and watched his chest rise slightly. She again checked for a pulse and found that it was still there, so continued giving him breaths.

Walker and Styles finally managed to get Sydney’s door open and Walker did much as Alex had, first clearing Sydney of dirt, and then giving her rescue breaths. She, too, had a faint pulse, but the dirt had compacted and pressed against their chests, causing them to slowly suffocate. Both Gage and Sydney were moments away from death.

The first fire truck arrived and Captain London jumped off the rig and assessed the situation. He ordered two of his crew to head to the car in the ditch, to check the trapped officer in the car. He and his other two men began unloading backboards and emergency medical equipment. They worked first on Sydney, as they stabilized her neck and breathed for her, using an airbag. Slipping a backboard in behind her, they managed to strap her onto it from the waist up and then dug out her legs and pulled her free of the car. An ambulance arrived and the two paramedics raced around to the driver’s side.

They relieved Alex of her rescue attempts, as they took over breathing for Gage and repeated similar lifesaving measures as had been performed on Sydney. The two Rangers were loaded into the ambulance and it sped off to hospital, leaving the original crew to try and extricate Officer Styles’ partner. This rescue proved more difficult, as the car was wedged tightly into the ditch. They used the Jaws of Life to pry the car open wide enough to bring him up through the top, which was the passenger’s side. Still unconscious and bleeding from a head laceration, he was, nonetheless, breathing and had a strong pulse. A second ambulance transported him and Officer Styles to the hospital for treatment.

Ranger’s Chen and Cooper arrived on the scene, and Walker organized a manhunt to find Dex, Toby and Travis. The assumption was that Dex and Toby had kidnapped Travis to find out where he had hidden the money from the bank robbery. No one knew that Travis Taylor was hiding behind another large pile of soil, waiting for a chance to make his escape.

Alex approached Walker where he stood giving orders to Rangers and police alike. She waited until he finished and then touched his arm.

“Walker, I’m going to take Angela and go over to the hospital to follow up on Sydney and Gage. Do you need the Ram or can you get a ride?”

“I’ll get Chen and Cooper to give me a lift to headquarters. We have to find Travis. Shelby’s life depends on it.” Suddenly, he stopped talking and got a puzzled look on his face.

“What is it?” his wife asked.

“I don’t know… something…” Walker shook his head. He knew that there was something he felt, but he wasn’t able to interpret the sensation. That was the problem with his ‘Cherokee intuition’, he couldn’t make it spell things out for him.

“I’ll call Trivette to meet me at headquarters and then I’ll make it over to the hospital to check on Syd and Gage. We’ll decide what to do from there.”

Alex nodded and then said, “Should I tell Geneva about this?”

“No, let’s wait. She’s going to be devastated when she realizes that Travis is missing.”

“God, Walker, we have to find him. The doctor said that if he hadn’t been a match, she wouldn’t see the New Year…”

Walker looked at his distraught wife and reached to pull her into a hug. “Have faith, darling. I’m sure the angels are working overtime on this one. Shelby seems to have their ear.”

Alex relaxed into his embrace and rested her face against his broad chest. She nodded her head and managed to stem the flow of tears, allowing only a few to escape. She rubbed her face against his chest and then stood up and looked into his eyes. “I’ll keep praying and I do have faith. Not only in angels, but also in you.”

Walker looked at the streaks the few tears she’d shed had made on her face. She was covered in dirt, with smudges on both cheeks. He looked down at her hands that were clasped in his; the normal impeccable manicure wasn’t currently in evidence.  “You go to the hospital, and I’ll see you there in a bit. Then we need to get home and get ready for tonight, we’ve got some money to raise.”

Alex’s chin went up and he saw the stubbornness flood back into her face. “That’s right, we do.”

Walker leaned to her and kissed her lightly on the lips, “I love you,” he murmured.

Captain London approached and overheard the last few words spoken. He held back a smile as he thought of the tough-guy image Ranger Walker was known for. Even heroes had their soft sides. “Sorry to interrupt, folks, but I’m about to pull my crew out and head back to the station. I guess clean up can wait till you boys are done with your investigating.”

“Thanks, Captain, that was a great team effort,” Walker said, as he shook the man’s hand.

“Could have been a much different result if you two hadn’t acted so quickly.” He nodded to Alex and turned to make his exit.

“I’ll see you later, be careful,” Alex told her husband and then turned to head back to the Ram, where Angela had thankfully slept throughout the ordeal. Even the sirens hadn’t woken her. ‘Definitely a Ranger’s daughter’ she decided.

St Matthew’s Hospital Emergency Room-1:30 p. m.

Walker arrived with Lisse Chen in tow. Alex was seated in chairs, waiting for permission to go back and visit with Gage and Sydney. Both were being admitted for observation, but both were awake and alert and clamoring to be released. It was only minutes after Walker arrived that they were escorted to Sydney’s room. Lisse stayed in the waiting room with Angela.

“Well, I have to say, I look better than you two,” Sydney joked when she saw Alex and Walker, who were both extremely dirty.

“Did they let you bathe?” Alex asked, surprised.

“They insisted on it,” Sydney laughed. “I had enough dirt in my clothes and hair to plant my own garden.”

“Well, you sure look better than you did. I’ll never forget how pale you were when I finally got to you in that car,” Walker commented.

“Yeah, thanks for having my back on that one. I guess we really got blindsided. Literally!”

“Well, most people don’t expect bulldozers to ram into the side of their car,” Walker said.

“Any word on Travis?” Sydney asked.

“No, we just can’t tell which way they headed. Whatever footprints there were got covered or obliterated by all the activity to rescue the two of you. We think that Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson pulled him out through the back window, but we don’t know if he was conscious or not when they did. They could be anywhere by now, but most likely are headed back to Oklahoma, to where the money is hidden.”

“What are they going to do about Shelby?”

“Well, they won’t start radiation treatment until we have Travis. If they kill off her bone marrow and there’s no transplant waiting…” Alex let the sentence dangle, but they all knew what she’d left unsaid.

“Look, Syd, we need to check in on Gage and then head out to get ready for tonight’s fundraiser. You take care and rest and if you think of anything that might help in the search for Travis, give Trivette a call. He’s taking point in this investigation until tomorrow.”

“Will do, but I don’t think I’ll have anything to contribute.”

The Walkers made their way to Gage’s room, and he looked great as well. He had a few cuts and scrapes, but there were no other outward signs that he’d nearly died.

“Hey, Walker, Alex, any news?” he greeted them.

“Nothing new, but we’re looking. How are you feeling?” Walker asked.

“Oh, it hurts to breathe, but I guess that’s okay. At least the discomfort lets me know that I am breathing.”

“You sure managed to scare me there for awhile,” Alex admitted.

“Yeah, Officer Styles was in a minute ago and he said that you saved my life by giving me mouth to mouth.”

“Just don’t tell my husband,” Alex joked, to lighten the atmosphere. These macho Rangers didn’t like to dwell on their vulnerability. That was a lesson she’d learned long ago.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” he promised, as Walker just shook his head at them.

“Gage, we need to head out and get this fundraiser going. I told Sydney that if either of you think of something that may help in the investigation, give Trivette a call. You may have heard something said that will give us a clue as to where they’re headed.”

“After that first slam by the bulldozer, I don’t remember anything,” Gage said regretfully.

“You never know what you’re subconscious heard. Keep it in mind.”

“I will, boss and I’ll be back on the job as soon as they let me out of here.”

“We’ll see how you’re feeling,” was all Walker would say.

“Take care,” Alex said and they left to collect Angela and head home.

On the road to Okalahoma

Travis ached. He had managed to get the door open and roll out of the car after the first impact by the bulldozer, but he’d gotten whiplash all the same. It was split second decision-making time and his instincts had kicked in and told him to get out fast. He’d rolled on the ground and came up behind a second pile of dirt. If the police officer in the other car hadn’t spooked Nickerson and Canton, he was sure they would have found him.

It had been difficult for Travis not to join in the rescue attempt, but he stayed behind the dirt pile and waited. He had a more important mission and he was determined that now that he had the opportunity, he was going to take it. There’d only been one moment when he thought he was about to be discovered. Ranger Walker had been talking to his wife and then he suddenly stopped and looked around. Travis was convinced that he knew he was there. That was ridiculous though; there was no way for the man to know.

During the mêlée of vehicles leaving the scene, Travis managed to get back to a utility shed. He broke in and his luck held out when he found a pair of bolt cutters. After getting out of the handcuffs, he turned his attention to finding a mode of transport. There was a nursery half a mile up the road and apparently, they believed that Sunday was the day of rest, because no one was in sight. Travis walked around the greenhouses until he found what he needed, an old pickup truck that was used for deliveries. Travis hot wired it and drove it out toward Oklahoma. He abandoned the truck at a truck stop and bummed a ride with a man transporting a load of grain north. He’d pass right by where Travis needed to go, so he hitched a ride with him. 

Daylight was nearly gone when Travis reached his destination. He walked up the long winding drive that led to Kyle Jefferson’s estate. The man was a millionaire and had made his money drilling oil. Travis had worked for him once.

After getting to the back door, Travis snuck in while the cook went into the herb garden out back, to collect fresh herbs for the night’s dinner. He stealthily made his way into the house, to the salon where Jefferson liked to smoke his cigars and have a drink before dinner. Travis was standing in the doorway when Kyle Jefferson looked up.

“Travis Taylor, is that you under all that dirt?”

“It’s me, Mr. Jefferson.”

“I thought you were still in prison.”

“I’m out for a short time and I came to make you a proposition.”

“What sort of proposition, boy?”

“My daughter, Shelby, needs an expensive medical procedure and I came to ask you to make a donation of a hundred thousand dollars to the fundraiser they’re holding for her tonight in Dallas.”

“And just why would I do that?”

“Because, Mr. Jefferson, I have proof that you’re not the upstanding citizen you claim to be. It’s been hidden, along with the two hundred thousand dollars I got from that bank heist.”

“If you’ve got that kind of money hidden, why not just use it?”

“I can’t. Do you really think they would take a donation from an anonymous source? A bag of money that just happens to be in the same denominations as the bank robbery?”

“You’ve got a point there, boy.”

“I have one hundred thousand dollars right here on me. I’ll give it to you, and then I want you to write a check to ‘The Shelby Taylor Fund', care of H.O.P.E. Center, Dallas, Texas. Messenger it to Mark Cuban’s estate, to the fundraiser held there tonight and I’ll make sure that the taped evidence I have of your little business deal with Senator San Jose gets destroyed.”

“And why should I believe you?”

“Because, Mr. Jefferson, I don’t rat. I’ve kept the evidence hidden for six years now. I left your employment because I couldn’t stomach what you were doing, but then I couldn’t get a job and made some bad choices. I got ten years, Mr. Jefferson, while my partners only got three. I think that proves that you can rely on me to keep my mouth shut.”

“You had the makins’ of good geologist, boy. I even offered to pay for your schoolin’. You had a promising career ahead of you. You threw all of that away, because of your morals?”

“I threw a lot more than a career away, Mr. Jefferson. I don’t matter anymore, but Shelby does. She deserves a chance to live. So, do we have a deal?”

“And I have your word that this evidence you have will be permanently destroyed?”

“You have my word and you will never hear from me again.”

“All right, my boy, I’ll do it.”

“Thank you. Here’s the money and now I need to get back to Dallas as quickly as possible.”

“I’ll have my driver take you and deliver the check to the fundraiser for me. Will that suffice?”

“Yes sir and thank you again.”

Travis went outside and waited for Sherman to get instructions from Mr. Jefferson. He then climbed into the back of the Mercedes Benz and fell sound asleep as it raced back to Dallas.

H.O.P.E. Center- 7:30 p.m.

Alex had arrived to drop Angela off with Geneva, who would be watching her for the night. She had filled Geneva in on the days’ events and held the woman as she sobbed out her pain and fear.

“I’ve sent for your mother, Geneva. Since Canton and Nickerson apparently know where to find you, you might as well have her here with you through this difficult time.”

“Thank you, Alex. If we do… lose Shelby, she should get to see her one last time.” Geneva broke down into sobs again.

“Geneva, you have to have faith. Walker has his entire Company of Ranger’s looking for Travis. We will find him and in time to help Shelby. Please, just keep having faith.” Alex held the woman until she had once again regained control over herself. “Now, I need to go. Josie has handled all the last minute arrangements for me and I need to get over there and help before the guests start arriving. Are you sure that you’re okay with me leaving Angela?”

“Of course, Alex. She’ll be fine and Shelby will enjoy her too. You know how much Shelby thinks of Angela.”

“They are precious together. Okay, you have my cell phone number. Call me if you need anything.”

Alex kissed her infant goodbye and headed back downstairs to join her husband, who was dressed in his least favorite attire, a tuxedo.

“Everything okay?” he asked Alex.

“Yes, everything’s fine. Let’s go host this fundraiser, and keep thinking good thoughts.”

“I can’t think any other kind. Looking at you, I know there are angels,” he said, as his eyes swept the sparkling gold evening gown she wore. “You look heavenly,” he told her.

“I love you, Cowboy,” she told him and gave his arm a squeeze as they headed out the door.

To be continued…

Tune in next week for Part 2 “Unlikely Angels”.


Unlikely Angels

WTR Trilogy – Part II

AUTHORS: FANDOM-WAMS Round Robin

          Mare (dancemomri@aol.com)

          Christy (Kristiangrace@aol.com)

          Diane (dwoneill99@hotmail.com)

          Lelani (Lelani.Dixon@att.net)     

          Lisa (sandbox@alaska.net)

          Irish (irish2@erols.com)

SUMMARY: Alex and Walker have arranged for Shelby’s father, a convicted felon, to be brought to Dallas to donate bone marrow to her. Travis meets his ailing daughter and discovers the cost for the medical miracle that will save his daughter’s life. Travis’ partners in the bank robbery try to get to him to disclose where he has hidden the money. Sydney and Gage are injured and no one knows where Travis is. With Travis missing, Alex and Walker decide to continue with the charity ball to raise funds for Shelby’s transplant while Trivette leads the manhunt to recover him in time to save Shelby’s life.

Guest Characters:

Travis Taylor: convicted of bank robbery, he is serving a ten-year sentence.

Geneva Taylor: young mother of Shelby and ex-wife to Travis Taylor.

Shelby Taylor: a nine year old girl who’s only chance to survive leukemia is a bone marrow transplant from her father Travis.

Olivia Barnes: Shelby’s grandmother and Geneva’s mother.

Dex Canton: one of Travis’ partners in crime, he wants to know where the money was hidden.

Toby Nickerson: The third bank robbery partner and the ‘mastermind’ behind the crimes.

Kyle Jefferson: Rich oilman from Oklahoma and former employer of Travis’.

Estate of Mark Cuban - 10:30 p.m.

Walker is standing with his beautiful wife, greeting people and discussing the tragedy that has befallen young Shelby Taylor. The news of her father’s disappearance has been kept from the media, so no one is the wiser. Walker hopes that they can get through the night without it becoming public knowledge. With any luck, they will find him very soon. There have been roadblocks set up going into Oklahoma and the police are out in force looking for clues.

“You know, Alex, maybe we should schedule these things on Sunday night more often.”

“Why is that?”

“Everyone seems anxious to write their checks and head home early.”

“You are wicked bad, Mr. Walker.”

“I’ll show you how bad later, Mrs. Walker.”

“I’ll hold you to that.  Senator, how nice that you could make it.”

As Alex slid smoothly back into her role of hostess, Walker stood by her side with a pleasant smile plastered on his face. ‘Give me thumbscrews any day,’ came the errant thought as he tuned back into what the Senator was saying.

“Ranger Walker, I don’t know how your wife does it, but she’s gotten more of my money than any other lady in Texas.”

“She is persuasive,” Walker says mildly, not liking the tone the Senator is taking.

“I’ll say. She can talk a man into just about anything.”

Fortunately, the Senator’s wife had seen how much he’d had to drink and smoothly intervenes before he can stick his foot into his mouth.

Walker’s phone buzzes and he is never more grateful. He looks at Alex and she just smiles in acknowledgement of his silent apology. Walker heads for the terrace and answers the cell phone.

“Walker, you’re not going to believe who just walked into a police precinct in Plano,” says Trivette.

“Travis?”

“Yep. He said that Nickerson and Canton took him hostage, but he managed to escape and get to the precinct. He says that he was blindfolded and left after dark and can’t tell police where to find them. They’re taking him to the hospital for a check up, but except for being stiff and sore, not to mention dirty, he seems all right.”

“That’s great news, Trivette. Still, I wish he could have led us to Nickerson and Canton. Well, the important thing is that he’s back and Shelby can get her transplant. Speaking of which, I want around the clock guards on Shelby and her mother. I don’t want them used to get to Travis.”

“I’ve already ordered the guards.”

“Thanks, Trivette.”

“How’s the fundraiser going?”

“Seems to be doing well; it was a good turnout. I think it’ll be over in another hour or so.”

“That’s great! Well, I’ll see you in the morning. Travis Taylor is in the capable hands of the DPD and they will escort him back to prison after he’s done at the hospital.”

“Okay, Trivette. Get some sleep and I’ll see you a bit late tomorrow. Alex and I are going to take Shelby into the hospital in the morning. She’s pretty nervous about the whole thing and of course her mother is, too.”

“Okay, till tomorrow then.”

Walker heads back to where Alex is chatting with some generous donors and saying goodnight to those who are heading out. A man in a chauffeur’s uniform approaches Alex.

“Pardon me, Madame.”

“Yes?”

“I was told to ask for a Mrs. Alexandra Cahill-Walker.”

“I’m Alex.”

“Very well. This envelope is for you,” he says as he presents her with an envelope, bows and exits.

Walker steps next to Alex and asks, “What was that about?”

She looks at him and shrugs, “I don’t know.”

Alex opens the envelope and withdraws the check. The sum makes her gasp. “Walker! This is a check for a hundred thousand dollars!”

“What?”

“It’s signed by Kyle Jefferson.”

“The oil man?”

“Is there another?”

“Why would he donate such a large amount of money?”

“Wait, there’s a note. ‘Travis Taylor was once in my employ and I recall the day Shelby was born. I would like this money to be used to help her to a speedy recovery.’ And its signed Kyle Jefferson.”

“Did you know about Travis working for him?”

“No, I don’t know anything about it. I guess we’ll have to ask Geneva about it.”

“Well, there’s more good news. Travis is back in custody. He says that he escaped from Nickerson and Canton and he turned himself in.”

“Oh Walker! That’s wonderful!” Alex says as she throws her arms around him.

H.O.P.E. House - 12:30 a.m.

Alex is bursting with excitement as she fills Geneva in on all the good news of the evening.

“I can’t tell you what a relief it is that Travis is back. I have spent the entire evening praying for just such a miracle. I guess Shelby’s angel was listenin’.”

Alex hugs Geneva as the tears flow. She has lived through a great deal and is reaching her breaking point.

“You just keep having faith. God is listening and you are going to have a healthy child for Christmas this year. I truly believe that.”

“With people like you and the Rangers in our corner, how can we miss?” Geneva asks rhetorically.

“So Travis worked for Kyle Jefferson,” Alex says with a question in her voice.

“He did. Mr. Jefferson was going to pay for him to go to school and get a degree in geology. Travis was on cloud nine. Then something happened and he suddenly stopped working for him. He wouldn’t talk about it. That’s Travis for you, he won’t tell you a thing, just clams up.”

“Yeah, I know someone like that,” Alex, says with a ghost of a smile.

Walker has just entered the doorway with Angela cradled in his arms. He had overheard the last exchange, but decides not to comment in front of others.

“Honey, Angela and I are ready to head home when you are,” he says instead.

“I’m on my way. Thank you, Geneva, for watching her for us tonight.”

“It’s the least I could do with all you’re doing for my Shelby.”

“Well, we don’t trust many people with her, so it’s nice to have someone who takes such good care of her that we don’t have to worry.”

“Anytime, Alex. Goodnight, Ranger Walker, and thank you again.”

Walker smiles and turns to let Alex exit in front of him as they head out to go home.

Walker Ranch - 1:00 a.m.

Alex walks out from the bathroom into the bedroom, brushing her hair. She is wearing one of Walker’s sweatshirts and thick ankle-high socks.

“Stop trying to seduce me,” Walker gripes with a grin, as he takes in her apparel.

“I’m dead tired and I’m cold, I have no intention of seducing you.”

“Want me to warm you up?”

“Walker… I told you, I’m tired!”

“Let me have the brush,” he commands and takes it from her. He guides her to the end of the bed and continues brushing out her hair. It has continued to grow and is down past her shoulders.

He continues to brush her hair, as she derives pleasure from the feel of his hands as they untangle her hair and the brush bristles as they stimulate her scalp.

She sighs and tilts her head back so that it’s resting against his bare chest as he stands behind her. Walker smiles at the unspoken request and sets the brush down. His fingers delve into her silky hair and begin massaging her scalp, temples, forehead and on down her face. He reaches her chin and then strokes down the sensitive nape of her neck. She murmurs as his fingers tickle, and her head automatically falls foreword to protect the sensitive area.

Walker shakes his head and begins kneading the muscles in her neck and shoulders. “I didn’t like the way the Senator was talking about you tonight.”

Alex’s lips curve into a slight smile. “He was just trying to get a rise out of you. You showed great restraint.”

“Well, next time, I’ll show him my boot, up close and personal.”

This time, Alex’s lips curve into a full smile. “Darling, I love it when you get all protective.”

“Liar. You always yell at me for being rude.”

“Yes, but I still love it.”

“Women!” Walker says with feeling.

Alex chuckles and replies, “men!”

Walker bends forward and begins nuzzling her neck. “I heard what you said to Geneva tonight about knowing someone who doesn’t talk about things.”

“And?”

“And, I resent that remark. I tell you all sorts of things.”

“I know; I was talking about someone I used to know.”

“Who?”

“You.”

“Okay, now I’m lost.”

“You… the old you. The one who never shared things and who went off on treks through the badlands when he had a problem.”

“Oh… so you’re saying that I’ve changed?”

“Yep.”

“For the better?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well… don’t you think I deserve to be rewarded for good behavior?”

“Are you feeling neglected, Cowboy?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Alex laughs softly and stands, turning to face him. “Well now, we can’t have that, can we?”

Walker’s eyebrows raise and he shakes his head ‘no’. Alex steps up on tiptoe and stretches her arms around his neck. She leans forward so that her lips are millimeters from his.

“What can I do to make it better?” she asks in a husky whisper.

“You’re doing it,” he answers, as his arms go around her waist to draw her in closer.

Alex kisses his mouth lightly and then her tongue flicks out to trace the outline of his lips. She opens her mouth and pulls in his lower lip and sucks on it and then lets it slide back out of her mouth. She reaches forward and captures it again, this time with her teeth. She gives it a little nip and he lets out a grunt. Alex’s tongue quickly goes to the injured flesh to soothe it.

Walker has allowed Alex to take the lead in this seduction, but his hands don’t remain idle. He rubs her back through the thick sweatshirt and then he runs them down over her rounded buttocks to the edge of the shirt. He starts to ease it up, but she stops him.

“Walker, no, it’s too cold. Let’s get under the covers.”

“Good idea,” he says, and turns swiftly to pull them down.

Alex stumbles as she suddenly loses her support beam. “Walker…”

Before she can finish her complaint, he’s back, scooping her into his arms and plopping her onto the bed. In one smooth motion, the shirt is pulled over her head and the sheets are tucked up to her neck.

Walker jogs over to the other side and dives in under the covers headfirst.

Alex gets a puzzled look, but soon her socks come flying out. “Walker, my feet are cold.”

“I’ll warm them up,” comes the muffled reply.

Next her panties come sailing out from under the covers.

“Walker, my buns are cold!” she complains.

“I’ll warm those up to,” comes the still muffled reply.

As Walker’s flannel pants come flying out to the bedroom floor, Alex’s facial expression turns to surprise and then delight. Walker suddenly tugs on Alex’s legs and, with a gasp, her face slips beneath the covers.

The camera pans back as the bedclothes move and heave and muffled moans and gasps are heard.

Walker Ranch, Monday Morning, 7:00 a.m.

The camera pans in on two motionless forms.

“Oh my God, Walker, look at the time!” Alex has just woken and shifted to take a look at the clock. “We’re a half hour late!”  Alex starts scrambling for her robe. “I can’t believe we overslept!” she complains.

“And whose fault is it that we were up ‘til two a.m., huh?”  Walker sleepily responds.

“Yours, Cowboy, all yours!” is Alex’s sassy reply.  “Now high-tail it into Angela’s room and start getting her ready while I put myself together.” 

On that note, Alex grabs a pillow and starts pounding her husband’s head.  Walker easily avoids her swings and laughingly slides out from under the covers.  Grabbing his flannel pajama bottoms, he quickly pulls them on, while simultaneously avoiding Alex’s further attempts to swat him, and heads out the bedroom door.  Alex throws the pillow on the bed and, while chuckling over Walker’s antics, heads towards the bathroom for a quick shower.

An hour later:

The scene moves in on Alex, Walker, and Angela in the front foyer, preparing to go out the door.  Angela is on the floor in a baby seat, Alex is fumbling for her keys, and Walker is impatiently checking his watch.

“Come on, sweetheart, we really need to get going here!”  Walker urges his wife. 

“I know, I know.  I just can’t find the keys to the SUV.”  

“Alex, I swear, you women have enough in those purses to outfit an army and you tell me you can’t find your keys?” comes Walker’s not entirely good-natured reply.

“Ah…. Got em!”  She cries holding up the errant keys. The Walker’s hurry out to load into Alex’s Durango.

As they head toward HOPE House, Ales says, “You know Walker, I just wish there was something more we could do to ease Geneva’s and Shelby’s minds. I know that they are both eaten up with worry about this procedure.”

Walker looks at Alex with a furrowed expression on his brow.  “You know Alex, there just may be a very tangible thing we can do while we wait for the radiation to take effect.”

“What’s that, dear?” 

“Well, we are supposed to go up the Reservation after Christmas for Angela’s naming ceremony.  Suppose we call and tell White Eagle about the situation down here with Shelby and ask if he would consider coming here, instead, both to do the naming ceremony, and to perform a healing and blessing rite for Shelby.  What do you think about that?”

Alex gives Walker one of her patented ‘he’s melting my heart’ adoring looks and puts her arms around him for a bear hug.  “That’s absolutely perfect, Walker! Use my cell phone and call him now.”

Walker grins at his wife’s ‘damn the torpedo’s, full steam ahead’ attitude in life. He complies and picks up the cell phone to contact Billy at the reservation and ask him to get word to White Eagle.

Monday morning - 9:00 a.m.

Walker and Alex pull up in front of H.O.P.E. House with Angela in tow. As they approach the steps, Shelby and Geneva walk out the door holding hands. Josie is behind them, carrying an overnight bag. Walker, seeing that the short walk to the truck will be more than Shelby can handle, quickly walks up to her and picks her up. Shelby trustingly puts her arms around his neck, snuggles close and whispers in his ear.

“My angel said he’d be with me the whole time and not to be ‘fraid.”

“That’s an angel’s job, so you just do what the doctor tells you and let your angel do the rest.”

Josie hands the bag to Alex, who has walked up to Geneva and placed an arm around her shoulders and given her a quick hug. “Christmas is a time for miracles, Geneva, why don’t we let Shelby’s angel carry the burden for a while?”

Geneva leans into Alex’s half hug, gives her a watery smile and solemnly nods her head in agreement.

After settling everyone into Alex’s spacious Durango, Walker drives the short distance to Methodist Hospital and drops Shelby, Geneva, Alex, and Angela at the door. They proceed to the transplant floor and are meeting with the doctor when Walker strides up to join them.

“Shelby, this will be your special room, where you will be at home for the next several days. Everything is sterilized and we will all be wearing those funny suits before your transplant and for a few days afterwards.”

“I ‘member, you esplained all about how everyone will look like spacemen, but I shouldn’t be ‘fraid. I’ll pretend that they’re all dressed up for a Halloween party just for me. When does my daddy get here?”

Geneva and Alex looked questioningly at Walker.

Walker knelt down in front of Shelby, took her small hand gently between his two large roughened ones and said, “Honey, I will personally bring him here on Wednesday morning, bright and early.”

Walker stood up, put a reassuring arm around Geneva and said quietly, “I’ll have him here a few hours before they need him, so you can spend some time together as a family before the transplant.”

All of Geneva’s feelings are creating a hornet’s nest of turmoil inside of her. She is thankful that Travis is a perfect match, for above all; she wants her daughter to survive and grow up to lead a normal life. Then, on the flip side, she is furious that Travis put his family in such danger. Still, she has a hard time quelling the inner excitement that is bubbling up at the thought of seeing him again. She had done a lot of thinking over the past few days and is beginning to realize the desperation he felt when he agreed to help with the robbery. He did what he thought he needed to do to take care of his family. With Shelby’s life in such danger, she now wonders what she might have been driven to do, had the Walkers and H.O.P.E. House not stepped in at a very desperate time in her life.

With all of the turmoil straining her face, she says, “Thank you both, there is no way we can ever repay you…”

Breaking the tense moment, Alex said lightly, “Now, Geneva, we told you, the best thank-you we can get is Shelby recovering. So, let’s concentrate on that, okay?”

The doctor, who had stepped back to let them have their private exchange, said, “Shelby, why don’t you let your mom help you change into a nightgown and get settled. I will be back later today to check in and see if you have any questions after your first round of radiation. We will be running a few last minute tests on you later today.”

The doctor leaves to continue with his hospital rounds and Walker pulls a square box from the corner of the room and places it eagerly on the hospital bed beside Shelby.

“This is for you.  I thought it would come in handy after your transplant.  You’re the toughest cow-gal that I know and I’ll just bet you’ll look like Annie Oakley herself when you wear it.”

Shelby ravaged the confines of the box to reveal a shiny, powder blue, half-pint Stetson hat with a matching adjustable neck string.  As she placed it on her tiny head, all of the adult faces in the room were warmed beyond words by her priceless expression of sheer pride.

“Does it suit me, Ranger Walker?” She asks excitedly.

“It suits you perfectly, Shelby.  When you’re feeling better. I’ll take you riding at my ranch and you can give that topper a real breaking in.”

“Thanks, Ranger Walker. I love it.”

Shelby reaches out for the humble Ranger and circles her uninhibited arms around his waist.  As her slender, frail arms squeeze him with a renewed sense of strength; he can’t help but return her embrace with an encouraging squeeze of his own. Soon, the nurses come to take Shelby downstairs for her first radiation treatment.

Walker, Alex, and Geneva are in the radiation therapy waiting room. Both Geneva and Walker are pacing.  The doctor steps out from the restricted area and calls out:  “Mrs. Taylor?”

Geneva turns, her face pale with anxiety and worry.  “Yes?” she replies tremulously. 

“It went well, Mrs. Taylor, very well.  I hope the next two treatments go as well as this.  We’ve sent her back to her room in the pediatric section and you can go on up in a half hour or so.  Shelby needs a little bit of time to recover and get settled back in her room.”  Looking at them gravely, Dr. Schaffer continues,

“I need you to remember that Shelby is extremely ill to start with and she’ll now be feeling even worse.  More than likely she will be very nauseous and weak. Please don’t be surprised or too worried if she’s listless and doesn’t want to talk.  That’s usual after these kinds of treatment.”

Relief shows all over Geneva’s face and demeanor.  “Thank you, Dr. Schaffer, thank you!” is all Geneva can manage to murmur.  Walker and Alex go over and give Geneva a gentle hug.

Monday-2:00 p.m.  

Shelby has braved the first round of radiation like a trooper.  The initial wave of nausea has removed what is left of her breakfast from her stomach and she has settled down in her room for a nap. Geneva, exhausted from too little sleep since Travis re-entered her life, dozes off in the lounge chair in the corner of Shelby’s room, thoughtfully provided by the hospital. 

Crying lightly onto Alex’s shoulder, Geneva whispers, “I just wish my mother was here.  I had to take Shelby away from her and she has no idea that Shelby is so ill.  I know it would make Shelby fight even harder if she could just see her grandma.  They’re so close and my mom can make anyone feel like they’re the most special person in the world.”

Alex rubs her shoulder in a comforting manner.  “I know how you feel, Geneva.  My mom was the same, and I hope that Angela feels that way about me someday. I spoke with your mother by phone and she wants desperately to come, but she has the flu and coming here could jeopardize Shelby since she won’t have any immunity after this radiation. She’ll be here as soon as the doctor gives her the okay to travel.  Now, why don’t we get a bit of lunch in the cafeteria before we go up to see Shelby?”

Shelby’s Hospital Room 3:30 p.m.

After only a short nap, Shelby wakes to the sound of her stomach gurgling.  She rubs her forehead to try and stop the pain that is developing behind her eyes.  She notices a figure sleeping in the chair beside her bed and she is startled at first by the sight, forgetting her mother had put on the hospital gown and mask once her radiation started.  Tears begin to well up in her blue eyes as she sees her mommy having to sleep in an uncomfortable chair with her face covered by a paper mask.  She turns on the television and tries to distract herself away from her sad thoughts.

Shelby hears a cart rolling near her door and then stop. She looks up from Nickelodeon and sees a kindly old black gentleman with fuzzy white hair and a red cardigan shuffle towards her doorway. She begins to giggle as she notices his hat. It is a clown hat and as he stands in the doorway he begins to juggle three beanie babies. Then he smiles a big smile at her and bows out of the doorway, waving a big good bye.

Her giggling merriment wakes up Geneva. She feels very rested and somehow more at peace with her emotions. As the cobwebs leave her brain, she realizes it has been some time since she heard such laughter from her sickly daughter.

“Honey, what’s all of this giggling business all about?”

“Oh, sorry, Mama, I didn’t mean to wake you, but this funny man just peeked in and was so funny throwing beanie babies up and ‘round and ‘round in the air. Do you think he’ll come back again to visit?”

“I’m sure he will, honey.”

Walker Ranch, About 10:30PM

The scene opens with Walker and Alex out on the porch swing, with Angela comfortably ensconced in her mother’s arms.  Alex has just finished nursing and burping her daughter and now everyone is enjoying the sensation of just calmly swinging back and forth all bundled up and snuggled together against the chill air.

“Ahhh, Walker, this is just what I needed.  A few moments of quiet and peace, after the day we had at the hospital.”

Walker appears distracted.  He glances around, feeling that something is happening, but he’s not sure what. Alex is a tad put out, and is about to say something…

“Good Evening, Washo.”    An older, gravelly voice echoes out of the night.

“Huhhhhh,” gasps Alex.  She’s so startled she stands up with Angela, her heart pounding, instinctively readying herself to flee with her child.

Walker stands and puts a restraining hand on her.  “It’s all right Alex, don’t worry.”

From the shadows, White Eagle seems to appear as if out of smoke and fog.

A sigh of relief escapes from Alex.  Amused, White Eagle greets the wife of his favorite warrior.  “Blessings on you, Alex, and our new little one.”  Slowly traversing the stairs to the porch, White Eagle holds out his hands to take the baby.  Alex puts Angela in his arms and tears come to her eyes as she sees the ancient healer put a hand of benediction on the child and silently welcome her to the world of her Father’s heritage and traditions.

“I have come, Washo, as you asked.  I will name your child here, but you must also come home to the Reservation, later in the year, to name her in front of the Nation.  Agreed?”

“Agreed, old friend.” Walker bows he head in acknowledgement of his debt to White Eagle’s great favor in naming his daughter outside of the Reservation and its usual rituals.

“Now Washo; let us speak of this little girl-child that lies so ill.  Tomorrow I will go to her and “pass hands” over her, asking a blessing and a healing, that this modern medicine will make her body well.  You will take me?”

“Of course, White Eagle.  As soon as Shelby comes out of her second radiation treatment, we’ll go up and we will all be with you as you ask the Great Spirit to give her strength of body and of soul.”

“It is good.  Now Washo, a bed.  I am an old man, and weary, and I have no objection to the modern white man’s soft bedding.” 

Alex goes to give White Eagle a kiss, which he returns.  Walker leads White Eagle into the house, to the guest room.  Upon Walker’s return, he finds his wife and child both sound asleep.  He takes Angela from Alex and wakes his lady.  “Come on Alex, to bed with all three of us, too.  Tomorrow will be quite a day.”

Methodist Hospital, Shelby’s Room,  Tuesday 2:00 p.m.

It had been a difficult second radiation treatment, and Shelby has been vomiting since it ended.  She is laying in bed, utterly exhausted, with rings around her eyes, eyes that have the haunted look of despair in them. Shelby is watching some activity going on elsewhere in the room.

Across from the bed, Geneva looks on in skepticism, as White Eagle and Walker prepare for the healing and blessing ceremony.  Alex stands quietly by Geneva’s side, occasionally whispering into Geneva’s ear about what is going on.

White Eagle dons the white deerskin of a healing ceremony and Walker bows to him as he places a sacred necklace over White Eagle’s head and shoulders.  The necklace is comprised of many ceremonial objects, most of which modern people would not recognize, nor understand their profound importance. He is then covered in the sterile gown so that he may approach Shelby as she lay in the bed.

Ready, finally, White Eagle moves over to Shelby’s bed.  Walker lights the ceremonial incense bowl and hands it to White Eagle.  He wafts the scent of burning myrtle over the child. Shelby had been moving restlessly, but quiets as the gentle man places his gloved hands on her.

Looking up to the heavens, from which all solace comes, he begins his entreaty: “Hear, Oh Great Spirit, the supplication of your children.  We come to you in prayer, to ask for the healing of a little one.  All of the children of our earth are our very heart and soul, the essence of the future of our race.  We ask for the health of this girl-child, that she may grow in light and in The Spirit, so that she will grow to be a grace and blessing to her family and her nation.  We name her here, so that you will be able to find her among the people of the Nations. The name we give her reflects what she has been to her people and her friends.  We name her: Woya, Dove, for she has been a child of peace and grace.”

He turns and addresses Shelby to explain the significance of this new name. “Washo tells me that the wings of a very special angel have embraced you, so it is likely that you must have the freedom to fly on your own.  The dove soars high above the earth, but she will never fly higher then her sight will allow.  She keeps everyone and everything within her protective watch. You have a gift of vision, Woya. Others will ride on your wings as you have ridden on the wings of your angel. Many will learn from your strength of spirit and your abounding heart.”

White Eagle bends over Shelby and places around her neck a medicine bag on leather strings.  While doing so, he explains to those in the room that the bag contains both traditional herbs of healing and small writings that invoke blessings on the wearer.

“Wear this as a sign of your determination to be well, Shelby.  Faith in your ability to help yourself is the strongest medicine on the face of the earth.”

Beckoning for Walker to approach him, White Eagle takes a small item from Walker’s hands.

“And this, Shelby, is a very special gift for you.  This weaving is called a Dream Catcher and we will put in on the wall over your bed.  In our culture, a Dream Catcher is made by a child’s mother and hung over his or her bed, to catch the bad dreams that Coyote, “The Trickster,” may bring, and send down pleasant and tranquil dreams, instead.  For you, your Dream Catcher was made by a very powerful Medicine Woman, and in it is woven all our desires for your health and recovery.”

White Eagle stands back up and brings out one more item from a pouch he has tied to his waist. “I have one last gift for you,” he says. He holds up a very special necklace. With great reverence, he places it around her neck.

“This once belonged to a little man named Lucas. It has a very powerful medicine and it gave him endless strength through his own ordeal. The Great Spirit tells me that Lucas had a different journey to make than you do, but yours will be equally as difficult.”

As he places it around Shelby’s neck, he chants quietly, “Wear it and gain strength and know that there are strong powers at work to help you on your brave journey. You are not alone.”

Shelby takes the old Indian’ hands in her own, and whispers in a low and exhausted voice, “Thank you, White Eagle.  I know the Dream Catcher and the Medicine will guard me, just like my Gabriel does.”

White Eagle recognizes that Shelby has no more reserves of strength and ends the healing ceremony with prayers said over incense.  The lovely aroma helps to send Shelby into a quiet and peaceful sleep.

Alex turns around, with the intention of asking White Eagle when the naming ceremony for Angela will be, only to find he’s disappeared.  

“Walker, where’s White Eagle?  He was just here.  He didn’t get in the elevator or we’d have seen him.”  Alex is truly puzzled at this turn of events.

Walker just smiles one of his mysterious smiles.  “Alex, you of all people should know by now that White Eagle comes and goes at his own will.”  We will see him later, when he feels it appropriate.”  Alex just shakes her head in frustration.

She knows that neither Walker nor White Eagle will give her the answers she would so dearly like to have.

The scene fades out on Alex shaking her head in exasperation at her grinning husband.

Wednesday-December 19th, Early Morning

Geneva is in the cafeteria, buying a much-needed cup of coffee. Shelby awakens from a fitful night’s sleep after suffering from still more bouts of nausea following her second round of radiation treatment. Once again, she hears the quiet rolling of the cart, and sits up in anticipation when she hears it stop in front of her room. The same kindly, fuzzy head pops around the corner. This time he has on a bright blue cardigan and, of all things, a cap with elephant ears! He pantomimes an elephant trunk with his arm and then elephant ears with his hands. Then he waves a big wave and leaves the room.  Shelby is still giggling weakly when Geneva rushes into the room.

Slightly alarmed, she says, “Shelby, what in heavens name is so funny?”

Giving in to her fatigue, she continues to smile and says, “It’s okay, mama, it was that funny man again. He had on a elephant hat and was actin’ like a elephant.”

“Are you sure you’re not dreaming up your little man-friend?  I’m starting to think you might be hallucinating from the radiation.”

Geneva checks her daughter’s forehead for any evidence of fever, but she is cool and dry.

“No, Mama.  He’s real. I think, maybe, he’s just for the kids to see.  Maybe you’re too old to see him,” Shelby rationalizes.

Before Geneva can respond, Walker and Travis enter the room. Travis has caught the last few giggles and becomes slightly misty eyed. He carefully walks up to Shelby and gives her a kiss on the cheek through his paper mask, then looks at Geneva and, testing her mood, says, “Are we ready for show time?”

Walker, sensing they need to continue to work out their issues, leaves the room and stands in the hallway where he can keep an eye on Travis.

Geneva, not sure how to handle her newfound understanding, resorts to her established means of communication. “Well, I’m sure you’re more prepared and a little more rested then me; seeing you actually slept in a bed last night, instead of this uncomfortable old chair.”

The hope Travis has begun to have in his eyes is squelched instantly. He hangs his head and stares at the floor. Shelby is looking questioningly between both of her parents. Noticing this, Geneva walks over to Travis, tentatively extends her hand, touches his sleeve and says, “I’m sorry, let’s just try to get through this one obstacle at a time.”

Understanding the deeper meaning of her words, he places his hand over hers, gently squeezes it, then reaches over and gives Shelby a hug. “Tomorrow’s our big day, champ.” They spend a few minutes just being together as a family trying to give each other courage to face the challenges the next few days and beyond will hold.

They keep the mood light until the nurse comes to take Travis away for his pre- op testing. Walker accompanies them and Geneva goes to the cafeteria for a quick lunch.

10:00 a.m.-Wednesday, an old warehouse in Dallas

Toby Nickerson is talking angrily on his cell phone and looks up when Dex Canton walks through the door. “You’d better have good news for me…”

“Hey, calm down, man. Lucky break. Remember our jail informant? He found out that right at this very moment our friend Travis is holed up at Methodist Hospital, with only one Ranger to guard his back. His daughter is getting that transplant tomorrow. Don’t that just warm your heart?”

Speaking to the party on the cell phone, Toby says, “You just be ready to move when I say so, or you’ll have worse problems than that to deal with.” Then he hangs up and thoughtfully looks at Dex. “I wonder…I wonder if we’ve been going at this the wrong way, maybe our friend Travis needs a little persuasion? Sure, he’s guarded, but what about his kid? Why don’t we borrow her for a few days until Travis sees the wisdom of telling us where the money is? Course, we don’t really need the kid once he thinks we have her, so we can get rid of her after we leave the hospital.”

Methodist Hospital, lunchtime-Wednesday

Geneva is still in the cafeteria. Shelby is watching cartoons and quietly awaiting the nurse to take her to her next radiation treatment. She hears the gurney rolling down the hall and sighs deeply assuming it is time. Two male nurses push the gurney into her room. The first thing she notices is that they don’t have masks on.

Jokingly, she says, “Hey, did you two forget your Halloween masks? The doctor says that everyone who comes in my room has to pretend it’s a party and wear a mask.” Looking at them closer, she has an indescribable realization of who they are. “You guys are the bad men that are trying to kill my daddy, leave me…”

Toby clamps a hand over her mouth and snarls, “Shut up, kid. Your “daddy” has something we want and I bet he’d be a lot more cooperative if we had your help.” Toby keeps his hand over her mouth until she stops struggling and passes out. “Help me lift her onto this thing,” he barks at Dex.

They place her onto the gurney; roll her out of her room and down the hallway. As they near the front door, Shelby’s new magazine-cart friend realizes what is happening and pushes his cart in front of the gurney.

“Hey, you old coot, get that out of the way.” Toby, followed by Dex, begins to walk menacingly towards the elderly gentleman. Thinking quickly, he reaches into his bag of tricks and pulls out a handful of marbles and throws them towards Toby and Dex. As they are stumbling around on the marbles, Shelby’s mysterious friend pushes the gurney as quickly as he can away from Toby and Dex.

When Geneva returns from lunch and finds Shelby missing, she assumes she has already been taken away for her treatment. A few minutes later, the real nurses arrive and ask Geneva where her daughter is. In a sudden panic, Geneva rushes to the lab where Travis and Walker had been escorted for the pre-op testing.

Seeing the panic on his beloved ex-wife’s face, Travis brushes away the nurse who is drawing blood from him and runs to her. By this time, she is in hysterics, and can barely sob out that Shelby is missing. Travis takes her in his warm embrace to comfort her and looks at Walker.

Sensing that something is wrong almost before Geneva entered the room, Walker is already on his feet and rapidly heading for the door. “Travis, you stay here with Geneva.” Looking at the lab assistant, he says curtly, “Lock the door after I leave and don’t open it up until I come back.”

Walker races down the hallway to the entrance and arrives in time to see Dex and Toby scrambling up from a floor full of little multi-colored marbles. He pulls his gun and yells, “Texas Ranger, stop!!”

Toby and Dex look back once and then quickly run out of the building to their waiting car, which they had left running at the entrance. Walker has no choice but to let them go, as he never has a clear shot. Toby and Dex rely on the fact that firing a gun in a hospital would be the very last thing the lawman would want to do. Their luck holds out as they make their escape, but their kidnapping attempt has been foiled.

With the immediate danger gone, Walker returns to find Shelby and her rescuer holed up in a linen closet down the hall from Shelby’s room. Shelby is doing just fine. By now, she has woken up and is giggling at her friend who is juggling marbles much to her delight.  Walker escorts them to Shelby’s room and leaves them with an armed guard outside of her door.

Walker, knowing that Shelby is in good hands, proceeds to the lab to bring Travis and Geneva to their daughter. They arrive in her room at the same time as the head nurse. This time, her silent, mysterious friend is pulling flowers out of his sleeve and making silly faces at Shelby.

“Shelby, is this the friend you have been telling me about?” Geneva asks curiously.

“Yes, Mama, he is my special laughing friend. He makes me ever so glad. My angel says he sent him here to make me laugh, so that I have lots of happy parts in my body to fight the bad parts.”

The head nurse broke in and said to Geneva, “Mrs. Taylor, this is one of our favorite volunteer workers, Gabriel. He is deaf and he is unable to speak, but he has a special gift for making very sick children laugh.”

Geneva walks over to Gabriel with an unquestionable sense of calm. She hugs him tightly and mouths “thank you” so that he can read her lips. Her faith in the things to come has just been strengthened beyond compare by the silent angel that has quietly watched over her baby when no one else could be there for her. Tears of hope saturate her eyes for the silent stranger to see and understand.

Methodist Hospital, Wednesday Evening

Shelby’s body is growing weaker as the radiation kills healthy as well as cancerous cells in her body. Her bed is now covered with an isolation tent.  There are several medical personnel around her.  Outside the hermetically sealed room, Geneva, Alex, and Walker are watching the proceedings.

The door to the isolation room opens and Dr. Schaffer emerges.  He takes off his sterilization suit hood and moves over to the group by the window.

His face is a bit grim and he doesn’t have his customary smile.  “Mrs. Taylor, I can’t be less than honest with you.  I’m deeply concerned.  This last treatment, not to mention the kidnapping attempt, have left Shelby without any reserve of strength and she’s about as sick as human being can be and not cross that last veil.  We all need to pray.  I’m moving the procedure up to first thing tomorrow morning. Ranger Walker, I’ll need Mr. Taylor here tonight, I want him available in case we have an emergency and can’t wait.”

A stolid-faced Ranger replies, “You got it, Doctor.  I’m going to get hold of my partner and we’ll get him here right away.” With that, Walker gives Alex a quick kiss and heads out the door.  The women turn their anxious eyes back to the child on the other side of the impersonal and uncaring glass.

Shelby’s room late Wednesday night, early Thursday morning

A gray shadow enters Shelby’s room and glides over to the side of her bed.  Shelby stirs and wakes.  She smiles, weakly, up into the face of her Gabriel.  It doesn’t strike Shelby as odd that Gabriel doesn’t have one of the strange isolation suits on.

“lo’ Mr. Gabriel.  I don’ feel good.  I feel really bad.  Can I go with you to find Grandpa now?”

Gabriel bends low over the white-faced little girl and smoothes her hair.  He shakes his head slowly.  He writes on his pad, so the child can understand.

“No sweetest, your grandpa doesn’t need you.  Your mama and your daddy do, very much.  A lot of people are praying for you, and sending you all their best wishes.  Didn’t Ranger Walker even bring a great Medicine Man from his tribe, to bless you with a healing ceremony?  There is too much for you to do here, Shelby.  You need to stay.  Will you promise me to keep faith and believe that God, and all his Angels are busy at work, making sure that you get healthy?”

“‘Kay, Mr. Gabriel, I’ll try.  I promise.”

Gabriel writes in his pad.  “That is all that God asks of you, that you try.  Now, sleep, my child, you have a long day ahead of you.”  Shelby nods and yawns and turns her face up for a kiss.  Her action is answered.  Gabriel bends down to give her a little kiss and then adjusts her bed covers, making sure that Shelby is well tucked in.   He watches as the innocent little girl settles back into a blissful and welcoming sleep.

And no one sees the door open, or anyone leave the room where a desperately ill child sleeps in a glow of light that cannot be seen by the average human eye and is not truly of this earth.

Methodist Hospital Thursday a.m.

The waiting room is full of people who are in deep prayer for a successful procedure to save little Shelby’s life. Alex, Walker, Trivette, Erika, Josie, Gage and Sydney surround Geneva. Chen and Cooper call in periodically for updates, as they are unable to stay at the hospital, because they must remain on duty.

The extraction process begins on Travis, while the last tests on Shelby are conducted.  The hours on the clock in the waiting room tick by:  8am, 9am, 9:30 am, 10:00am…

A nurse enters the waiting room and quickly says to Geneva and all the others waiting, “It’s a GO!  We’re taking Shelby into the operating room right now.  The bone marrow from Mr. Taylor has been extracted and the last tests on it were perfect, and Shelby’s last tests showed no infections of any kind, so… HERE WE GO!”  Then she turns and rushes back to the treatment room.

A mild roar of exhilaration fills the waiting room, with everyone hugging each other and slapping each other on the back. The camera shows Walker and Alex just looking at each other, as they hold hands.

Thursday, December 20, 2:00 p.m.-Methodist Hospital

The camera does a close up on the treatment room doors.  Suddenly the door bangs open and a masked medical person barges out and heads for the waiting room.  The people waiting in the room all stand and look at the figure approaching them with a cross current of fear, hope, and resignation.

Dr. Schaffer lifts his respirator mask and gives the biggest smile of his life.

His staff wouldn’t recognize the usually reticent surgeon, as he swoops down on Geneva Taylor and literally lifts her, swirling her around and putting her back down on the ground.

“YES, YES, YES!  I think it’s the best match and transfer I’ve ever done.  She’s already got better color and she isn’t even out of the treatment room!”

Suddenly, the doctor remembers where he is, and blushes, deeply.  “Oh, please pardon me Ma’am. I’m so sorry. I just got carried away.  Please excuse me!”

Geneva Taylor laughs, and says “Doctor Schaffer, there’s not a darn thing to apologize for.  I’m as happy as you are.  When do you think we can see Shelby?”

Dr. Schaffer shakes his head, ruefully.  “Not for about three hours, Mrs. Taylor.  We’ll keep her in ICU and monitor her very carefully. We must make absolutely certain that Shelby is stable. Is that okay?”


”Doctor, that is MORE than OK!  It’s just wonderful!”  Geneva embraced Doctor Schaffer and he hugged them back (his first year interns would NEVER have believed it!) and then shook hands with everyone else waiting. 

Then, in a quieter voice, Geneva asks, “ Did Travis do okay?”

“Yes, it’s a very painful procedure for the donor, Ms. Taylor. He was very strong and took the pain well. He kept saying over and over, ‘if this would only make up for part of the pain I caused them...’ I thought you’d want to know.” He said looking at her kindly. She smiled her gratitude as tears overtook her. Alex rushed to gather her in her arms as she cried out the fear and joy that combined to overwhelm her emotions.

As he left, Dr. Schaffer thought to himself, “I don’t know why it went so well, or why it seemed like someone else’s hands were guiding me, but I do know that I’m going to Church this Christmas with a happier heart than I have ever had before.”

Friday afternoon, December 21, Judge Cornwall’s Chambers

“With this new evidence, and extenuating circumstances, I am comfortable granting your request, Alex. I have spoken with the court system in Oklahoma and Travis has been remanded to the discretion of this jurisdiction. As of today, his sentence will be considered served. Travis Taylor will have to serve three years probation, but, if what you’re telling me about this lad is true, that should be a cakewalk for him. He has very good friends in you and Ranger Walker. Consider this an early Christmas present Alex. Make sure that young man knows how lucky he is to be sharing Christmas with his family this year. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Alex.”

Unable to contain her professionalism with her bubbling happiness, Alex leans over and gives the dignified old judge a kiss on the cheek.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Judge,” Alex responds with excitement before she springs up and leaves the room to make her way to the hospital to tell the Taylor’s the wondrously outrageous news.

5:00 p.m. Friday, Travis’ Hospital Room

Geneva nervously knocks on the door and enters when Travis calls out for her to come in. Walker is in the corner reading a newspaper.

Picking anxiously at her sweater, she sits on the edge of a chair by the bed.

“How are you doing this afternoon? You were so out of it last night and this morning that I don’t think you even remember me sitting here with you for awhile.”

“All I can remember is that an angel came and talked to me and said we had been through the dark valley and everything would be brighter now. Were you my beautiful angel, Geneva?” His face is soft and genuine and Geneva’s heart skips a beat, as she watches the glow of sincerity and hope radiate from his handsome green eyes.

Alex walks in and heads over to Walker. She leans down before he has a chance to get up, gives him a quick kiss and says, “Hello stranger, how did you sleep last night?” His answer is a half-wink to her that she acknowledges with a twitch of her eye that only he is aware of. Looking at Geneva and Travis, she continues, “I’ve got some great news for you two. I spoke with one of my favorite judges today and he was able to change jurisdiction over Travis to the State of Texas. Then he made the ruling that ‘Due to new circumstances and evidence, Travis Taylor is released from custody.’  You’ve got three years of probation to honor; but after that, you’re free!”

Geneva is overjoyed at the news and she gives in to her emotions and throws her arms around Travis’ neck. She then gives him a big kiss. Travis is stunned by her reaction and by the news and lays there in shock. Geneva awkwardly lets go and sits back in the chair, still holding onto his trembling hand.

Walker and Alex smile at each other and leave the room holding hands.

“Travis, I have been overwhelmed with so much since you left, I don’t know how to say this properly.”

Reaching up and softly caressing her cheek, Travis replies, “Just speak from your heart, darlin’, our miracle has already begun.”

“I think I can sort of understand why you did what you did. You were desperate to provide for your family, and saw the robbery as a quick solution. I’m not saying I would break the law, but in my darkest times with Shelby, I would have done just about anything short of sellin’ my soul to make her well again.”

At that moment, the darkness outside is filled with a brilliant star and the light saturates through the transparent curtains to fill the room with a glow of peace and promise.

“This is a sacred time of the year, Travis. God forgives, it may take time, but I think I can forgive also.”

Geneva tentatively leans her head in to rest against Travis’ welcoming chest.  His hand sifts through her cool, silky hair that he has yearned to touch for too long.

Sunday, December 23rd-10:00 a.m.

Walker and Alex have offered to deliver the Taylor’s to H.O.P.E. House. Walker is waiting in the SUV as Geneva and Alex follow the recovering patients, who are being pushed out of the hospital door in wheelchairs.

As Travis is helped into the Durango, he shakes Walkers hand and says, “This is mighty kind how you are helping my family out. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the help with the bills and now you are even finding a place for us to stay...”

“Well, Travis, all along Alex and I have been saying that all we want in return is for Shelby to get well. Looks like we are going to get that, huh?”

Shelby pipes in her voice muffled by the cloth mask she wears over her mouth and nose, “Yeah, the nice doctor said all of the bad cells are gone and my hair will grow back and I will get to run and play with the big kids at H.O.P.E. House really soon. But don’t worry, Ranger Walker. I’ll still be wearin’ my hat: Even when my hair grows back. It suits me, ‘member?”

“I remember Shelby,” Walker answers with a pleased chuckle.

Geneva and Travis share a look acknowledging that this is the season of miracles and new beginnings.

Sunday, December 23rd, Late Afternoon – Walker Ranch

Because of their heavy work loads and their commitments to helping Geneva and Shelby through the transplant; and the planning of the benefit, not to mention finding Travis and keeping him alive long enough to be the donor, Walker and Alex had delayed putting up their Christmas tree until the 23rd of December.

After Angela is in bed, they work together to put up and decorate the tree for Angela’s first Christmas. It’s late by the time all the lights and ornaments are perfectly arranged and all the empty boxes are returned to the attic, but Alex pronounces it the most beautiful tree she has ever seen. 

“You say that every year, darling,” Walker teases her with a tolerant smile.

“And I mean it every year,” she retaliates with a smile of her own.

They stand with their arms around each other, admiring their handiwork.  Walker checks his watch and says, “Alex, our little alarm clock of a daughter will be waking us promptly at the usual time, so maybe we should get some sleep.”

Alex smiles at him and says, “You’re right, but I’m not really sleepy.” 

“Well, I can think of a way to relax both of us,” Walker says with a sexy grin and a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows. 

“I like the way you think.  Let’s go, Cowboy!”  And with arms wrapped around each other, they head up to bed.

Just as Walker had predicted, Angela’s wake-up cry is heard promptly at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, coming from the baby monitor.  Alex gets up and goes to change and nurse the baby, while Walker quickly showers and dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt, heads downstairs.  He puts on a pot of coffee and then turns on the tree lights and starts some Christmas music. Much to the surprise of his wife and colleagues, he has taken both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off this year.

When everything is organized downstairs, he heads back to Angela’s room to check on the progress of his wife and daughter.  Alex is just burping the baby as he walks into the room.  He takes Angela from Alex and tells her he wants to take Angela down to see her first Christmas tree. 

Alex says, “Not without me!  Just give me a few minutes to pull myself together and we’ll all go.”

“You won’t be too long, will you?” Walker asks impatiently.

“No, I promise, just a few minutes.  Since I’m off today, I can shower and dress after breakfast, so I’ll only be a couple of minutes.”

As soon as Alex returns to Angela’s room, Walker starts towards the stairs with Angela in his arms. 

Alex put her hand on his arm and says, “Give me a minute to get into the living room, so I can see her face when you bring her in, okay?” 

Walker nods in agreement and she heads down the stairs.

When Walker walks into the room carrying Angela, the baby’s face lights up with a look of awe and wonder, and she smiles a big, toothless grin.  Walker watches her and then looks at the beaming expression on Alex’s face and suddenly he is flooded with many conflicting emotions.  There is happiness and joy and gratitude for these beautiful blue-eyed blondes who have given him the family he longed for for so many years.  There is also sadness and loss and even anger that the many people he had loved in his lifetime were not here to be a part of the celebration: His parents, Uncle Ray and Aunt Ruthie, Lucas, and C.D., among others.  Why had they all been taken from him?

Alex notices how Walker’s previously happy face has gone still and hard and she moves quickly to his side, laying her hand on his arm and asking, “Walker, what’s wrong?”  He seems not to notice her presence, just standing still and silent. 

Suddenly, he felt a cloud of warmth and love surround him and he knew it was the spirits of the loved ones whom he had been missing so much.  They were there, with him and his beautiful wife and daughter, completing the circle of family and friends and making this truly a special and wonderful Christmas. 

And, too, there is the fact that Gordon, Alex’s father and Angela’s grandfather, will be with them soon to celebrate this first Christmas with Angela.  Walker knows how much this means to Alex, who had been estranged from her father for so many years.

While all these thoughts and emotions were running through Walker’s heart and mind, Alex stands watching him with a worried expression on her face.   Then, in what seems like only a moment, Walker’s face relaxes and a smile appears.

Alex asks anxiously, “Honey, what just happened?  You were so far away.” 

He looks at Alex and replies, “Nothing to worry about, hon. Just a few old memories, and the promise of happy new ones waiting to be made.  Now, how about we think about some breakfast, before the day gets away from us.  There’s a lot to do today to get ready for this evening and tomorrow.”

“Good idea, as long as you’re okay.  Gosh, Dad will be here before we know it, and there are a lot of presents to be wrapped and hidden, too.  To the kitchen, family!  It’s time to get this holiday started!”

Monday, December 24th, 3:00 p.m.-Dallas Airport

Walker and Alex are seated in the gate waiting area absorbed in Angela, awaiting the arrival of Gordon’s flight. A surprised Geneva, who has just picked up her mother at the adjoining gate, interrupts them.

“Walker, Alex, what a surprise! Who are you waiting for?”

Handing a giggling Angela to Walker, Alex stands up and says, “ My dad is coming in on this flight. He wanted to spend Angela’s first Christmas with her.”

“Well, the doctor finally allowed my mother to come. It’s a wonderful Christmas present for me and especially for Shelby. Oh, where are my manners? This is my mother, Olivia Barnes. Mom, this is the couple I have been telling you about, Walker and Alex. And this little ball of giggles is Angela. We’ll be going to their ranch tomorrow for Christmas dinner.”

The petite, middle-aged, blond woman reaches for both of their hands and says, “Bless you both for being willing participants in God’s miraculous plans for my family.”

Walker and Alex are deeply moved by this profound statement, before they were brought back to reality by a booming voice. “Is that any way to greet your dear old dad, pumpkin? I remember when you were little - your mother could barely hold you back from running into the plane to meet me! And is this big girl my littlest angel? She’s going to be riding Little Ranger before you know it!”

Alex turns at the sound of Gordon’s voice and gives him a big hug. He proceeds to shake Walker’s hand, and then reaches for Angela. She recognizes his voice from the many phone conversations they had had, and willingly goes to him.

“Geneva, Mrs. Barnes, this is my father, Gordon Cahill.”

Shaking Olivia’s hand, Gordon says debonairly, “And you would be Geneva’s sister?”

“Oh, my, no,” she replies in a girlish giggle, “ Geneva’s my daughter. I have a nine-year-old granddaughter.”

“Well, tomorrow you’ll have to give me tips on granddaughters, I’m just a rookie at this.”

Walker and Alex fill Gordon in on the way home about White Eagles plan to perform Angela’s naming ceremony at sunset at the ranch. Gordon will just have time to shower and change while all the guests arrive. They have limited the number of people invited to those they feel are ‘family’.

Walker asks Gordon, “Will you stand up for Angela, as part of the ceremony?  The rites call for any living ancestor to be by the child’s side, and you are Angela’s only living ancestor.”

“Walker, Alex, I’d stand up for Angela even if there was Force Five tornado bearing down on the ceremony!!!”

Walker and Alex just grin.  They’re used to Gordon’s grandiose statements and know he’ll be just fine.

Christmas Eve-Walker Ranch 4:30 p.m.

White Eagle showed up, quietly and unexpectedly, as always.  No one saw him approach, and no one heard him.  But, there he was.  Gordon just sighed.  He knew he’d never understand any of this. 

White Eagle asked Walker if he was prepared to support his child within and without the Nation.  Would Walker acknowledge the child as his own, and as a member of the Nation?  Walker responded in the traditional manner.  He took Angela from Alex’s arms and walked to where White Eagle stood.  Balancing the child in his outstretched arms, he raises Angela to White Eagle and the sky beyond.  Holding her firmly, Walker begins the traditional statement of claiming:

“Mother Earth, Father Sky, be my witnesses.  This is the daughter of my body, the child of my love.  She was born of the love and respect between her mother and myself. She is welcome in our tribe, our Nation, our world. I ask that you guide White Eagle to her true name and to give us the honor of knowing that name.”   Having completed his traditional role, Walker returned the babe to her mother.  Then, he sat with Alex, Angela and Gordon and waited for what the Spirits would show White Eagle.

White Eagle approaches Alex and holds his arms out for Angela. Taking her, he walks off the porch and walks a few feet.  Lifting her to the morning sky, White Eagle intones to the Spirits:  “Name this new member of our Tribe, give her health, spirit, strength, and joy.”  Suddenly, White Eagle smiles.  Returning to the porch, he gives the baby to her mother and intones: “The spirits have spoken.  This child will be known within the Tribe as ‘Ahyoka, which means, ‘she brought happiness.’  It is a well-favored name.” 

“Ahyoka,” says Gordon, savoring it on his tongue. “It’s beautiful.” 

Alex concurs.  “Oh, White Eagle, I couldn’t be happier with such a lovely name.” 

Walker stands, and moves over to the railing of the porch, wanting to see the stars. His wife and all their family can see the joy that exists in Walker’s heart. It shines from his eyes as they rest first on his wife and then on his daughter.

White Eagle comments on it. “Never, have I seen such joy and completeness in the face of our brave and temperate warrior, Washo.  This child is truly a gift to each and every life that she graces with her small presence.  ”

And everyone on the porch of the Walker’s ranch house that night was pleased, satisfied and happy about the induction of Angela Walker into her Nation as Ahyoka Firewalker.

A proud smile adorns White Eagle’s usually composed face before he quietly walks toward the wooded area of the ranch.  Walker knows it as the face of a self-satisfied grandfather who has been bragging shamelessly over his first grandchild.  He, too, savors a moment of pride for the memorable ceremony that has woven his sound heritage into the indestructible circle of his cherished family.

Christmas morning 10:00 a.m.

The only exhilaration inside the stinky, dirty “rent by the hour” hotel room occupied by Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson was the lady on the TV who’d just been told to “Come On Down.”  And even she didn’t seem that thrilled.

Toby Nickerson was totally pissed and very, very NOT okay.  Dex Canton knew that he’d better find a way to placate his partner, or he was going to have a real short fuse on his hands.  And Dex wasn’t really sure of his ability to control that fuse.  Dex thought frantically: “What the hell do I do with this guy?  What do I say that won’t get me killed?”  And suddenly, Toby changed the channel and provided Dex with his answer.  The local news channel had gotten wind of the unusual transplant situation at Methodist and had decided to use it as their Holiday “Human Interest” lead story; hoping for big Christmas week ratings.

“We gotta get that kid.” Dex muttered.

“How? They got her guarded now.”

“Well, you heard ‘em. She’s goin’ home. Maybe we can snatch her.”

Just then, the television showed Travis Taylor in a wheelchair next to his daughter, as they were loaded into a Gold Durango. “No…” Toby said as his mind began hatching a new plan. “We’ll take the ex-wife. Look at him. Look at the way he looks at her. Yeah, we’ll take her. It’ll be easier than getting to the kid. Oh yeah, we’ll take her.”

“Damn, I can’t believe he got out of the slammer,” Dex muttered.

“Never mind that! We gotta get to that HOPE House and start watching for a chance to take the lady.”

Christmas Day-Walker Ranch 2:00 p.m.

Walker is in the kitchen, pulling out the ham and stirring the gravy, wearing an apron that says, ‘Texas Rangers do it in the kitchen,’ a joke gift from CD one past Christmas. Alex is upstairs tending to Angela when Trivette and Erika let themselves in. Trivette observes his partner’s newfound domesticity and can’t let the opportunity pass to give him a good old-fashioned ribbing.

“Hey, partner, if this is what marriage does to a proud warrior, maybe I should reconsider my options.”

Erika pokes him in the ribs, and says, “Jimmy, nothing turns a woman on more than a man who is handy in the kitchen.”

Walker raises his eyebrows at Alex as she comes into the room with Angela. “Is that true, hon?”

She walks over to him, gives him a kiss on the lips and squeezes his well-defined rear end with her free hand and says, “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”

Trivette, sensing that once again the tables have been turned on him, changes the subject. “So, who all’s coming today?”

Alex, jiggling Angela on her hip while Erika makes funny faces, says, “Well, my Dad, he’s out taking a short walk. Then there’s Travis, Geneva, and Shelby Taylor and Geneva’s mother, Olivia… and Sydney and Gage. Poor Lisse and Glen being the rookies can’t make it as they got stuck with holiday duty. Lisse and Glen are eating a late dinner at Glen’s family’s house today. You remember that Lisse’s family is in California, and since she is a junior Ranger she couldn’t get enough time off to visit them?”

The sound of the door opening distracts them and Sydney and Gage, who are in the middle of yet another heated ‘discussion’, soon join them.

“Francis, I told you to put the jello mold back in the refrigerator last night. But NO, you had to check it before you left and I wake up to a green slimy puddle all over my kitchen floor.”

“Syd, I just wanted to make sure that all of the fruit didn’t sink to the bottom. My mom used to make this awesome jello salad for Christmas dinner and I wanted to get it right. I can’t help that I got distracted while I was checking. It’s really your fault, you know.” He is poking her in the side as they enter the kitchen. Sydney, realizing that everyone overheard their last exchange, blushes. Trivette decides he has had enough fun teasing Rangers for one day, so lets it lie.

Quenching a giggle, Alex valiantly tries to change the subject. “So, what did you bring for a salad?” 

“We threw together Gage’s famous Greek salad instead.”

“Yeah, you’ll really like it, lots of feta cheese and olives, just like my mom used to make.” He replies, looking intently at Sydney.

Alex, clapping her hands, says, “It looks like Walker has this under control. Why don’t you all go into the living room and I will pass out champagne and sparkling cider.” Seeing her father walking in the back door, she says, “Dad, just the man I’m looking for. Would you hand out the glasses as I pour them?”

“Why certainly, pumpkin. Oh, and greetings to all. Hello Trivette, Fork Boy, Sydney. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this lovely young woman.”

“Gordon, this is my fiancée, Erika,” Jimmy beams proudly with a boasting arm curled around her waist.

“I had heard you were engaged, congratulations to you both.”

There is a rapping on the front door, which can only mean the Taylor’s have arrived. There are no formalities of knocking with their more intimate friends.

Alex hands Angela off to Sydney, who starts to make fish faces at her. Gage sits down next to her on the sofa and begins to play pat-a-cake.

The door is opened to the Taylor’s, who are bearing a bottle of wine. Alex kneels down and gives Shelby a big hug. “So, how is our favorite patient doing?”

“The doctor says the procedure worked and I didn’t even lose much of my hair! Now I can be around other people, but I have to keep my mask on for a bit longer. The doctor says it’s so I don’t get other people’s germs.”

Holding her close for just a minute longer, Alex replies, “Oh, honey, we are so happy for you.” Encompassing Shelby’s parents with her smile, she invites them into the living room, introduces Olivia to the guests she had not yet met, and pours them each a glass of champagne.

Everyone holds up their glasses as Walker toasts, “To health and happiness, and a full recovery for Shelby.” They all clink glasses and warmly smile at Shelby who is breathtaking in her powder blue cowgirl hat and her matching eyes and satin dress.

Walker Ranch-10:00 p.m.

As they wave goodbye to their last guest, Alex stretches her arms over her head and circles them around Walker’s neck. “Honey, that was a wonderful Christmas. You were terrific in the kitchen. Now what did that apron say?”

“I think it also said something in small print about the statement not applying when the girl’s father is sleeping in the downstairs guestroom.”

“Promises, promises, Cowboy. I truly am beat, anyway, I can’t think of anything I would like better than a nice long soak with the new bath salts you gave me, and then bed - the sleeping kind.”

“I tell you what, why don’t you go on up, I’ll finish up in the kitchen.”

Highway back to Dallas-10:15 p.m.

Travis is driving Josie’s station wagon, Shelby is sleeping in the back seat curled against her grandmother, and Geneva is contentedly dozing, sated by a full belly and the knowledge that her daughter will recover, and things may actually work out with Travis.

In his rear-view mirror, Travis sees a car rapidly closing the distance between them. A car traveling at a similar speed is approaching from the front. Having nowhere to escape to, he veers off to the shoulder and into the ditch, hitting his head on the steering wheel in the process. Because Geneva, Olivia and Shelby were sleeping, they were more relaxed and not hurt in the accident. Shelby begins whimpering as she sees the same bad men approaching who had tried to take her away from the hospital. She lies as quiet and still as she can with her face tucked into her grandmother’s lap while they open the door on her mother’s side. She hears the meanest one say, “the woman’s less trouble, leave the kid and let’s get out of here.”

Travis quickly regains consciousness and remembers rolling into the ditch. He hears Shelby crying in the back seat and turns to comfort her. He sees that Olivia has hit her head on the side of the window and is still unconscious. “Shelby, where did mommy go?”

“Those bad men took her.”

“Oh, Lord help us.” Thinking quickly, he says, “Shelby, I can fix this, I’ll take you back to Josie then I’ll go get mommy back. Can you trust me?”

“Yes, but shouldn’t you let Ranger Walker know?”

“Shelby, they have done so much for us, I can take care of this. You just stay with Josie and grandma and say your prayers to your special angel. I promise, I’ll bring mommy back and we will be a real family again, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy.  I trust you. Please hurry back with mama though. Gabriel promised me that I would be with both of you this Christmas. That was the only present I asked for.  I’m afraid for mama. Enough bad things have happened to her. Daddy, she’s been so sad for so long. Please find her soon so we can be a family all together again.”

“It may take me a little while, but I will get your momma back to you. I won’t let you down this time baby. I can never let you or your mama down again. I couldn’t live with myself if I did. Let’s get goin’, sweetheart.  Your mama needs me.”

Travis races to HOPE House where he leaves a frightened Shelby and a groggy Olivia. With one last look of love at his darling daughter, he makes a solemn silent vow. ‘Whatever it takes, I will bring her mother home to her.’ He acknowledges that it may take his own life to accomplish his vow, but he is willing to make any sacrifice necessary. With renewed determination, boosted by the love he feels for his wife and daughter, he heads out to track down two lowlifes he had been unfortunate enough to hook up with. He isn’t going to let his mistakes hurt the people he loves ever again.

Stay tuned next week for the conclusion of our holiday trilogy….

‘Heavenly Night’


Heavenly Night

WTR Trilogy – Part III

AUTHORS: FANDOM-WAMS Round Robin

          Mare (dancemomri@aol.com)

          Christy (Kristiangrace@aol.com)

          Diane (dwoneill99@hotmail.com)

          Lelani (Lelani.Dixon@att.net)

          Lisa (sandbox@alaska.net)

          Irish (Irish2@erols.com)

SUMMARY: Young Shelby has had her bone marrow transplant and all the early signs for a full recovery are good. Travis’ sentence has been commuted to time served and three years probation. The young family can now look forward to rebuilding a life together—until Geneva is kidnapped by Travis’ former partners who are determined to get their share of the bank heist money. Now the Ranger’s have their hands full trying to find Geneva and Travis who has decided to take matters into his own hands.

Guest Characters:

Travis Taylor: convicted of bank robbery, he is now out on probation.

Geneva Taylor: young mother of Shelby and ex-wife to Travis Taylor.

Shelby Taylor: nine-year-old who’s recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

Olivia Barnes: Shelby’s grandmother and Geneva’s mother.

Dex Canton: one of Travis’ partners in crime, he wants to know where the money was hidden.

Toby Nickerson: The third bank robbery partner and the ‘mastermind’ behind the crimes.

Kyle Jefferson: Rich oilman from Oklahoma and former employer of Travis.

Walker Ranch 11:00 p.m. Christmas night

Alex has finished her long soak in the tub and is sitting at the vanity with only a satin robe on as she smoothes lotion on her legs. Walker enters the bedroom after completing the kitchen cleanup.

“Hello darling, do you need some lotion for your dishpan hands?” his wife asks him, tongue-in-cheek.

“Funny, Alex.” He pauses to watch her smooth lotion into her calve muscles. ‘She still has the sexiest legs around’, he decides as he watches, mesmerized. “Need any help?” he offers.

Alex looks up with a grin, noticing the eager ‘puppy dog with his tongue hanging out’ expression on her husband’s face.

“Why don’t you go take your shower and then you can get my back for me.”

“I’ll just be a minute,” he informs her and races to the master bath.

“So much for getting a good night’s sleep,” she mutters to herself. If she’s trying to convince herself that she’s disappointed, she’s not doing a very good job of it.

Walker emerges minutes later and Alex has a seductive smile playing on her lips as she takes in his hairy chest that is still damp. He wears only a dark blue towel wrapped around his waist as she approaches him.

“You got me another present,” she says. “Mind if I unwrap it?” She smiles into his eyes as she tugs the towel off and holds it up for him to see.

“Where’s that lotion?” he asks as she steps into his arms.

“Forget the lotion,” she murmurs against his lips as she begins to kiss him. His hands go to untie the sash of her robe and then he eases it back off of her shoulders…

Roughly the same time-HOPE House

Olivia is still slightly disoriented. She makes it inside and reaches for the phone. Not knowing the direct line to Ranger Headquarters or the Walker’s phone number, she calls 911.

“911 dispatch, what is your emergency?”

“My daughter has just been kidnapped.”

“And how old is your daughter, ma’am?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“Ma’am, is this a joke?”

“No! We were forced off the road. My son-in-law, or rather my ex-son-in-law, was driving. Two men forced us off the road. They took Geneva. I was knocked unconscious, but my granddaughter saw the whole thing.”

“Do you need medical attention, ma’am? Should I send an ambulance?”

“I need my daughter found! Travis went after them, but I don’t know where!”

“And who is Travis, ma’am?”

“My son-in-law! Look, just call Ranger Walker. We were returning from a party at his house.”

“Ma’am, I’m not authorized to call the most celebrated Ranger in Dallas.”

“Well, call Ranger Headquarters or Trivette. Call somebody!”

“Ma’am, are you sure you haven’t had too much holiday cheer?” the dispatcher asks skeptically.

Olivia is getting more desperate and more emotional. “I told you, I was knocked unconscious. I may not be making complete sense, but my daughter was taken by two men who want to get their hands on money from a bank robbery that happened five years ago. Travis hid the money and never told anyone where it is. Now they’ve got Geneva so that they can threaten him to get the money. He went after her!”

Shelby sits in the wing-backed chair of the sitting room at HOPE House listening to her grandmother’s pleas for help.  She hops down and walks into Alex’s office. Pushing the door open, she goes to the desk and climbs up onto the chair. She lifts the receiver of the phone and listens for a dial tone and then pushes the button labeled ‘Home.’

Walker Ranch 11:40 p.m.

Alex is lying in Walker’s arms. Both are breathing heavily, enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking. The ringing of the phone on Walker’s nightstand shatters the peaceful loving moment.

“Who in the world could that be? Don’t people know it’s still Christmas?” Alex complains as Walker rolls away from her.

Walker angles the clock radio so that he can see the time. “Only for another twenty minutes or so,” he informs his wife. Lifting the receiver restores blessed silence, but Alex can’t relax as she lies there listening.

“Hello?”

“Ranger Walker, this is Shelby.”

“Shelby, what’s wrong, honey? Why are you calling this late?”

“We were coming back from your house when those bad men hit our car. Daddy and Grandma hit their heads on the window and got knocked out. Those men took my mama. Then my daddy took us to HOPE House and that’s where me and Grandma is right now. My daddy went after the bad guys. Can you help me? Please, Ranger Walker?”

“Honey, of course I’ll help you. Where’s your grandma right now?”

“She’s on the other phone.”

“Well, go get her and have her come talk to me. Okay?”

“Okay.”

While Shelby goes to fetch her grandmother, Walker fills Alex in.

“Olivia? It’s Walker. Tell me again what happened.”

Olivia tells Walker all she knows.

“Okay, I’m on my way over. Do you need medical attention?”

“I don’t think so. I got a goose egg and a headache to match, but I’m all right.”

“Okay, sit tight. I’m on my way.”

Walker hangs up the phone, throws back the covers and begins pulling on clothes. “Alex, call Josie to get over to HOPE House to stay with Olivia and Shelby. Tell her that Olivia lost consciousness and may need to be taken in. Shelby should probably be checked out as well. I’ll call Trivette and Sydney and Gage to meet me. We’ll have to organize an all-out manhunt.”

“Okay, I will. You just take care of my Christmas gift.”

Walker pauses as he buckles his belt and looks at her with a puzzled expression. He follows her gaze to the towel that lies discarded on the bedroom floor and smiles. “I will, I promise.” He bends over for a quick kiss and then heads out.

Ranger Headquarters Wednesday Dec. 26, 9:15 a.m.

Walker sits at the head of the briefing room table. His team is gathered around him. He looks at the dedicated faces of his fellow Rangers and has renewed hope. These people will stop at nothing to put Toby Nickerson and Dex Canton behind bars where they belong. They will also do everything in their power to reunite Shelby with her mother.

“Trivette, anything at the accident site?”

“I wish I could say yes, but apart from tire tread and pieces of plastic from a broken tail light, we’ve got nothing. The scene supports the story Olivia and Shelby told.”

“Gage, Syd, what do you two have?”

“Well, we’ve done a thorough search for known associates, but there’s no one in Dallas,” Sydney answers for them.

“Chen, Cooper, tell me you have more for me.”

“We’ve been checking motels and flop houses. So far nothing,” Cooper says with regret.

“Well, keep at it. Somebody has to have seen these two clowns. We also know that they’re going to try and contact Travis. Trivette, you got things set up over at HOPE House?”

“Yes, the phone lines are tapped. We’ll trace any call that comes in, but chances are they’ll use a cell phone. Without knowing the number…”

“I know. Sydney, Gage, you two work on finding out if they have a cell phone in their names. These are not the brightest bulbs. They’re bound to make a mistake. That hospital fiasco would have gotten them caught if there hadn’t been patients in the line of fire.” Walker still blamed himself for not collaring the two thugs when he had the chance. “Chen and Cooper, you two continue with the motel angle. Remember, they’re not going to be staying at the Ritz. Take pictures of them and ask employees as well as guests. We need a lead, people, and we need it soon.”

The team breaks up and goes on about their assignments.

Alex’s Office 10:00 a.m.

Alex is torn.  New Year’s Eve has always been their night!  She wants to have a special evening with her husband.  But at the same time, she feels guilty about not wanting to spend Angela’s first New Year’s Eve with her daughter.  Then there is the question of who to get to baby-sit?  Walker and Alex are very careful about who they let take care of their precious baby.  And everyone they trust is already planning a holiday evening of their own. Of course, there’s Gordon, but Alex rolls her eyes at the thought. He might love his granddaughter, but he doesn’t exactly jump in for diaper duty. In fact, if he even suspects that she needs to be changed, he hands her off like she’s a hot potato.

The second problem is, where to celebrate?  Since CD’s death, it just won’t be the same going to his bar for the night, as they have done every other year since they met. Even last year, the gang had gotten together to pay tribute to CD on his favorite night of the year. It was before CD’s had reopened under new management and they had quietly brought in the New Year with only their closest friends.

Walker hasn’t even mentioned New Year’s Eve as yet, so Alex has no idea about his feelings on the subject.  And it still requires some persuading to get the contained Texas Ranger who is her husband, to talk about feelings of any kind.

Meanwhile, she is worried about Geneva and Shelby and Travis. Olivia and Shelby had checked out fine medically, but they were both worried about Geneva and Travis. She wishes she could have stayed at HOPE House with them, but her desk is full and, since it’s a short week due to the holiday, she really needs to work diligently towards clearing it off.  And the only way to do that is to sit at her desk and concentrate. Of course, thoughts of New Year’s and their friends’ plight are not conducive to getting any work done.

Alex is so lost in thought that she doesn’t hear the tap on her office door or the opening of it to admit Walker, who has a smile on his face.  As soon as he notices the serious expression on his beautiful wife’s face, he moves quickly to her side, asking, “Honey, what’s wrong?  Is there a problem with Angela?” 

“No, nothing like that.  I was just thinking about the Taylor’s and wondering if Geneva is all right. I wish I could stay with Olivia and Shelby today, but duty calls.”

Walker sighs his relief, “Alex, you are a very compassionate and caring woman, but this time you’ll have to leave it up to me, since it’s my duty to find Geneva and Travis. Trivette and I are going over there soon. I just stopped in to tell you that, actually. We’re expecting a call from Dex and Toby looking for ransom money for Geneva… about two hundred thousand dollars worth.”

“I’m glad that you’ll be there. Shelby has absolute faith in you, sort of like her angel Gabriel. It’ll give you a chance to spend time with Angela, too. Which brings me to my next concern.”

“Oh, what is that?” Walker asks. 

“What are we going to do for New Year’s Eve? I feel like a bad mommy for wanting a night alone with my husband, but it has been so long since we had one; and where would we spend this night out, now that CD is gone?  And who can we get, that we trust, to take care of Angela?”

Walker’s expression goes from concern to surprise to a hint of amusement in a fraction of a second, as he processes what Alex has just said.  Then, a very thoughtful look appears on his face.  “Alex, you’re a wonderful mommy and there is nothing wrong with wanting to spend our special holiday alone together.  I know it will be a little strange not to kiss in the New Year at CD’s.  After all, we have done it that way every year since we met.  Let me think about it.  We still have a few days to work something out.  I promise you, we will have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, even if it means starting some new traditions of our own.”

Alex’s eyes light up and a huge grin appears on her face, making Walker determined to fulfill the promise he has just made to the love of his life.  Whatever it takes, he is determined that Alex will have the best New Year’s Eve she has ever had.  Any effort is worth making to put that look of joy on her face.  He kisses Alex with enthusiasm, says he will see her later and departs to collect Trivette to go over to HOPE House. He is pretty certain that he will also have time to start working on a celebration worthy of his beautiful wife.

When he reaches his office, Trivette notices the thoughtful look on Walker’s face and asks, “Hey, partner, what’s up?  You look like something’s on your mind.” 

“There is, Trivette.  Alex just told me she wants to spend a special New Year’s Eve with me, but feels guilty about not wanting to include Angela.  And then there is the question of who we can get to take care of Angela for the night.  And where do we go for this special evening, that will be worthy of starting a new tradition for us as a couple, now that we don’t have CD to oversee our celebration?”

“Wow!”  Trivette says with a grin.  “That is the easiest I have ever been able to get you to tell me what is on your mind.  And the longest explanation I have ever heard you give.  Alex really is having a good effect on you, man!”

“Yeah, I guess she has,” replies Walker, “and it didn’t hurt a bit.  What do you and Erika have planned for the big night?”

“Erika hasn’t mentioned it and I haven’t given it much thought, either,” Trivette says.  “I guess I better talk to her and find out what she would like to do.  After all, this will be our first New Year’s Eve as an engaged couple.”

“Well, if you’re done with your computer, we should really be heading over to HOPE House,” Walker announces.  But in the back of his mind, he is still trying to come up with ideas to give Alex a wonderful New Year’s Eve to remember.

HOPE House 10:45 a.m.

“Okay, Shelby,” Walker says to the little girl lying on the couch with her face covered by the surgical mask she must still wear. “Do you know what to do?”

“Yes, Ranger Walker. Am I really gonna help get my mama back?”

“You sure are, munchkin. In fact, I’d say you are just about the most important part in this whole plan.”

“Really?” Shelby’s eyes are as large as saucers.

Walker nods in agreement, “really. Isn’t that so, Ranger Trivette?”

“Absolutely. We need those bad guys on the phone for as long as we can get them. You, Shelby, are what they call a stall tactic.”

“Oh,” she says, not understanding the big words, but proud to be helping anyway.

Olivia sits in the chair next to her, ringing her hands. She has had a sleepless night filled with worry and is ‘plum tuckered out’ as Shelby puts it. “And after Shelby’s attempt to stall, I come in and continue, right?”

“That’s right. You’ll be great, both of you,” Jimmy reassures them.

They have rehearsed the script and now sit waiting for the phone to ring. Walker takes the opportunity to close his eyes. He too has had a sleepless night; they all have. He catnaps on the couch and begins having a ‘rerun dream.’

Alex is dressed in a black and gold dress that sparkles and twinkles each time she moves. He is wearing a white tux jacket and leading her by the hand up to a rooftop. A violin plays and there is a chandelier suspended from the air. The lights shimmer and flicker over the feast laid out below. The dream continues with him asking her to dance and then telling her how much she means to him. He takes her hand and asks her if she will be his wife. The look of surprise and joy on her face…

The phone rings, bringing Walker instantly awake. On the third ring, as instructed, Shelby answers.

“HOPE House,” she says. “You wanna talk to my daddy?” she continues. She looks up to Walker who nods that she is doing a good job. “Are you the man who took my mama? I want my mama. Where’s my mama?” Shelby continues in a mock tantrum, as the caller gets more and more frustrated. Finally, he breaks into her tirade and threatens to kill her mother if she doesn’t let him speak to her daddy. Shelby says, “don’t hurt my mama. Just a minute, you have to be patient, I walk slow. I had a ‘transplant’ and I’m not all better yet.” Shelby babbles on as instructed about her transplant. After another threat, she lays the phone down and makes sounds of leaving the room.

They wait as long as they dare and then Olivia picks up the phone. “This is Geneva’s mother speaking. My granddaughter says that you are the men holding my daughter.” Dex is getting very upset with not being able to speak to Travis. Olivia says, “I want to speak to my daughter. I have to know that she is not harmed.” After a few words from Dex, she says, “Well, Travis left to get the money. He said that it wasn’t worth Geneva’s life and that the only way y'all would leave them alone is if he gave you your share of the money.” Again she pauses as she listens to Dex. “No, we haven’t told anyone that you took Geneva. Travis told us to keep quiet or you might kill her. He went to go get the money.”

She looks up at Trivette who gives her the ‘okay’ signal. “Is there a number where I can reach you to set up a meeting place?” she tries, hoping he is that dumb. He nearly falls for the ploy, but at the last minute, realizes his error. He has given her the first three digits of the cell phone number though. “Well then, you call back this afternoon about 3:00 p.m.; I’ll set up a meeting place for you to meet Travis. He’s supposed to call me. He told me that he won’t meet you unless you let me talk to Geneva to prove that she’s all right.” She listens again. “Well, you better have her available to speak to me this afternoon or the deal’s off!” Olivia hangs up the phone, beating Dex to it.

“That was great, both of you!” Trivette says with a large grin. “Walker, we have a location, somewhere out around Plano. We can narrow Chen and Cooper’s search area. I’ll get this number to Gage and see if it helps them track down a cell phone owned by one of our two bandits.”

Alex walks in to have lunch with the others and finds that the attitude is much more upbeat than she had expected. Walker and Trivette take a sandwich with them, as they head out to the area pinpointed by the call to help conduct the search.

Oklahoma- an old oil field

Travis goes to the capped well of an old strike and digs out the box that contains the money from the bank heist. The irony of hiding the money on his former employer’s land has not escaped him. Kyle Jefferson would not be amused, but Travis knew that the well was one that Jefferson did not plan to use again, so it made a great hiding place.

He takes the hundred thousand that is left and heads out to the car he has ‘borrowed.’ He plans to return it to the same place he’d taken it from, no worse for the wear. Now he just has to track down Dex and Toby. He knows who to contact to get a line on them. Woody Harden was a pal of Dex’s and he would have a cell phone number at least. First he has to track down Harden.

Walker’s Ram in Plano Texas-1:00 p.m.

Walker and Trivette are in Plano helping check out motels with Chen and Cooper. Plano is where Travis walked into a police station and gave himself up after he said that Dex and Toby had taken him. It is also on the outskirts of the area the cell phone call is reported to have come from.

Chen’s voice comes over the radio and Walker reaches to pick it up. “What do you have, Chen?”

“Well, it may be nothing, but there’s been some unusual activity reported at an abandoned barn out near Parker towards Lucas.”

Walker feels chills race down his spine at the names of the two towns that are northeast of his current location. “I’ll get Trivette and we’ll check it out. You continue with what you’re doing.”

“That’s a roger.” Chen proceeds to give him the address and then signs off.

Trivette reemerges from the motel office shaking his head in the negative. He gets into the truck and says, “next one.”

“I just got a call from Chen. The local police passed on a report of some unusual activity in an abandoned barn between the towns of Parker and Lucas.”

Trivette’s eyebrows shoot up at the significance of the names of the locations. “Let’s roll,” he says, unnecessarily, as Walker is already guiding the Ram out to the main road.

The barn is out in the middle of nowhere and is hard to track down. When they arrive, they stealthily move to look into one of the windows. What they see is not what they expected. A young girl is lying on a bed of straw while a young man kneels beside her. The two Rangers rush in swiftly.

As they get closer, they realize that the teenager is in labor and that she is very close to delivering a baby. The teens speak virtually no English and Walker converses with them in Spanish. He then turns to Trivette to translate.

“They are here illegally from El Salvador. They were determined to have their baby on American soil. Trivette, call for an ambulance. I don’t think they’ll get here in time, though. Can you go to a nearby farmhouse and see if you can get some supplies?”

“I’m on it,” Trivette answers economically and heads out. He returns fifteen minutes later with clean towels and the woman who had reported the activity. She kneels down beside Walker who has guided the head out of the birth canal and is instructing the young mother to push. With a few more screams and much more effort, the young mother finally delivers the baby.

“You tend to the infant, I’ll tend to the mother,” Ruth Monroe says.

Walker is happy to follow orders as he cleans the infant up and makes sure that his breathing passages are clear. He hands the newborn to the young father. “Here is your American son,” he tells the new father, who looks as if he doesn’t yet need to shave. “Do you have a name?”

The two parents consult each other and then look at the woman who is helping to care for Isella, the young mother. “What is the name of this place?” they ask the woman.

Ruth knows enough Spanish to converse and she answers, “We’re on the outskirts of Parker, Texas.”

The two new parents consult once again and decide to name their new son ‘Parker’. Trivette’s eyes are suspiciously moist and he avoids looking at Walker. If he had, he would have seen an answering moistness in his partner’s eyes. The ambulance arrives and Ruth agrees to accompany the young couple to the hospital to be checked out. She has offered to house them and help them to find employment.

As they are loading Isella and Parker into the ambulance, Walker looks around the airy barn. “Ruth, why is this place abandoned?”

“My father owned it. He died a year back and left it to me, but I just don’t know what to do with it. I haven’t been able to sell it and it’s too good to tear down. My husband is an accountant, not a farmer. I keep a small garden, but I have no need for such a huge barn.”

Walker’s mind is racing a mile a minute. He remembers the dream he’d had again while catnapping at HOPE House. It was too cold to have a romantic evening on a rooftop, but a barn…

“Ruth, can I ask you for a favor?” he begins.

Denny’s - Plano, Texas 2:15 p.m.

Travis uses the pay phone to call the cell phone number he’d gotten from Woody Hardin. The phone is answered by Dex Canton.

“Travis, how’d you get this number?” Dex asks him.

“Never mind, let me talk to Geneva.”

“Not till we get our money.”

“I’ve got your money right here. Now let me talk to my wife so I know that she’s okay. Then I’ll set up a meeting place.”

“All right, but make it quick.” Dex hands the phone to Geneva.

“Travis, Travis, is that you?”

“Yes, Geneva, it’s me. Are you all right?”

“Yes, just tired and scared. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, honey, I’ll have you home to Shelby in no time.”

Dex wrenches the phone back from Geneva. “Where d’ya wanna meet?” he asks Travis.

“I’m in Plano now. There’s a Denny’s restaurant.”

“Yeah, I know it.”

“There’s a road just north of it. It leads out to an old mill. I’ll wait there. And bring Geneva.”

“You just bring the money. And make sure there’s no cops.”

“You think I’m stupid? This money does no one any good if the cops are involved. You know I don’t talk. If I had, your sorry butt would still be behind bars.”

Dex agrees to meet Travis in half an hour at the mill.

Toby and Dex leave the motel room they’ve been holed up in. Toby has a gun pressed into Geneva’s back and she walks with him to the car without making a scene.

They drive out the road to the spot Travis has chosen. After parking the car, they exit and find Travis standing near a car of his own. He walks up to the two men and hands them each twenty thousand dollars.

“Hey, what’s this?” Toby Nickerson shouts waving his gun in Travis’ face.

“Just proof that I brought the money. There’s more hanging from that tree branch in that bag up there. There’s more still, hidden in the mill itself. You let Geneva go and I’ll give you this map that tells you where and how to find it.”

“And what’s to stop me from just shooting you both and taking the map from you?”

“Greed. I’ll call you in fifteen minutes and tell you where to find the final portion. Then I want you to stay the hell away from my family. I see you, or even hear about you, and I’ll tell the cops everything I know, enough to put you two behind bars for life. Don’t forget, I witnessed your attack on two Texas Rangers and two Dallas police officers.”

Toby glares at Travis, but knows that he’s right. He does have enough evidence to put them away for the rest of their natural days. “It goes both ways, I don’t want to ever hear from you again, either.”

“Fair enough. Geneva, honey, let’s go.” He escorts his former wife to the car and they drive away.

After being on the road for some time, Travis pulls off and gets out of the car. He goes to another pay phone and makes a final call to Toby. “You find the hundred thousand?” he asks his former partner.

“Yeah, where’s the other hundred?”

“I gave it to my silent partner. Someone even you are afraid of. I suggest you take your cut and get the hell out of Texas. Those Rangers want nothing more than to prosecute the two of you in a Texas courtroom.”

“Don’t tell us what to do.”

“And don’t come after me or mine. We’re through. My lips stay closed only for as long as I never see either of you again. Got it?”

Toby realizes that he has no choice in the matter and he hangs up, frustrated.

Travis drives back into Dallas and parks the car back in the same spot he’d borrowed it from. He escorts Geneva to the bus stop and they get on the bus heading back to the suburb of Dallas where HOPE House is located.

They get off at a local grocery store and head to the pay phone.

HOPE House-3:10 p.m.

The phone rings and Olivia answers it after getting a nod from Gage. Sydney sits on the couch with Shelby and they wait anxiously to see if they can trace the call. She and Gage had finally tracked down the cell phone number to a phone owned by Woody Hardin, a known associate of Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson. The first three numbers match those given to Olivia that morning and they are hopeful that it is the same phone.

“Hello?” Olivia says tentatively.

“Mama?” Geneva cries into the phone. She had held herself together throughout the entire ordeal, but hearing her mother’s voice causes her to begin crying.

“Geneva! Geneva, where are you?” Olivia asks, elated to hear her daughter’s voice.

“Travis and I are just a couple miles away. We’re at the grocery store just across from Wal-Mart. Please, can you have someone come get us?”

Olivia looks at Gage and he and Sydney have already stood up in preparation to leave.”

“Gage and Sydney are on their way.”

The two Rangers head out to collect Geneva and Travis. Once they have them, Geneva fills them in on part of the story. The part she knows anyway. True to form, Travis remains silent.

Gage calls Walker, and he and Trivette head to the mill while Chen and Cooper go to the motel Geneva told them about. Both leads are dead ends, as Toby and Dex have ‘taken the money and run.’

HOPE House 5:30 p.m.

Alex arrives to sit and listen to the story of how the events had unfolded during the day. Reports have been filed and an APB has been put out on Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson. Travis sits on the couch with Shelby on one side of him and Geneva on the other.

“So neither of you has any idea where they went?” Alex questions.

“No ma’am,” Travis answers. “They’ll turn up, though. They’re not very smart. They’ll start spending like crazy and you’ll find ‘em.”

Alex had to believe that this was true. She couldn’t stand the thought that the two men could possibly get away with their misdeeds. “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel that I’ve been up for far too long.” Everyone in the room concurs; no one had had a full night’s sleep. “What do you say we all go home and get some rest? We can sort all of this out tomorrow.” No one argues as everyone gets up to head to their respective homes.

Justice Building 11:00 a.m. Thursday Dec. 27th

There are reports that Dex and Toby are doing exactly what Travis guessed they would. The two men have purchased items in cash all over Dallas. They weren’t even smart enough to leave the area. Gage and Sydney and Chen and Cooper are out following up on the leads.

Walker has met with Travis and Geneva, and with Alex’s assistance, their statements are taken. They have nothing new to charge Travis with. He didn’t commit any new crimes that they are aware of. The state of Oklahoma is notified of the situation and a deal has been struck that Travis is to report to his probation officer on January 10th, after Shelby’s final checkup.

Walker watches as the young couple leaves the interrogation room. He notices that they are holding hands and glances over at his wife. “Looks like they’re on the road to being a family again.”

“Yes, isn’t it great?” she smiles dreamily at him.

Walker shakes his head at her. “Ah, the incurable romantic.”

“And don’t you forget it, Cowboy. So, have you thought any more about New Year’s Eve?” she asks hopefully.

Walker has sworn Trivette to secrecy about the barn and the episode with the young couple and the newborn baby. He heaves a big dramatic sigh. “I’m afraid we have a social obligation on New Year’s that we just can’t get out of.”

“No, Walker, not on New Year’s Eve!” she complains.

“I’m sorry, Alex, but it’s one of those things that I just couldn’t say ‘no’ to. There’s a huge fundraiser for at-risk kids being held just north of Plano. Mark Cuban asked us to go to represent him. I couldn’t say no after all he’s done for us, now could I?”

“Oh, Walker… no, no I guess you couldn’t say no.” Alex is clearly upset at the news.

“Listen, darling, I’ll make it up to you afterwards, I promise. We’ll go home and have a night to remember as soon as we possibly can.”

Alex nods her head in agreement and heads out to her own office, dejected.

Walker waits until she is out of hearing range and then dials the phone. “Ruth? Hi, this is Walker. How are the plans coming along?”

HOPE House 9:00 p.m.

Both Olivia and Shelby are asleep and Geneva heads out to the backyard for some fresh air. She has been through quite an ordeal and as tired as she is, she just doesn’t feel that she can relax and sleep.

“It’s cold out here,” a voice behind her says and she jumps, startled.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Travis is immediately contrite.

“It’s okay. I’m not usually so jumpy.”

“Well, with all that you’ve been through, it’s no wonder that you are. Geneva, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for all that the last five years have brought you. You’ve endured so much, and I know that I’m to blame.”

“It has been hard, Travis, but it wasn’t your fault that Shelby got sick.”

“No, but it was my fault that I wasn’t there for you - and for her - when you needed me the most.”

“You came when it really mattered. You saved Shelby and now you’ve saved me, too.”

“I want to continue to be there for you. Geneva, is there any way we can try again?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know that you have every reason to hate me, but something tells me that you don’t. I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but loving you was the one right thing I’ve ever done. I still do, you know. I still love you, Geneva.”

“Are you sure, Travis? Is it me you love? Or is it a memory of times past?”

“I’d like the chance to find out. Shelby needs me, too. She isn’t completely out of the woods yet and the doctor did say that this procedure wasn’t a guarantee, just her best chance. Geneva, what if she doesn’t have much time left?” Travis sighs deeply and then continues. “I don’t have the right to ask you this and I’ll certainly understand if you say no, but…”

Geneva turns to look at him. She holds her breath in anticipation of what he might say. If she is truthful, she’s never stopped loving him either. It was the reason she had been so angry for so long. He had betrayed her and yet she still loved him.

“Geneva, I was thinking that Shelby deserves two parents in her life. Two people who love her and who put her happiness above everything else. Would you give me another chance? Will you marry me again?”

Geneva gasps at the question. A piece of her heart soars with hope. Maybe, she can have the ‘happily ever after’. She’d certainly lived through enough torment and despair. “Travis, are you sure this is what you want? You can still be in Shelby’s life without us being married.”

“I know, but I want to be in your life too. If Shelby gets better and we have years to enjoy her, then I want to do that together. And if she doesn’t get better or if she relapses… I don’t want to face that alone. Do you?”

Geneva has tears sparkling in her eyes. Of course she doesn’t want to face that alone. She never wants to face it at all, but if she has to go through what she has just endured throughout Shelby’s illness, it would be nice to have a partner. How many times had she awoken from a dream of being comforted in Travis’ arms these past years? She knew that her heart cried out for him night after night, when her conscious mind had been at rest and unable to guard her from her secret desires. “I need a promise from you,” she says.

“Anything,” he vows.

“Promise me that you will learn to talk about things and to tell me things, instead of keeping everything to yourself.”

“I promise to try,” he says honestly.

“What happened with Kyle Jefferson? Why did you leave his employ?” she asks. It was the beginning of the end for them and she just has to know.

“I overheard him make a deal with some shady characters. I couldn’t keep working for the man. I thought he was honorable, but when I overheard him that day, I knew I couldn’t stay.”

“Why didn’t you go to the police?”

“I still cared about him. He’d been very good to me, offering to pay for my education and all. I just couldn’t do anything that would harm him.”

“Why did he donate that money for Shelby?”

“I went to him and told him what I knew. I asked him to donate the money and he agreed. He knows that he also bought my silence forever.”

Geneva nods, torn between the fact that he had made a deal with the devil and knowing she would have done the same. “So Dex and Toby never had you?”

“No, I took advantage of the distraction and escaped, then turned myself back in after I did what I set out to do.”

Geneva is silent a few minutes more. Travis looks at her and then steps up to her and wraps his arms around her, pulling her in close. “Will you marry me?” he repeats in a whisper against her brow as he kisses her forehead.

She nods her head and says, “Yes, I’ll marry you, Travis Taylor.”

Travis smiles against her hair and then leans back to look into her eyes. “We’ll make it work this time, I promise. For you, for me, and for our daughter, we’ll make it work.”

Geneva smiles through her tears and they seal the promise with a sweet kiss.

Alex’s Office Friday 9:00 a.m.

Alex’s secretary buzzes her and tells her that Travis Taylor is waiting outside her office, wanting to speak with her.

“Send him in,” Alex says with a puzzled expression, wondering what it is he wants to see her about.

“Alex, hi,” Travis says with a nervous smile as he opens the door to enter.

“Hi, Travis. What can I do for you?” she asks with an answering smile.

“Well…” Travis stalls, not sure how to begin.

Alex is used to dealing with a man who has trouble expressing himself. She decides to give him a prompt. “Are Geneva and Shelby all right?”

“Oh, yes, yes, they’re fine. In fact…” he stumbles again.

“In fact… what?” she prompts again.

Travis takes a deep breath and the rest comes out all in a rush with barely a pause for breath. “I asked Geneva to marry me again and she said yes and we want to get married right away so’s we can be a real family and we were wondering if that judge, the one who commuted my sentence, would consider marrying us and if we could get married at HOPE House and…

“Travis, breathe!” Alex stopped him; afraid he would pass out right there in her office.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I know it’s a lot to ask and all, but we want a new start and we thought that we’d make it together.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea. I also think that you’ve proven that your love for your family is stronger than your love for money. I’m happy to arrange a wedding at HOPE House and I’ll call Judge Cornwall and see if he’s available. When were you planning on having this wedding?”

“We thought we’d get married on New Year’s Eve. That way, we can start the New Year as a real family again.”

“Okay, let me call the judge and see what he says. Tell Geneva and Josie to get busy, we don’t have much time to plan this wedding!” Alex urged, caught up in the excitement. She just loved weddings.

Travis rushes over to her and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek and then hurries out of her office.

Ranger Headquarters 2:30 p.m.

Sydney and Gage enter the Ranger office in their usual fashion.  Sydney is walking briskly with a peeved stride while Gage tags at her heels, trying to catch up to her so he can fix the latest blunder that has escaped his unrestrained mouth.  Having reached her desk, Sydney is forced to stop and let him catch up to her. With both hands planted fixedly on her hips, she turns to face the incessant instigator of her most recent annoyance.  Walker and Trivette momentarily look up from their work, and then quickly resume it, noting that the couple’s behavior is ‘business as usual.’

“Come on Syd, you were the one who told me to make the plans.  I thought you liked Chinese takeout and wrestling.”

“I do, but that’s all we ever do together. I thought you could come up with something a little more original than that for New Year’s Eve.”

“Like what?”  Gage questions with a dumb look, wondering what could be better then eating hoards of beef teriyaki on a stick, followed by an exciting night at the fights.

“The last time I wore a dress was at Walker and Alex’s wedding, for Pete’s sake.  I kinda thought it would be nice to share a romantic dinner at a black tie locale, maybe a slow dance or two: Champagne toast at midnight? Those are the kinds of things women like to do on New Years Eve, Gage. They don’t want to wolf down egg rolls in front of the TV, then go off to the arena to howl over a few rounds of Smack Down.”

“Oh yeah? Then how come the fights are sold out, huh?  I was lucky enough to get the last two tickets. There’s obviously a lot of women that want to spend their New Year’s Eve with their dates, watching an unprecedented night of WWF Smack Down,” Gage counters confidently, while proudly waving his freshly purchased tickets in the air.

“No Gage…That arena will be filled with all of the pathetic, primate males in Dallas who don’t have a date because they wouldn’t know what the word romance meant if someone tattooed the definition across their foreheads!”

Sydney’s voice has escalated to a suppressed yell.  Gage, though still incapable of processing why a woman who enjoys wrestling as much as he does would want to pass up a great night at the fights, decides he’d better give in to her argument, and try and figure the whole thing out later.

“Okay, okay…I’ll think of something else; unless you want to make the plans? That would be good, too...”

“Gage, any time we do anything other then fast-food and the fights, I’m the one who makes the plans.  You promised that you would make the plans for New Year’s Eve.  If that’s too much to ask, then I’ll just stay at home, and you can go to the fights to be with the rest of your pitiful species.”

“Ouch… That hurt Syd.”

“Good!  It’s about time you suffered a little.  So what’s in gonna be? Me… or a bunch of dateless, beer-guzzling men at a wrestling match?”

Gage at least has enough sense not to hesitate before he responds to her ultimatum.

“You know I want to spend New Year’s Eve with you, Syd.  Just give me another chance. I’ll come up with the perfect date, I promise.”

“Don’t overstep your capabilities, Gage.  I’m not asking for the ‘perfect date’, but a civilized one would be nice.”

“I’m on it, Syd.  I won’t let you down. We’re gonna have a great time. You’ll see.” 

Sensing that he is finally edging his way back towards having a date for New Year’s… a boyish simper appears on Gage’s face, and Sydney can’t help but soften just a little at the sight of his charming gullibility.

“Here, give me the tickets.  I overheard a couple of the new rookies talking about going to the fights.  Maybe I can sell them for you.”

Sydney snatches the tickets from Gage’s hands before he can pull them away from her.  Gage’s optimistic expression turns to mud.

“Well, uh… they may not want them.  Like I told you, they were the last two tickets available. They’re kinda in nosebleed territory.  I’ll just give them away to a couple of friends who don’t have dates.”

Knowing Sydney is more than familiar with the seating plan at the arena, Gage tries to snag the tickets from her hand before she can get a good look at them.   Too late!  Sydney checks the seating on the tickets and her smoldering dander is surging back up at record speed.

“Gage, these seats are in the last row of the arena. They aren’t even real seats. They’re folding chairs set up in the aisle behind the last row, and there are cement beams blocking half of them.” 

Before Gage can open his mouth, Sydney takes a closer look at the second ticket. 

“You’ve got to be kidding me?  Seats 43 and 61???  These seats aren’t even together!”

“I was planning on asking everyone to move over when we got there.”

Sydney rips the essentially worthless tickets into tiny shreds before she puts the scraps in her palm and blows them straight into Gage’s screwed up face.  An irate finger wags uncontrollably in front of his nose.

“Listen up. Romeo. Anything short of dinner at The Ritz, a night of ballroom dancing, and a disgustingly expensive bottle of champagne, and you’ll be ringing in the New Year by yourself!  Oh…and roses.  Dozens of them.”  Sydney rants, as she storms out the door, even more frustrated than when she had entered.   Gage turns towards Walker and Trivette, who have been watching the free entertainment from their desks.

“I screwed up real bad, huh?”

“Oh yeah, man! Big time.”

“You definitely blew it.” 

Trivette and Walker eagerly answer simultaneously, while their heads bob up and down in agreement to their teammate’s painfully slow realization.

Hilton Hotel Austin, Texas Saturday 7:00 p.m.

Walker nods to Trivette, who knocks on the door of the suite. “Texas Rangers, open up!” He leaps back against the wall as bullets suddenly pierce the door.

Walker somersaults, landing with one boot firmly planted against the base of the door. Trivette’s shoulder adds a quick slam against it and he rolls back against the wall as the door flies open. Shots continue to be fired, but Walker is on his belly on the ground and he aims and fires one shot. Toby hollers as the bullet tears through the flesh of his gun hand.

“Come on out of there with your hands held high,” Trivette, orders.

Toby and Dex both comply and they are quickly cuffed, their rights are read to them and they are led down to the Ram.

“Gosh, Walker, by the time we get his hand looked at and get them cleared for transport back to Dallas, it’s going to be morning.”

“Your point, Trivette?” Walker asks.

“Why don’t we let the local authorities handle all that while we find a motel and get some sleep?”

“No offense, partner, but I prefer to sleep with my wife. You snore.”

“I do not snore!”

“Yes, you do.”

“I do not!”

Walker picks up his cell phone and dials Trivette’s apartment. “Erika?”

“Walker, is everything all right? Is Jimmy hurt?”

“No, Erika, Jimmy’s not hurt, he’s fine. I just need you to settle an argument. Does Trivette snore?”

There’s the sound of mischievous laughter as she says, “like a chainsaw. Why?”

“Well, we have the option of staying up all night and driving back there first thing tomorrow or going to bed and getting some sleep before heading back later tomorrow morning.”

“And?”

“I was just thinking that, either way, I don’t get to sleep.”

Erika chuckled at her fiancés expense. “Make him sleep on his side, he’s quieter that way.”

“Give me that phone,” Trivette demands, as he wrenches it from Walker’s grasp.

Walker just smiles as he heads over to the closest ER.

Alex’s Office New Year’s Eve 11:00 a.m.

“Well, so far, this is not the holiday I had planned,” Alex, complains to her husband.

“Honey, you got Dex Canton and Toby Nickerson arraigned on a laundry list of charges. We have a wedding to get to in…” he glances at his watch, “four hours. Tonight, I am wearing a tuxedo. What more could you want?”

“A day to soak in a tub and have my hair done and my nails done and dress at my leisure; an evening of dining and dancing and romance; a night of passion in the loving arms of my ardent cowboy!”

“We can be home in thirty minutes; you bathe while I fix lunch. Then you go to get your hair and nails done at your appointment that I know you have scheduled for 1:30 p.m. After we witness a wedding, through which I thoroughly expect you to cry, we’ll head home to prepare for the evening of dining and dancing and romance. After all of that…”

“I’ll fall into an exhausted sleep and you’ll have to carry me up to bed.”

“Where I will wake you and make mad passionate love to you well into the night.”

“Promise?”

“Pinky swear,” Walker says with a mock-solemn face, holding up his pinky. Alex links hers with his and then he leans forward and begins to ravish her lips.

Minutes later, her eyes are sparkling, her lips are swollen, and her cheeks are flushed. She gazes into his eyes as she gasps for breath.

“That was just a sample. Still think you’ll be too tired tonight?”

Alex mutely shakes her head ‘no.’

HOPE House 3:00 p.m.

Geneva stands at the top of the stairs, watching first Shelby, and then Alex walk down the stairway and into the living room of HOPE House. She smoothes the skirt of her simple ice pink crepe wool suit, and remembers dressing for the wedding a short time ago.   Shelby had hovered over her mother’s every move as she got herself ready for the ceremony.  The child wasn’t use to seeing her mother with a salon hairdo, nail polish, formal clothing, and full makeup.  She was having a wonderful time watching her mother play ‘dress-up.’

“Mama, you look just like a fairy princess!”

“Well, I don’t know much about being a fairy princess, sweetie, but a fancy dress and a manicure sure can make a girl feel pretty. Wasn’t it lovely that Alex’s ‘Career Closet’ suggested I look through their donated clothes and pick something special?”

“Mama, are you and Daddy going to live happily ever after?”

Geneva was wondering how long it was going to take before her daughter asked a loaded question about her and Travis’ future together.  She was still unsure about it herself, never mind having to explain it to a nine-year-old.  Deep in her heart, she knew that she still loved Travis, and she desperately wanted everything to work out between them. Travis had proven his love and commitment to her and Shelby when he put his life on the line to save theirs.  Geneva prayed that she was making the right decision to remarry him so quickly.  She swallowed her reservations and answered her daughter with an assuring tone.

“Well, with friends like the Walkers, White Eagle, and Gabriel, how can we miss?”

It was Geneva’s turn to begin her slow walk back to Travis.  His eyes were filled with such warmth and love as he eagerly waited for her to join him. Any second thoughts she was having quickly turned to a sense of peace that she was making the right decision. Her face was glowing as she took her place next to him. As Travis took her hand and began to recite the vows, he said a silent prayer of thanks that he was being given a second chance.

After the final vows and customary kiss, Geneva turns to Alex for a quick hug and Travis turns to Walker and shakes his hand. Applause erupts around them. Sydney, Gage, Trivette, Erika, Lisse, Cooper and the staff of HOPE House gather around to offer congratulations.

“I am so happy for both of you, good luck!” says Sydney, as she hugs Geneva.

Shaking Travis’s hand, and looking at Sydney with a gleam in his eye, Gage says, “Now, Geneva, when you throw your bouquet, make sure to head it in Syd’s direction. She’s kind of shy when it comes to catching those things.” Sydney elbows Gage in the ribs and gives him her quirky little smile as they back away so others can offer their congratulations.

Alex and Walker are off to the side, speaking with the judge.

“Judge Cornwall, thank you so much for being available to perform this wedding.”

“Alex, with the sad stories we deal with day after day, it was purely my pleasure to be here. I am honored to be a part of their new start. I think this the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of marrying someone whose sentence I just commuted. What do they have planned for their future?”

“They’ll be returning to Oklahoma and live with Olivia, Geneva’s mother. Travis will serve his three-year probation there. Geneva will finally be able to do what she most wants to do without any worries; stay home and be a mom to Shelby.” 

Josie walks in and announces, “Time for wedding cake,” and everyone moves into the dining room.

By the time the cake is finished and the presents are opened up, it is 5:00 p.m. and they begin to say goodbye to their friends.

Graciously, Geneva says, “Walker and Alex, thank you so much again for all you’ve done for us. I hope you enjoy your evening together.”

“Honey, we’d better get going, you know how long it takes me to get into a tux,” says Walker, trying to usher Alex out the door.

“Just one more kiss goodbye. Now, Dad, you’re sure you can handle this? I have four bottles of my milk and there’s always formula if you need it. Extra diapers and clothes are in your room. Do you have any questions?”

Taking Alex’s anxious hands, Gordon says, “Pumpkin, remember I did once take care of this baby’s mother. Now leave with your handsome Ranger and have a great night.” He looks over at Olivia and winks discreetly at her. They’ve already made a deal. He tells Shelby her nighttime story and she changes the diapers.

Olivia, wrapping a warm motherly arm around Alex’s waist, says, “He’s right, Alex, we’ll be fine with these two beautiful little girls. Gordon went shopping today and bought a few things for us do together. Now, have fun and don’t worry.”

“Grandpa Gordon, when do we get to cut out the Shrinky Dinks? I’m ever so excited; Mama says she used to play with them when she was just a girl.”

Laughing and picking Shelby up for a hug, Gordon says, “As soon as we get rid of all of these grownups, honey.”

“All right, Dad, I can take a hint. Let’s go, Walker. Bye and have a great night.” Alex kisses Gordon and then they leave.

Travis & Geneva Ring in the New Year

Travis and Geneva are at the door of HOPE House, preparing to leave for their one-night second honeymoon.

“Shelby, you promise to be good for Grandpa Gordon and Grandma Olivia? You’ll help them with Angela and you’ll go to sleep when they tell you to?”

“Yes, Mama, I’ll be very good.”

“Honey, we’ll be fine, now you’d better get going,” says Olivia, gently pushing them out the door.

Travis carries their overnight bag out to the car and opens the door for her.

As she settles into the seat, Geneva, feeling both nervous and excited at the same time, looks at Travis and says, “Now, can you tell me where we’re going?”

“Walker has a friend who owns an antebellum mansion bed and breakfast. He was at the fundraiser for Shelby and when he heard about our wedding, offered a room and dinner for our honeymoon night. It’s about thirty minutes from here, just on the outside of town.”

“What a wonderful present!” Then, suddenly exhausted from the day, she settles into the seat and closes her eyes until they drive down the long tree-lined drive of a beautiful mansion.

“Travis, look how beautifully it’s lit up!” Heeding the numerous dormers, she says shyly, “I wonder which room will be ours for the night?”

Taking her hand and squeezing it gently, Travis looks deep into her eyes and says, “let’s just go find out.”

They check in and are shown to their room by the generous innkeeper.

“I think you’ll find everything you need here; we have your dinner reservations set for 8:30. Breakfast will be left on a tray outside your room at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.”

“We can’t thank you enough, you have such a beautiful place.”

Travis unlocks the door and swings it open so that Geneva can walk in ahead of him.

“Travis, look, a claw foot tub, just like in the house I grew up in. Isn’t this wallpaper pretty? Look at the white bedspread! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful room!”

Taking her in his arms, Travis says, “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look more beautiful then you do right now. Thank you for giving me a second chance to be the husband and father that you and Shelby deserve.” Testing the waters, he gives her a tentative kiss on the lips. Geneva hesitantly returns the kiss, then shyly pulls away and says, “We’d better get ready for dinner, it is almost 8:30, and I’d like to freshen up.”

After appetizers and a glass of wine each, they are more relaxed and ready to discuss what has been pressing on each of their minds since deciding last week to marry so quickly. 

Travis reaches for Geneva’s hands and begins to play with her new wedding ring.  “Geneva, before we are finished with dinner, I think we should talk more about tonight.”

Looking shyly down at their entwined hands, Geneva replies, “There’s been no one since you, Travis.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I know this has all been so quick, marrying before we return to Oklahoma so that it will be less awkward for everyone while we stay with your mom and try to get our lives back together. I just want you to know that whatever happens tonight will only be what you’re ready for. “

Squeezing his hands, Geneva finally looks up at him and says, “Travis, I appreciate that. I have so many emotions I’m trying to deal with. I want us to have a second chance, to be a real family again seems like a dream come true. But, honestly, I am still working out the years of anger I built up while you were in prison. That was hard enough, and then Shelby got sick and I couldn’t even keep a job to pay our bills because she needed me. I didn’t know where the next bag of groceries was coming from. Thank God for Alex and HOPE House. I really was at the end of my rope when we found her.”  Tears begin to silently trickle down her cheeks.

Travis, his eyes shining with unshed tears, releases her hands and gently wipes the tears from her cheeks. “I am so sorry I wasn’t there for you, Geneva. I will spend the rest of my life regretting it and trying to make it up to you. Walker has some contacts in Oklahoma for possible jobs. He was talking about some sort of work-study program where maybe I can get that degree in Geology. I just have two more years to finish, since I did the first two in prison. As soon as we can afford it, we’ll get a place of our own, but only when we can afford for you to stay home with Shelby.”

“Travis, when you speak like that, I almost believe that things will work out for us.”

Dinner arrives and then desert. They are finishing their desert and coffee when Geneva says with a blushing smile, “Travis, a couple isn’t officially married until they’ve had their first dance together. Do you think we can find something appropriate to play on that beautiful old Victrola that we have in our room?”

Travis, rising from his chair, steps behind her to help her up and answers with a renewed sense of hope in his voice, “let’s go find us a song.”

Geneva is in the bathroom freshening up while Travis sifts through the plentiful supply of records.  He finds the perfect one about halfway through the stack.  As he sets the delicate needle onto the mint-condition vinyl, Geneva reappears from the bathroom wearing a baby blue, full-length negligee with a matching robe. Her hair has been brushed out to create a shiny fullness around her sweet face. With unequivocal love in his eyes, Travis extends an inviting hand to his wife. 

She joins him in the center of the room and he ever so gently draws her in to rest her head on his shoulder.  As the song plays out, Geneva’s eyes pool with tears of nostalgia and excitement.  The song Travis had selected was absolutely perfect. It was the same song they had danced to at their first wedding ten years ago.  As the voice of Ann Murray sang the reassuring words of ‘Could I Have This Dance For The Rest Of My Life?’  Geneva felt that they had truly come full circle, and God was giving them their second chance to start over.

When the music ends, the couple stands silently in each other’s arms for a long moment. As they separate, each can see that the other’s eyes are filled with tears of emotion.  Geneva reaches up to wipe a falling tear from Travis’ cheek.

“Travis?”

“Yeah, honey?”

“Tomorrow we’ll wake up and it will be a new year, a time for new beginnings. Shelby is on the road to making a full recovery, we’ve found each other again, and we’re finally going home as a family. I’m willing to put the past behind us, where it belongs, so we can focus on our future together with our little girl. Will you help me to do that?”

“I’ll be right by your side, sweetheart. And as long as it’s okay with you, that’s where I intend to stay.” 

“Then I’m ready to start the rest of our lives now.”

They come together in a kiss filled with tenderness, trust, and desire.

Gordon & Olivia Ring in the New Year

Gordon turns to the attractive blonde grandmother who is going to be his companion for the evening. “Whew!  I thought they’d never leave!” 

She laughs at his good-natured comment, as she was thinking the same thing. “Shall we go into the kitchen and see what we can whip up for dinner while the baby is sleeping?”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.  If I remember this stuff correctly, they usually wake up at the worst possible moments.”

“You’re so right, Gordon!  Geneva used to always wake up screaming when her daddy and I were in the middle of something.”

“I know what you mean.  Alex had the worst timing as a baby!  And it seems that Angela inherited that trait, along with others, from her mother,” Gordon laughs, thinking how much Angela is the spitting image of Alex as a baby.  They move into the kitchen to find something to eat, but decide to order a pizza instead.

“Let’s go into the living room and wait for the pizza man.  We can enjoy the Christmas lights once more,” Gordon suggests. 

“Good idea,” Olivia agrees as they move into the other room to join Shelby.

“Grandpa Gordon, will you and Grandma play Shrinky Dinks with me now?”

“Sure, sweetheart.  But you’ll need to explain the game to me, ‘cause it’s been a long time since I was playing games like this!”

They play the game and enjoy one another’s company for the hour that it takes the pizza man to bring their dinner.  Upon hearing the doorbell, Shelby jumps up and runs to the door, with Gordon and Olivia right behind her.  She throws open the door and asks, “Is it pepperoni with extra cheese?  That’s my favorite!”

“Of course it is.  Would we have gotten anything else on a special night like tonight?” Gordon questions with a twinkle in his eye as he looks at the angelic face of this pretty child.  Olivia lovingly smiles at Shelby and puts an arm around her shoulder to turn her toward the kitchen. 

“Why don’t we go get the plates and the drinks ready?”  The girls proceed to the kitchen, followed shortly after by Gordon carrying the pizza.

“This pizza’s great, Grandpa Gordon,” Shelby enthusiastically gives her approval of his choice for dinner.  After a week of eating soup and Jell-O to help keep her from vomiting, she is just beginning to be able to eat ‘real food’ and she hasn’t wasted any time adjusting.

“Thank you, my dear.  I slaved in the kitchen all day!” he teases her with a smile.

“You’re silly, Grandpa Gordon,” she giggles as she bites into another piece.  Olivia watches the conversation and wonders at what a nice man this Gordon Cahill is.  The peaceful dinner is interrupted by the angry sounds of a hungry baby in the other room.

“May I get her?” Shelby asks excitedly.  She loves babies and hasn’t been around any except at the hospital, where she loved to go down to the nursery and peek at the new babies through the plate glass window.  She has secretly wanted her Mom to have one so she could have a little sister; but without a father, that was an impossibility…until now.

“Let her grandfather get her, baby.”  Olivia gently pats Shelby’s hand that is lying on the dining room table as Gordon rises from his chair.  “You finish eating.  You need to put some meat on those bones.”

“Okay…” Shelby says in quiet disappointment.  She devours her second piece of pizza as Gordon returns with a screaming Angela in his arms.

“Olivia, do you want to change her while I warm her bottle?” he asks with a grin, and a hope that she didn’t forget their earlier deal.

“Of course.  Where’s her diaper bag?”

“I brought it into the living room.  There’s a changing table in the daycare room over there,” as he hands her off to her ‘stand-in Grandmother’.  After the necessary changing is over, Gordon retrieves the beloved child and places the warmed bottle in her mouth.  The crying immediately stops and is replaced by large sighs and sounds of contentment.

“Impatience for food…another trait she inherited from her mother,” he states with a gleam in his eye.  He looks lovingly at the baby in his arms as she reaches for his face and smiles at him.  He smiles back at her with all the love he could have, as he remembers how much he enjoyed this time with Alex when she was a baby.  Olivia watches the interaction between the two of them and smiles to herself.

“May I be excused, Grandma?” Shelby breaks the moment.

“Sure, Darlin.  Why don’t you run upstairs and put on your pajamas and brush your teeth while Grandpa Gordon finishes feeding the baby, and then you can come downstairs and play with her for a little while before going to bed. Okay?”

“Okay!”  Shelby enthusiastically runs up the stairs and they hear the pitter patter of her feet on the second floor as she moves around getting ready for bed.

“You’re great with Angela, Gordon,” Olivia remarks.

“Thank you.  I don’t know what I’d do without her or her parents.”

“I feel the same way about my Shelby and her mama.  I can’t believe how close we came to losing her,” she reflects with the beginning of a tear in her eyes. 

Gordon looks up from Angela and sees the love this woman has for her granddaughter.  It is the same love he has for Alex and her family.

“It makes the time with them that much more special, doesn’t it, Olivia?”

“Yes, it does.  Are you all right, Gordon?” she asks, noting a change in his voice, as if he is stifling a sob.  He regains his composure before losing it.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine.   I was just reflecting on what I almost lost by my foolish and destructive behavior so many years ago.”

“What do you mean?”  She’s curious now, wondering if there was a health problem or something else.

“Oh, I wasn’t much of any kind of father to Alex in her teen years.”


”They are hard to deal with at that age.  I remember the fits Geneva used to give me!  Don’t be so hard on yourself.” 

“No, it wasn’t Alex.  She wasn’t the problem.  She was a perfect daughter.  I, I was the problem.  Rather, my drinking was the problem.”

“Oh,” was all she could say.  She wasn’t expecting this conversation.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s okay.  I don’t mind talking about it.  In fact, I’ve found through AA and counseling that it’s actually therapeutic to talk about it.  If I can prevent one parent from doing what I did to my family, it’s all worth it.”

“Well, I think it takes courage to admit when you have a problem.  It takes even more courage to make a change.”

“What took courage was Alex and Walker stepping in when they did and standing by me through all of this.  They were the ones who convinced me that I needed help because I had a problem.  I put Alex and her Mom through so much hell.”

Just then, Shelby comes downstairs in her Barbie footie pajamas that she received as a Christmas present.

“May I take Angela into the living room?  I want to show her my new Barbie dolls.”

“Sure, Shelby.  Don’t drop her, okay?” Gordon warns her as he hands the baby over.  She’s content now, after being changed and fed, and she is babbling incessantly to anyone who will listen.

“I’ll be careful,” she states as she struggles towards the living room with the baby who is almost as big as she is.  The two grandparents watch in amusement at Shelby’s intense self-determination to complete the task.

“Do you want some help, Sweetheart?” Olivia asks.  “She’s almost as big as you!”

“Don’t be silly, Grandma!  She’s just a baby, I’m nine!” Shelby laughs as if someone would forget how old she is.

After seeing that they arrived safely at their destination, the two grandparents go off to clean the dishes.  When Olivia goes to check on the girls in the living room, Shelby is showing her Barbie dolls to Angela, who is putting the dolls in her mouth and babbling as if she is carrying on a conversation with Shelby, her new friend.  Olivia reports back to Gordon, who is in the kitchen making coffee that their granddaughters are getting along splendidly.

“So, what are your plans once you all get back to Oklahoma?” Gordon inquires.

“Well, the plan is that the kids are going to live with me until they get back on their feet.  Shelby is going to need her mama at home to take care of her and it will be a blessing to me to have them all with me once again.  I am so happy that they were able to patch things up.  I pray that they will work things out this time.”

“I’m sure they will.  What will you be doing once you get back?”

“Oh, I keep busy with my lady friends and I volunteer at the hospital a few days a week.  That always keeps me busy, but I love it.  What do you like to do in New York City to stay busy?”

“Oh, work keeps me plenty busy, but since all this happened with my drinking a few years ago and I realized what a problem it was, I cut back on so many hours at the office, and I help out with the local AA chapter as much as I can.  I also like to get in a few rounds of golf every once in a while, when I can take the time to get out of the city.  I travel a lot when I get the opportunity.”

“Have you ever been to Oklahoma?”

“No, I can’t say that I’ve ever been to Oklahoma, but Alex and Walker tell me it’s a nice place.  I’d like to see it sometime.”

“Well, you’ll have to definitely come stay with us if you ever make it over that way.”

“I’ll just have to do that, Miss Olivia,” he states with a smile. 

“Grandma!  Can we watch TV?  I want to see the singers on the ‘ball special’,” Shelby shouts from the other room. 

Olivia and Gordon bring their coffee in to join Shelby and Angela, and they turn the television on to the annual Dick Clark special to see the ball drop in Times Square.

“Shelby loves music and dancing,” Olivia informs Gordon as Shelby walks over to sit on Gordon’s lap.  She moves his arms so they are wrapped around her and she snuggles into him as Olivia watches.

“She doesn’t remember her grandfather,” Olivia informs him when he looks at her with a question on his face.  Upon hearing that this child, who has suffered so much already, doesn’t remember the love a grandfather has for his grandchildren, he tightens his grip on her and snuggles in a little deeper.  They settle in to watch the show and within an hour, Shelby is fast asleep and Gordon realizes his bedtime story is not going to be needed.

 “I guess I have to Welch on our deal,” he informs her with a Cheshire cat grin.

“Not really.  Angela will need another diaper change…oh, in a little while, I’m guessin’,” she retorts back with a sass in her voice at seeing the whining and movements that Angela is making on her quilt that is spread out on the living room floor.  He looks over at the baby and realizes that she’s right and he probably won’t be able to get out of this one.  He has to think quickly. 

“How about if I take Shelby up to bed and you change Angela while I’m up there?” he suggests, hopefully.

“Nope, a deal’s a deal.  You got out of the story telling, I’m gonna’ show you how to properly change a baby diaper!” she retorts with a smile and a wink. 

“Humph!” is all he can think of to say, as he stands with his arms full and steps over the infant on the floor to take Shelby upstairs to bed.  He returns to find Angela on the floor on all fours looking like she is going to take off crawling.  Olivia left the room to refill the coffee cups and Angela has just realized she is alone in the room.  She starts whimpering and looks pathetic, as her bottom lip pokes out from her mouth.

“Hey, munchkin!  Look at you!  You’re gonna’ start the New Year off with a new trick, huh?” he beams with pride at his bundle of joy.  She stops whimpering when she realizes she isn’t alone in the room and she looks at her grandfather with a big, toothless grin and all the love and admiration a seven-month-old could have.  She realizes she must have done something to be proud of as he scoops her into his arms and carries her into the kitchen to tell Olivia how he found her.  He’s so proud.

“You have every right to be a proud grandpa.  Now, let’s see how well you can change a diaper,” she challenges.

They lay the baby on the changing table and he proceeds to take a diaper out and unfold it.  After switching it around a few times, he realizes that the tapes need to go on the backside of the diaper and the design of Baby Kermit goes on the front.

“Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this thing,” he beams proudly.

She laughs and says, “Yes, you are.  But you know, you need to be a little quicker!” as she moves her eyes to the unfastened diaper and shows him that the baby has already peed and he almost missed getting it in the proper place.

“Good thing she’s not a boy, huh?” he laughs.

“Good thing!” she agrees with a chuckle.  Angela thought it was a funny joke too, as she is laughing at the antics of her caretakers.  They finish dressing her and head on in to the living room to finish watching television and giving Angela the rest of her bottle, before putting her to bed.  They enjoy a quiet evening getting to know each other, and talk about their families and the love they feel for them.  They both realize how special their children and granddaughters are and what it means to be loved and to give love.  As the clock strikes midnight, Gordon looks over at her and realizes she is looking at him. They lean in toward each other, and over a sleeping angel, they share a sweet kiss that holds the promise of things to come.  It is the promise of new beginnings for each of them and for their children.

Jimmy & Erika Ring in the New Year

"Jimmy, what are our plans for tonight?" Erika asks inquisitively.

"You'll see; it's a surprise," he answers nonchalantly, with a smile on his face.

"Well, I hope we're going to dinner, cause I'm starved!"  He chuckles at her.  For someone as petite and thin as Erika is, she can eat like a lumberjack and she always seems to be hungry!

"Yes, we're going to dinner.  In fact, we're almost there.  Just a few more minutes."  He continues driving and within five minutes, they are pulling up in front of the Marriott Grand Marquis Hotel in downtown Dallas.


"Jimmy, what are we doing at the Marriott?  I thought we were going to dinner?" she asks, seeming somewhat 'put out'.

"We are going to dinner, honey.  There's a restaurant here, remember?"

Suddenly, the light comes on in her head.  "Oh my God!  Are we going to Dexter's?"

"Yup!  Only the best for my girl!  From the 35th floor of this building, we'll be able to see everything tonight."

"Oh Jimmy!  I love you!  This is going to be a perfect evening!  I've always wanted to eat here.  But isn't it expensive?"

"Don't worry about that.  It's New Year’s Eve and I told you, only the best for you.  Besides, I finally picked a great stock.  Don't tell Walker, he begged out, as usual," Jimmy gleams, thinking he has finally gotten one up on his partner.

Erika is giddy with excitement as they valet park the car and head up to the top floor.  The elevator ride up is smooth and fast.  As they exit the elevator, they step in to a beautiful, romantic world.  The restaurant is dark except for the white Christmas lights woven through the plants and hanging elegantly from the ceiling.  Each table has a lighted candle shimmering to add to the ambience of the room, and there are flowers on each table as well.  The patrons are very well dressed and there is smooth jazz coming from the live band that is playing next to the secluded dance floor.  The maitre’d d' greets them and they are immediately seated at one of the tables overlooking the eastern side of the downtown Dallas skyline.

"Jimmy, this is gorgeous!  Thank you, honey.  I know we're gonna have a wonderful evening," she promises as she smiles at him.

'It's gonna be even better than you expect, I hope!' he tells himself, but only answers her with, "you're welcome," and that terrific trademark smile that he has.  The waiter comes by and brings them menus and a wine list.  Jimmy selects an expensive white wine and the waiter leaves to give them time to read the menu and decide on an entrée.

"The wedding was sweet, wasn't it, honey?" Erika asks.  She is hoping to steer the conversation toward the subject of setting their own wedding date, but he isn't catching on.

"Yeah, it was nice.  I hope they're able to work it out this time. They seem like such a nice couple and they've had a rough time of it already with Shelby's illness and the jail time."  Jimmy changes the subject and asks her what she wants for dinner.

"I think I'm gonna' have the prime rib and roasted potatoes," she answers.

"I don't know how you do it, Erika."

"Do what?" she asks innocently.

"Stay so thin and eat so much of the wrong things!"

"It's called exercise, Jimmy.  You know, the stair-master and all the roller blading I do.  I love to work out and that helps keep me thin.  Plus, I have good genes," she grins at him.

"Yes, you do, honey.  Whatever it is, keep doing it!  You look fantastic!"

"Thank you, honey.  You're sweet."

"Well, don't tell Walker," he states as he looks back at the menu.  She just laughs to herself at the irony of these macho Texas Rangers, who try to be so tough and keep hidden from all their co-workers that they actually have hearts made of mush when it comes to the women in their lives.

The waiter has returned and takes their orders before promptly leaving them to return to their romantic evening.

"Would you like to dance?" Jimmy asks as he stands and offers her his hand.

"I would love to." 

She takes his hand and he escorts her to the small dance floor to join the few couples that are taking advantage of the mood.  He envelops her in his strong arms and they begin to sway to the romantic sounds emanating from the jazz band.  She is enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by his strong arms and listening to the rhythmic beating of his heart.  The only thing that would make this night better is if they could set a wedding date.  The man refuses to talk about it!  She begins to feel the frustration ebbing inside her at the thought of his resistance and she reminds herself where she is.  'He loves me and I'm not gonna push the issue and ruin this night' she thinks to herself.  She is broken out of her train of thought by the sound of Jimmy's voice.

"Honey, our dinner's ready," he whispers in her ear, and breaks their close contact to escort her back to their table.  They return to their seats and enjoy the scrumptious meals that were prepared for them and the conversation they have between them.  They get along so well and have so much in common.  The only point of contention right now is the issue of a wedding date.  Jimmy has shot down every opportunity Erika has used to bring the subject up and she's getting frustrated.  After the waiter removes their plates and gets their dessert orders, she excuses herself and goes to the ladies’ room.  She takes care of business, powders her nose, and calms herself down.  'He's trying, Erika,' she tells herself.  “Maybe he's getting cold feet.  I'm gonna have to talk to Alex and see if she knows anything" she thinks out loud.  Then she realizes how she's acting and chastises herself.  "He's with you and you are getting married.  Give it a week and see what happens." She makes a deal with herself to just enjoy tonight and let it go.  It's difficult but she knows that marriage is all about compromise.  She just decides that the compromising is going to have to begin WAY before the 'I do's' are said.

She walks out to rejoin her fiancé at the table and, as she approaches, Jimmy stands and moves behind her chair to help her sit.  'He's so sweet' she tells herself, then it changes to 'What's he doing?' as she watches him.

Instead of returning to his seat, he kneels down in front of her and reaches in to his jacket pocket, where he retrieves a black velvet box.  She looks at him in total shock as she realizes that every eye in the restaurant is on them.

"Honey, what are you doing?"

"Something I should have done a long time ago.  Erika, you know that I love you more than life itself."

"I know that."

"Technically, we are already engaged, but tonight, I want to make it official and begin our New Year correctly."  He opens the lid of the box and shows her a sparkling 2-carat Princess-cut platinum ring.

"Erika, will you marry me on June 1st?" he asks with tears in his eyes.

She covers her mouth in surprise with her right hand, as the tears of happiness flow freely down her cheeks.  She's speechless, so she nods her head and offers her left hand so he can place the ring on her finger.  The other patrons and employees who have gathered around begin to cheer as Erika stands and goes to Jimmy's open, waiting arms.  After a long and meaningful hug, they both return to their seats with lighter hearts and a feeling of promise.  The waiter brings them their desserts. The manager of the restaurant, who is carrying two complimentary glasses of champagne, follows him.  No words are spoken as they sit and stare into each other's eyes while holding hands across the table.  Jimmy finally breaks the silence.

"You were getting frustrated and upset with me about setting a date, weren't you?" he asks with a twinkle in his eye.

"Yes, as a matter of fact I was!  I thought you'd never set a date!"

"Well, I'm sorry that I frustrated you for so long.  I've been thinking of a surprise for you for a few weeks, and then I realized what a perfect surprise it would be at New Year's."  She looks down at her ring and the tears begin again.  Jimmy's worried that she doesn't like the ring or the date he picked.

"Do you like the ring?"

"Oh, honey, yes, I love it!  It's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen!!!  I'm just still in a state of shock at what you've done."  She looks into his eyes and is lost once again in that radiant smile.

"Well, is June 1st okay with you?"

"Yes!  I don't care what day we get married, just as long as we get married.  What made you choose that day?"

"Well, I've always wanted to be a June groom," he answers, tongue-in-cheek. "Seriously though, I've always loved the month of June and I want to marry you as soon as possible, but I wanted to give you enough time to create the wedding of your dreams, so I picked the first Saturday in June."

"Well, I think it's perfect and I would love to marry you on June 1st."

"This is so awesome!  You don't know how nervous I've been all night!" he states, finally relieved that the hard part is over.

"You've made this the most perfect New Year's Eve I could have dreamed of," she promises him with all the love in her heart.

"The evening isn't over.  It's only 10:30 and I still have another surprise for you."

"Another one?" she asks curiously, but she can't imagine what it is.

"Yes, so let me know when you're ready to go and I'll take you to it."

"Hey, let's go!  I'm always up for a surprise!" 

Jimmy pays for the meals and thanks the staff for all their help in pulling off his surprise.  They ride down the elevator to the lobby and Jimmy tells her he needs to ask for directions to their next destination.  Again, she's shocked.  Jimmy is like every other red-blooded American man, he thinks that asking for directions is a felonious crime and he would never stoop to such a thing.  He has her wait the short time for him by the fountain and when he returns to her, he leads her back to the main elevators!

"Jimmy, where are we going now?" she asks in total confusion.

"You'll see.  It's your next surprise."  The elevator stops at the 30th floor and they step into the most romantic setting.  There are rose petals in a trail on the floor and they lead to the bedroom where there are more rose petals on the king-sized bed.  Candles are lit throughout the room and there is a present on the pillow.

"Wow, Jimmy!  This is so much more than I could have dreamed of!" she squeals with excitement, as her arms wrap around his neck and she pulls him down for a passionate kiss.  They break apart and he tells her to open the gift on the pillow.  She looks into the box and sees a gorgeous, deep purple silk negligee.

"Jimmy, it's beautiful!"

"So try it on and make it even more beautiful," he requests. 

She leaves to go to the bathroom and returns in a few minutes.   He is speechless as he watches her walk toward him and into his waiting arms.  It fit her perfectly and it shows off her already fabulous figure.  They begin a slow dance to the music Jimmy selected on the CD player.  He holds her tight as they move slowly and enjoy this first New Year's Eve together.  He places his index finger under her chin to lift her face so that she's looking in to his eyes.  He places a light, sweet kiss on her mouth and tells her, "Happy New Year, Erika."

"Happy New Year, Jimmy." 

They dance well into the night and enjoy watching the fireworks outside their window, before leaving the rest of the world to make fireworks of their own and begin a new life, together.

Gage & Sydney Ring in the New Year

After the ceremony at HOPE house, Gage and Sydney had gone their separate ways to prepare for their critically acclaimed New Year’s Eve date.  Not sure of what Gage has settled on, Sydney decides to dress in a simple black strapless dress that glides across her shapely thighs and falls slightly above her knees. A modest, teardrop-shaped pearl necklace compliments the full bodice of the dress and her bare shoulders.  Her hair is pulled up into a French twist with a few wispy strands left to hang loose.  Her silk-like mahogany locks rest softly against her cheeks and the provocative curves of her exposed neck.

The doorbell rings at 7:05.  He is only five minutes late. Sydney decides she can live with that, considering his usual track record for being chronically late.  She opens the door to find her date smiling proudly as he hands her an enormous bouquet of brilliant red roses.  Sydney is speechless as she previews the perfect flowers and the handsome tuxedo-clad man standing in her doorway.  For a split second, she wonders to herself, ‘who is this man and what did he do with Gage?’

After the initial shock of Gage’s apparent metamorphosis, the roses are placed in water and the couple is on their way.  Gage and Sydney arrive at The Pot au Feu Salon at 7:30 sharp.

“Gage, I was only kidding when I said we’d better be having dinner at The Ritz. The Pot au Feu is the most expensive restaurant in town.   We can have a nice dinner somewhere else and it wouldn’t cost you a week’s pay.”

“We’re already here, Syd. We’ve got reservations, and we’d never get in anywhere else at the last minute, so let’s go inside and have a nice dinner.  Besides, I have to make good on my promise for a special evening or I’ll be dog-meat for the next year,” he says with his corny, yet charming smile.

Sydney swallows the pang of guilt she is suddenly plagued with for setting grandiose expectations for their evening out.

Gage opens the door for Sydney and helps her to step out onto the sidewalk. The young valet speeds away from the curb, testing the ‘pick up’ ability of Gage’s sports car.  The foyer of the restaurant is tastefully decorated with valuable sculptures and crystal fixtures.  Gage nervously glues his arms to his sides as he hurries across the seemingly endless entryway, fearing he will surely break something before he makes it through.

He helps Sydney with her wrap and gives it to the coat-check woman. The maitre’d d' confirms their reservations and promptly escorts them to their table.

Once they are seated, Gage’s stomach churns as he looks at the perfect presentation of the table.  There is more silverware at his place setting alone then he has in his entire utensil drawer at home. Sydney notices him staring at them with panic in his eyes.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll show you when to use each one as the courses are served. It’s not that bad.”

A few silent minutes have passed and Gage is already tugging at his snug bow tie and squirming uncomfortably in his chair.  Sydney takes pity on her ‘fish out of water’, knowing he is only here because of her.  She hopes they will be served quickly, settle up the check, and leave so Gage can be put out of his transparent misery.

“When are they going to bring us our menus?” Sydney questions, wanting to break the painful silence, as well as move things along.

“The menu is all in French, so I had Trivette place our order in advance.  See, here comes our waiter with a bottle of champagne,” Gage says thankfully, happy that he will have something to do with his hands, besides demolishing his tie.

The champagne is poured and the waiter leaves to prepare their first of many courses pre-selected by Trivette.   Sydney glances at the bottle and notes the brand and year.

“Gage, this is very expensive French champagne.  It’s got to cost more than two hundred dollars a bottle. You can’t afford this.”

“Relax, Syd. It’s only one night. Just sit back and enjoy it. You deserve it after the lame excuse for a date I tried to lay on you.”  Gage guzzles his half-glass of champagne in one swallow, hoping that he, too, can find a way to relax for Sydney’s sake.

The first course has arrived and Gage is poking at it skeptically with his fork.

“What is this stuff?  It looks like slimy eyeballs.”

“They’re oysters, Gage. Raw fish? Try them.”

“Raw fish? I can’t eat this. I guess I should have asked Trivette what I was going to be eating before I gave him my credit card number.  You go ahead, Syd. I think I’ll pass on the appetizers. You know me, more room for the main course.”

“Gage, why are you trying so hard to impress me? I just wanted us to do something a little fancier then take-out for New Year’s. I didn’t expect you to bring me to a place where the water costs ten dollars a glass and you need formal training to use the utensils.  I just wanted to spend a nice evening out with you. This isn’t my idea of a good time. We’re both uncomfortable, and this is probably the first time I’ve ever seen you turn away food of any kind.”

“I’m sorry, Syd.  Even when I think I’m doing the right thing, I still manage to screw it up,” Gage admits with a discouraged tone, as he removes the severely starched linen napkin from his lap and tosses it onto the table in concession to his obvious failure in the fine art of romance.

“No, Gage, I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that you had to do all of this just to please me.  I know I overreacted to the wresting tickets, but this isn’t what I had in mind, either.  Can’t we find something in between? All I want is for us to try new things once in a while. I never meant to turn you into something you’re not.  Just be yourself, okay?”

“I’m always myself when I’m with you, Syd, that’s part of the problem.”

“What’s that suppose to mean?” Sydney asks defensively.

“Whenever we’re together, we always have a great time, right?  We like the same sports and movies, and you even drink your beer out of the bottle.  Not many women would let a guy see her do that. If my hair’s messed up or my apartment’s a little messy, you don’t give me a hard time about it. Most of the time, anyway. You jump into the ring and spar with me when I need to work off my frustrations, and you’re not afraid to punch me in the gut if I do something really stupid. Sometimes, I guess I forget that you’re not just one of the guys.” 

“Oh, so you think of me as one of the guys? How sweet,” Sydney replies sarcastically.

“No, that isn’t what I meant...  Wait a second, can I start over?”

Gage reaches across the table and takes Sydney’s hands in his own.  “Syd, I mean Sydney…I sometimes forget that you’re a woman and there are other things that are important to you besides sports and hanging out.”

“You think of me as one of the guys and you forget that I’m a woman? Those kinds of compliments sure can make a girl feel special.”

A perturbed expression exudes from Sydney’s face and Gage can sense the quicksand swelling up around his ankles again.

“You see what I mean? I did it again! I can’t even tell you what I’m feeling without putting my size 13’s in my big mouth.”

Seeing that he is trying his damnedest to be sincere, Sydney decides to give him another chance.

“I’m sorry. I promise I won’t interrupt you again. Go on.”

He unfastens the asphyxiating bow tie from his neck, wipes the nervous sweat from his forehead and takes a deep, cleansing breath.  He quickly jumps back into his monologue before he looses his nerve completely.  Reaching out once again to take her hands in his, he starts over with a calmer, more resolved tone.

“Sydney Cook, I could never forget that you’re a woman. And may I also mention, a beautiful one at that.” Gage says honestly, as he casts his eyes over her lovely face before they make the inevitable descent downward to her revealing cleavage. 

“I know I can make you a little crazy sometimes, but from the very first day we met, we just seemed to hit it off, and we have so much in common. When we first became partners, I knew that I had one of the best Rangers in the business covering my back, and I’ve always trusted you with my life. Outside of work, you’ve become my best friend, Syd, and because we were friends first, I guess I’m just having a little trouble acting like a boyfriend.  When our relationship started to change, I sorta forgot that the way I treated you had to change, too. You know I have feelings for you: Really, really strong feelings. We’ve got a good thing going as partners and as friends, so we ought to be great together as a couple, right? Now that we are a couple, I promise I’ll try harder to think of your needs as a woman, instead of just your needs as my partner, and my best friend.”

“We’re --- A couple?” Sydney asks, while sentimental tears well up in her eyes.


“Well yeah, haven’t we been a couple for awhile now?” Gage asks in a confused tone, wondering if he’d been totally wrong about interpreting those signals, too.

“I guess we have. It’s just that neither of us has ever said it out loud before. The truth is, we’ve never really talked about us being more then friends at all. It just kind of happened…  ‘We’re a couple.’  I like the sound of that,” Sydney declares with a contented smile on her face.

“Me, too.”

Their hands are still chained together across the table, as they look deeper into each other’s eyes then ever before.  Sydney is pleasantly surprised that even though Gage took a while to get warmed up, he managed to melt her heart with his clumsy, yet poignant sincerity. She tells herself that he may have a knack for this romance stuff after all, and his unconventional approach is actually quite refreshing.

Sydney hails the waiter, who is taking drink orders at a near-by table.

“Can we have our check, please?”

“Is there a problem, madam?”

“No, no problem.  We’re just late for another engagement, that’s all,” Sydney replies.

“Very well then.”

The puzzled waiter quickly leaves to prepare their premature check and scowls over the fact that he has just been gypped out of a fat tip.

“Syd, why did you ask for the check? We haven’t even eaten yet.”

“I’ve got another place in mind.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll tell you on the way.  Let’s go,” Sydney announces with newfound excitement, as she stands from the table, grabs their near-full bottle of champagne and heads for the nearest exit.

As they approach the entrance of the Dallas Civic Center Sports Arena, Gage is still trying to convince Sydney that the tickets are sold out and they won’t be able to get in.

“Come on, Syd. You don’t need to try and do this for my sake.  You ripped up my tickets, remember? We’re not gonna get in anyway. Let’s just grab a quick bite somewhere and head for Benjamin’s for a couple dances like I planned. We can come to the fights anytime.”

“Gage, I hate to admit it, but you taught me something tonight.”

“I did? What…what did I teach you?”

“You taught me that it doesn’t matter where we spend our time together, it matters how we spend it. Now lets go watch some killer wrestling.”


Sydney takes him by the hand and pulls him through the security entrance.  A set of bulging men detains them before they can step over the threshold.  

“Take out your badge and let me do the talking,” Sydney whispers to Gage.

“No problem.  I can’t wait to see how you pull this off,” Gage whispers back.

“You can’t come through here. If you have tickets, you can go through the main entrance. If you don’t, we’d be happy to escort you to your car,” one of the bouncers snickers, as he clasps his massive hand full circle around Gage’s solid forearm.

“Texas Rangers,” Sydney announces, as she and Gage flash their handy badges. “We received a tip about a threat against one of your wrestlers. Seems he managed to get himself mixed up in a messy love triangle with a married woman. The husband’s supposedly on his way over here with an unidentified weapon to take him out,” Sydney fabricates her story.

“He won’t get past our security with a piece on him. We’ll handle it. We don’t need a couple of over-dressed Texas Rangers to take care of our boys.”

“Okay, if you want to take that chance, but I gotta tell ya, if anything happens to your wrestler, it’ll go on record that the arena security obstructed the Rangers from doing their jobs.  It could get pretty ugly around here. You know, bad press, fall offs in ticket sales, employee layoffs…especially problematic security guards. You getting the picture, gentleman?”

“I get the picture. But if you two are on duty, how come you’re all dolled up for a night on the town?” the smarter-looking of the two goons asks.

“We were off duty when the call came in. It’s New Years Eve; remember? And those of us who are lucky enough to have dates usually don’t stay at home polishing our guns. Any more questions?  The clock is ticking, Sasquatch. It would be a shame if that crazy husband was in there right now taking a potshot at his wife’s playboy toy, wouldn’t it?”  Sydney puts the finishing touches on her Oscar winning performance, and the dull-witted wrestler-wannabes fall for it lock, stock, and barrel.

“What’s your plan?”

“We need to get as close to the ring as possible; right up in front so we can have a clear view of the wrestlers.  Any press seats available?”

Gage squelches the smirk that is pushing its way out as he listens to Sydney work the bouncers in her hands like silly putty.

“Follow me,” says the talkative guard. “I’ll take you down into the front of the arena.”

He leads the way and the second security guard brings up the rear behind Gage.

“Do you always let your woman do your talkin’ for you, Ranger Boy?” The second man taunts, as he gives Gage a provoking shove from behind.

“She’s the brains in this outfit. I’m just here for moral support,” Gage cleverly replies, just before he delivers a backward layout kick without looking, to his antagonist’s abdomen. The smart alec is left behind, kneeling on the floor, grasping his middle and groaning loudly from the hit.

The first security guard leads them to two unclaimed ringside seats in the press box.  He stands behind them at attention, still skeptical of their motives.  After a brief moment, Sydney turns to entreat him with one more scene that will conclude her acting debut.

“You know, we didn’t have a chance to eat dinner when headquarters called us, and we really shouldn’t leave our post. Could you maybe get us some chili dogs and a couple of beers to hold us over until we finish up here?”

The bouncer rolls his eyes at the ridiculous request, but he vigilantly remembers his recent arrest for assault and battery and decides not to make waves with the odd Texas Rangers, but Texas Rangers, nonetheless.  He leaves them alone and storms off to fetch their refreshments.

“Syd, I can’t believe you sent him off to get us food and beer,” Gage chuckles loudly.

“Well, we’ve already missed two matches and the third one is about to start. I don’t know about you, but I’m not leaving these front row seats for anything.” Sydney smiles proudly and proceeds to plant a spirited kiss square across Gage’s lips.

Sydney and Gage decided to head back to Sydney’s place after the fights are over. By 11:45 p.m. they are nestled comfortably on the floor in front of the coffee table in the living room, eating cheap Chinese take-out and drinking expensive French champagne. Their evening has been filled with excitement, good company, warm laughter, and shared feelings. 

“Syd, tonight turned out okay, didn’t it?”  Gage asks in a hopeful voice.

“Francis tonight turned out better than okay.  I had a wonderful time with you.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I guess your original plan wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I should listen a little more carefully to what you have to say from now on,” she concedes, as she traces her hand along the defined profile of his face.

“But you didn’t get to dance the night away like you wanted to. Heck, you didn’t even get one dance,” he realizes, with regret in his voice.

“There’s still time.”

Sydney rises up from the floor and heads for the stereo. She sets the music and slips back into her shoes so she will be tall enough to rest her head on Gage’s shoulder. They dance their first dance since Walker and Alex’s wedding.  Then, they had been uneasy, as hundreds of eyes watched them and they were still unsure of their feelings for one another. This time, they are peaceful and completely at home in each other’s arms.

As the clock strikes midnight, they slow their dance and look into each other’s eyes. Appearing as if it were almost second nature to them, their lips meet in a sweet and passionate kiss that is savored for the longest moment.

The song has ended but the new ‘couple’ still lingers in their kiss. After all this time, they have finally found their way with each other, and all it took was a little old-fashioned, honest communication.

Walker and Alex Ring in the New Year

After returning to the ranch, Alex heads upstairs to get ready for their fancy fundraiser. When she enters the bedroom, she finds two dry cleaning bags hanging from the wardrobe.

“Walker, what’s this?” she shouts back down the stairs.

Walker takes the stairs two at a time and joins her in the room. “I had our clothes cleaned and pressed for tonight,” he says by way of explanation.

“But I sent out your tux and my blue evening gown last week.”

“I know, but I wanted us to wear these.”

Alex is looking at her husband as if he’s grown a second head. He’s never cared about clothes in the past – other than to complain about having to dress up. She looks at him suspiciously and reaches to unzip the bags. She pulls out a black evening gown with swirls of shimmering gold sequins on the bodice. She remembers the dress, it’s one she’s had for years, but she hasn’t worn it in so long, she forgot that she still had it.

“Where did you find this?” she asks.

“It was in the guestroom with all of your other gowns. It was always one of my favorites and I thought you could wear it tonight.”

“Walker, I don’t know if I can even get into it. This was a long time ago, years before the baby.”

Walker rolls his eyes at her. She’s a slim as ever. There was a softening to her shape since Angela, but it was even more attractive. The only place that carried any extra flesh was her breasts and even they were returning slowly to pre-baby size.

“Will you at least try? For me?” he pleads.

Alex looks at him and shakes her head. How can she turn down a request like that? She unzips the other bag and pulls out a tux with a white jacket.

“Walker, a white jacket? It’s January!”

“I like this jacket better than the other one, it fits better,” he quickly explains.

She looks at him, “You’re not planning to wear a cowboy hat are you?”

He grins, knowing that his sense of fashion, or lack thereof, has caused her some mild embarrassment in the past.

He holds up two fingers and shakes his head, “Scout’s honor,” he vows.

Alex wrinkles her nose at him, purses her lips and decides to drop it. If anyone has a problem with her husband wearing a white jacket, well, she really could care less. Every woman there will envy her anyway. He is one piece of prime Texas beef and she knows it. She gets a devilish gleam in her eye as the thought runs through her mind.

“Now what are you up to?” he questions, concerned. He knows his wife and when she looks mischievous, things usually heat up pretty darn fast. Not that he was complaining.

“Nothing, darling. Why don’t you get the horses fed and I’ll take my shower.”

Walker nods in agreement and begins to leave. He pauses as he gets to the door. 

“Alex?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you wear your hair up? You know with a few curls down on your neck?”

She smiles at him. “If that’s the way you like it, then I will.”

He smiles back at her and nods before heading out.

Walker dresses much more quickly than Alex and although she has had a head start, he finishes first and heads on downstairs to wait. When she descends the staircase, he looks up from where he stands at the bottom and the air rushes from his lungs. She is his dream come to life.

“You take my breath away,” he manages after remembering the art of breathing.

Alex gets sentimental tears in her eyes as she smiles at her handsome husband. “You’re looking pretty spiffy there yourself, Ranger.”

Walker answers with a smile and takes her hand to slide the wrist corsage on. Alex’s eyebrows rise as she looks at him questioningly.

“I didn’t think you could carry dozens of roses around with you, but I wanted you to have flowers,” he says by way of explanation.

Alex rises up on tiptoe and gives him a sweet kiss filled with promise. “When we get home, cowboy, when we get home,” she promises.

“I don’t think I can wait that long,” he moans.

“Maybe the next time someone asks you for a favor, you’ll remember that two letter word that begins with an ‘n’ and ends with an ‘o’,” she tells him.

He smiles and helps her on with her wrap. His fingers glide over her bare shoulders and he turns her to trace the swirling pattern of sequins on the bodice of her dress.

“It fits you better than ever,” he decides as his finger touches her lightly, causing her breasts to swell in response. Just as she is about to alter their plans for the evening and drag her husband back up the stairs, he turns and offers her his arm gallantly.

The two drive down country roads in the darkness for over an hour. There are no streetlights and only the occasional farmhouse light can be seen from the road. As they continue to leave civilization behind, Alex begins to grow concerned.

“Walker, are you sure you got the directions right? Who would throw a fundraiser way out here?”

“These are the directions I was given Alex,” he reassures her.

They finally pull up to a very large structure. It is an old barn, out in the middle of a pasture.

“This is it,” Walker announces.

Alex looks around her. There are no lights, except from a farmhouse another half mile up the road. The only car in the vicinity is theirs. She looks at Walker. “I hate to disparage your Cherokee sense of direction, darling, but I think we’re lost.”

“This is where I was told to go. Stay here, I’ll look around.”

Alex looks at the barely discernible shapes in the dark. They loom like creatures from scary movies she used to go to as a teenager. It takes her almost half a second to make up her mind. “Not on your life! I’m coming with you!”

Walker suppresses the chuckle, having known what her response would be. His beautiful wife has an overactive imagination.

The barn door creaks as it opens into a cavernous room.

“Didn’t you bring a flashlight?” Alex whispers.

“I left it in the truck. Stay here, I’ll go back and get it.”

Her hands clutch his forearm. “No way, you are not leaving me here. Walker, let’s just both go back to the truck and get the heck out of Dodge.”

“Is that a pun, because I drive a Dodge Ram?”

“No, it’s not a pun. I meant let’s just go before we get arrested for trespassing or breaking and entering or something! I don’t want to spend my New Year’s Eve in jail or as some ghoulish horror story, teens tell each other on campouts.”

By now, Walker is openly laughing. Alex’s imagination is in full gear. He reaches in and finds the cord that will turn on the generator. Suddenly, the room is lit by a beautiful chandelier that hangs from the rafters. Soft violin music is playing and there is a table laid out, filled with a meal for two. Under the chandelier is a small wood laminate dance floor.

“Oh Walker, look!” Alex exclaims.

He is looking. His eyes watch her face and he knows that all the effort was worth it. He’s made his wife very happy.

Taking in the scene in front of her, she finally turns to Walker and says, “but how?”

He guides her on into the room and closes the door behind them. Pulling her onto the dance floor, he takes her into his arms and begins to sway to the music. He had decided to forego the violinist and stick to a stereo. He wanted to be all alone with his wife as they ushered in a New Year.

“The other day, when Trivette and I were in these parts looking for Travis, we got a tip of some suspicious activity reported in this old barn. We came to check it out and found a young couple from El Salvador hiding out in here. The girl, Isella, was in labor. I helped her deliver the baby while Trivette got help from the farmhouse up the road. Ruth Monroe owns the property. She said that it used to belong to her father and she didn’t know what to do with it. Anyway, Isella had a baby boy and she and her husband, Carlos, decided to name the boy Parker. That’s where we are, somewhere between the towns of Parker and Lucas.”

“Oh Walker,” Alex exclaimed at the coincidence of the names. She knew of both towns, but had never put it together. They were right next to each other, north of Plano. “Names of people we’ve loved and lost,” she said.

Walker nodded, “and then when Ruth told me her name, I just knew that this was a special place. Uncle Ray used to tell me to listen when the spirits were trying to talk to me. I decided that this time, they were shouting.”

Alex nodded her head in agreement. “Then what happened?”

“Well, Ruth agreed to help Carlos and Isella with the INS. It turns out that Isella’s father is a political prisoner and it wouldn’t be safe for Isella to return to her country, so they will most likely be granted political asylum here. I asked Ruth if I could borrow the barn for tonight and told her my plans. She agreed to put it all together for me and when I talked to her the other day, she was so excited about the project that she’s decided to renovate this place and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Carlos and Isella have agreed to stay and help her run it.”

“Wow, you sure do manage to organize everyone’s lives for them don’t you?” he wife exclaimed.

“I learned from the best,” he said.

Alex smiled at him and reached up to place a sweet kiss on his lips.

“Hungry?” he asked after a few moments.

“Mmm hmm,” she agreed suggestively.

“Later,” he promised with a regretful smile. He led her over to the table and pulled out her chair to seat her. Taking the silver tops off of the plates, he revealed a beautifully prepared meal of Chateau Briande au jus, new potatoes, steamed vegetables and chocolate mousse. He uncorked a bottle of red wine and poured some in each wine glass. Sitting down across from his wife, he said, “To us, to our life together and to our family, may it continue to grow.”

Alex’s eyebrows shot up at the tag line, but she clinked her glass against his and sipped some of the wine. They ate their meal with few words spoken; letting their eyes communicate better than any words could, the feelings that were spilling out of both of them. After finishing the filling meal, Walker presented her with a bouquet of red roses. She smiled as she inhaled their rich aroma and then placed them in the vase provided.

“Will you dance with me?” he asked gallantly and held out his hand to her.

“I’d love to,” she murmured as she placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor.

Walker tucked her head under his chin and her hand against his chest. His other hand curved around her and rested lower than was acceptable in public, but that’s why he’d planned this evening to be just the two of them. Swaying to the music, Alex was caught up in the romantic haze he wrapped her in.

“Alex?” he whispered into the smooth shell of her ear.

“Hmm?” she managed.

“The other day when I helped to deliver that baby… it got me thinking.”

“Uh oh,” she muttered, but stayed in her snug spot.

“We both want more children and I was thinking…”

“Think again, cowboy,” she said, still with her face tucked into his neck.

“I don’t mean, right this minute…”

“Or this decade,” she said.

“Alex! Be serious!”

Alex tilted her head back and looked up into the eyes of the man she adored. “Darling, I want more children too, but Angela isn’t even a year old yet. And just think; the chances of us having twins are pretty darn high. Can you see me with a baby on each hip and dragging Angela along?”

“I’d be there to help. And to tell you the truth, yes, I can see you surrounded by children. You’re a great mother to Angela and you have so much love to give. Anyway, I never understood why twins are such an issue.”

“Both my mother and my father were born twins. It usually skips a generation, but that makes me ripe for having twins.”

Walker looked at the bodice of her dress. It was filled to capacity and his finger once again went to trace the swirling pattern of gold sequins on the bodice. “You’re definitely ripe,” he said.

“Walker, can you try and be serious for just one minute?”

“No, not tonight. All I’m asking is that you consider getting pregnant again later this year. We can wait till after Angela’s birthday.”

“Well, that’s big of you,” she said with mock anger. How could she be mad at a man who just wanted to love her and make babies with her? She suddenly flashed him a huge grin. “We can practice though.”

“Good!” he said as he swooped her up into his arms and carried her over to an area behind some stacked hay bales where a king sized pallet of blankets had been laid out.

“You were pretty sure of your charms there, cowboy,” she said as he set her back down on her feet.

“No,” he denied, “but I was certain of yours.” His fingers reached behind her and found the tab to the zip of her dress. He slowly lowered it while her fingers untied the bow tie at his throat.

“Walker?”

“Hmm?”

“Why did you want us to wear these clothes?”

“It’s about a dream I had. Years ago. Of asking you to marry me.”

“How many years ago?”

“Lots of years ago.”


“What took you so long?”

“Pure stubbornness. I knew that once I gave you my heart, you wouldn’t give it back.”

“No, but I gave you mine in return.”

“That you did.” He leaned forward and effectively ended the conversation.

Hours later, Alex shifted even closer to Walker. “Walker, I’m cold, warm me up again.”

“Hang on, it’s almost midnight.” He threw back the comforter and hurried across the room to get the champagne bottle and two glasses. He popped the cork and poured the sparkling wine and then hurried back to Alex.

“Get in here, I’m freezing!” she said.

He handed her a glass and slid in next to her using his body to warm hers. Wrapping his wrist around hers so that their arms would be linked when they sipped their champagne, he touched his forehead and nose to hers. “To the woman who brought all of my dreams to life, Happy New Year darling!”

“Oh, Walker,” was all she could manage as she took a sip and tears of joy coursed down her cheeks.

Walker took the glass out of her hand and set both on the ground next to them. “Darling I love everything about you, but I love you best when you’re speechless.”

He laughed at her outraged expression and before she could give him one of her famous ADA tongue-lashings, he slipped his tongue into her mouth and occupied it in a more pleasurable way.

New Year’s Day – Walker Ranch


By one o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, all of the Walkers’ guests, with the exception of newlyweds’ Geneva and Travis, have arrived for an informal get-together to celebrate the accession of the New Year. Everyone is feeling kind of lazy after their late night of festivities.

Walker and Alex are sitting on the floor, playing dominos with Shelby.  Gordon and Olivia are in the kitchen refilling the snack bowls and making fresh coffee, while Jimmy, Erika, Gage, and Sydney all fight for the attentions of little Angela on the sofa. Sydney and Erika are sitting in the middle of their men while Angela is passed back and forth between them like a chubby little pink airplane. She is laughing and drooling in delight and her mommy and daddy can see that she is having almost as much fun as the so-called adults who are spoiling her are.

Gordon and Olivia return with more refreshments, then Gordon eases into the recliner while Olivia sits on the armrest beside him. Though Alex’s eyes are still focused on the game, she doesn’t miss the fact that the two of them have been stuck to each other like glue ever since they returned from HOPE house earlier this morning.  She smiles to herself and makes note that she hasn’t seen such happiness and contentment on her father’s face since she was a little girl.

Jimmy has managed to steal his godchild away from the monopolizing women, and he is bouncing her up and down on her legs, encouraging her to try and stand up on her own.  She is not quite ready to bear weight on her plump little limbs, and she lets him know about it by letting them buckle beneath her whenever he sets her down.  Each time he lifts her up; she plops down on her padded little bottom and laughs at the game because she knows she is winning.

“Hey, did anyone make any New Year’s resolutions this year?”  Jimmy asks casually, trying to stir up conversation.

“Jimmy, alcoholics don’t make resolutions, they make plans. With resolutions, people try to stop bad habits, or start new lives overnight, thinking they can just turn them on and off like a light switch. Then, when they slip, they end up feeling like a failure and they usually stop trying.  You need to have a plan, a promise to yourself of what you would like to happen in your future. Your plan should be something that is going to make you happy, not something that you are going to stress over. When we’re happy, we naturally live our lives as better human beings. The things we don’t like about ourselves are a whole lot easier to fix along the way, when we have a solid foundation of inner peace.  Would you like to hear what my plans for 2002 are?” Gordon invites.

“I’d love to, Dad,” Alex eagerly chimes in before anyone else can.

“I’m going to work less and live more. I’m nearing retirement, and I think it’s about time that I started handing off responsibilities to some of the junior partners in the firm. I’m going to spend as much time as I can with my daughter and son-in-law, and my precious granddaughter.  Family and friends are the virtual core of our happiness. Sharing this past week with all of you has been painful at times, because I got a small taste of all of the wonderful moments that I missed with my little girl while she was growing up.  But I’m happy to say that, even when things got tough, the joy I felt being here with all of you has overshadowed my pain a thousand times over.  You are all absolutely amazing young people and you’ve taught an old man more about living than you’ll ever know. So if it’s okay with Alex and Walker, I’ll be showing up for all of the birthday parties, celebrations, and holidays throughout the year…with the exception of Valentine’s Day, of course.  I’ve got a little vacation planned so I can visit a dear friend in Oklahoma.” 

Gordon concludes his poignant speech and reaches up to take Olivia’s hand in his.  She squeezes it gently as a tear slips free from the corner of her eye.  Alex’s eyes have long since conceded to the free-flowing tears of pride that are cascading down her cheeks. Walker reaches over with his handkerchief and gently dabs them away.

“That was beautiful, Dad.  You know you’re welcome here anytime. You’re our family.  We’d absolutely love it if we could see you more often,” Alex reassures him through her subsiding tears.

“And we can’t wait to see you on Valentine’s Day, Grandpa Gordon. You can visit us anytime, too,” Shelby adds, incorrigibly.

“Well, now that I know the rules, Erika and I will go next if that’s okay.” Jimmy asks.

“Go ahead, Jimmy.”

“Our plan for 2002 is to start our lives together as man and wife, and our wish is to be as happy as the two of you are, Walker and Alex.  You guys are inspiring to watch, and if your relationship is an example of what love and marriage is all about, then you can count me in for a lifetime investment with my beautiful lady,” Jimmy says with undiminished sincerity, as he turns to look into Erika’s sparkling brown eyes.

“Speaking of plans, clear your calendars for June 1st everyone. There’ll be a wedding taking place on that day, and y’all are expected to be there, front and center,” Erika announces with a burst of excitement.

The room erupts with cheers of congratulations for the special couple.

“It’s about time you set a date, Trivette. We were starting to think that Erika was going to have to handcuff you and drag you to the altar,” Walker kids him.

“Oh, look who’s talkin’, man. You stalled for almost two years before you got up the nerve to take the plunge with Alex, so don’t you go ribbing me for taking a couple of months.” 

Everyone laughs boisterously at Trivette’s dead-on remark, and Walker can’t hide his self-conscious expression from his wife or his friends. After the hearty laughter settles down to a few mild chortles, Alex takes the initiative in getting the round-robin discussion back on track.

“Gage and Sydney, what are your plans for the New Year?”

Sydney is taking her turn at playing with Angela, who is cooing happily as she tugs on Sydney’s hair.  She purposely acts preoccupied, leaving Gage to answer Alex’s loaded question.

“Well, Syd and I sorta have some plans…some news, I mean…that we’d like to share with all of you, I think...” Gage stammers.

“And that news would be?” Alex prompts.

“You see, Syd and I have been partners for a long time now, and we’ve become really good friends and everything, seeing we spend so much time together, and ah…….”

“And WHAT?”  Jimmy presses, with an irritated tone caused by Gage’s feet-dragging behavior.

“We realized that we kinda have these…feelings for each other…. And we decided that we’re, we’re going to give it a shot at being a couple. You know? Like dating each other, stuff like that.”

The room is silent, but the faces of their friends say it all. Telling smirks and comical grins are being contained to the best of their abilities. Gage takes their silence as a negative response, and he tries to smooth things out.

“You know, boss, if you’re worried that our dating will affect our work, don’t be. Sydney and I are in total agreement that the Rangers come first.  We can handle this... I think.”

The laughs burst out and Sydney hides behind Angela, feeling very small in the seemingly crowded room of people. In her infinite wisdom, she realizes that what Gage has announced isn’t news to anyone but the two of them.

“What? What’s so funny, guys?”  Gage asks with a defensive pout on his face.

Walker takes pity on poor Gage and decides to tell him why they are all chuckling at his and Sydney’s expense.

“Gage, we’ve all known how you and Sydney feel about each other for months now. It’s been so obvious. I guess the only ones who didn’t know that the two of you were a couple, was, the two of you!”

“Really?”

“Really!”

“Wow!”

The room settles down and Sydney leans over to Gage and whispers into his ear,

“Well, that was only moderately torturous.”

Gage is oblivious to any kind of embarrassment because they have finally admitted their true feelings to their friends and, more importantly, to each other.  He leans over to Sydney and plants a puerile kiss on her flushed cheek. She smiles coyly and the room reverberates with a chorus of sappy ‘awe’s’ that put the finishing touches on their roasting of their close friends.

“Shelby, what are your plans for the New Year?” Walker asks the little girl.

“Well, my plan is to get all better so I can go back to school and play with all of the kids. I’m also gonna help Mama and Daddy to be married again, so they can be a family with Grandma and me.”

“And I’ll be helpin’ my granddaughter to put our family back together. I can’t think of a more pleasurable way to spend my time,” Olivia resolves.

“I got a wish, too,” says Shelby. “I wish I could have a baby brother or sister to play with, ‘cause everybody knows it takes more then one kid to play all of the good games, like dominos and crazy 8’s.”

Geneva and Travis gently tap on the door and let themselves in just in time to hear Shelby’s fairytale wish.

“Whoa, slow down there, darlin’.  You and I have a lot of catching up to do, and Daddy wants you all to himself for a while before we start thinkin’ about addin’ on to our little family.” Travis comes up with a quick response to subdue his daughter’s vivid imagination, before he scoops her up from the floor to hold her in his arms.

“Happy New Year, everyone,” Geneva hails through a glowing smile.

“Happy New Year!” The group responds joyously.

“The two of you are just in time,” Alex announces. “We were just sharing our plans and our wishes for the coming year. Would you like to share yours with the rest of us?”

“Well, I think we can sum up our plans and our wishes in one package. We just want a second chance to work real hard at becoming a healthy, happy family again. Am I’m right, honey?”

Travis looks to his new bride for her concurrence.

“100%, sweetheart. We can’t wait to get home to Tulsa so we can start over. Thank you all for making all of this possible for us.”

Each of them offers their humble ‘your welcome’s’, knowing they would do it all over again, and more, to help this special little family.

“We haven’t heard from Walker and Alex yet,” Gordon points out. “What can we expect from you and that self-willed Ranger of yours, Pumpkin?”

“Well, actually…Alex and I have agreed to start thinking about having another baby in the not too distant future. Not right away, but with any luck, we’ll have another little Walker, or two,” he adds with a wink to Alex, “under our roof, before Angela has her second birthday.”

“It’s going to take a little more then luck, Cowboy. You can’t just pick a date to have a baby.  There’s a little bit of work that needs to be done on both our parts. So, after last night’s pleasant surprise, I’ll be expecting you to plan many more romantic evenings for the two of us, if you’re so anxious to have another baby,” Alex responds only to him, forgetting she is in ‘mixed’ company.

The barks and howls explode in the room over Alex’s revealing comment.

“So, what did the two of you do last night, anyway?”  Sydney asks with eager curiosity.

With glowing red cheeks, Alex says, “Just you never mind!” and then, changing the subject, Alex turns to Travis and Geneva and asks, “By the way, how was your little honeymoon, you two? Did you enjoy Mark’s wonderful old Bed & Breakfast?”

“Oh, it was a heavenly night,” Geneva says dreamily, replaying certain moments in her mind.

“We were sorry to see it end.”

The entire room is quiet as each person reflects on the special moments that took place the night before.  New Year’s Eve had magically brought forth all of the plans and wishes that they had all shared so openly with each other. Silently, each of them thinks to themselves… ‘It had truly been a….  Heavenly Night.’

The End……..

All of the usual disclaimers………

Special thanks to all of the writers of the holiday round robin, to Diane for beta’ing on the fly, and to Crystal for giving us a home base to share the products of our incorrigible imaginations.

Oh, and to Lelani…. Our resident graphics guru. The story covers and pictures give our virtual series a visual lifeline to the beloved TV faces that we faithfully watched for so many years on WTR.

Happy Holiday’s Everyone!

May the New Year bring peace and prosperity to our nation and to our world.