Here's one for all of us that wished tonight's episode had not ended when Walker said "So long" to C.D. Hope you like it.
Alex turned the door handle and walked into the dark ranch house. She automatically flipped on the closest light as she moved through the room in a state of utter numbness. Tears once again welled in her eyes as she thought of C.D. She stared at the rocking chair. Only moments ago, it seemed to her, her jovial old friend had sat there, regaling them with stories about his world trip. She remembered laughing hysterically at some of the accounts as well as the expressions on her husband’s face when they were told. It had been fun, and friendly, and family. As he went to leave, C.D. had gathered her close in a bear hug.
“Sugar,” he whispered in her ear, “you’ve really tamed our wild mustang down. Take care of my boy, okay?”
Knowing that C.D. considered Walker his son, Alex lifted her head off his soft shoulder and looked into his kind eyes.
“I will C.D. I promise.”
C.D. began walking out the door with Alex and Walker following, arm in arm. He turned, and was struck with how natural they seemed standing there on the whitewashed wooden porch. “They are finally a family.” He mused to himself. Grinning, he couldn’t resist one last tease….
“Next time you invite me out for dinner I expect to hear about a little Walker on the way.” He smiled at Walker’s reddening face. “As tenacious as you are son, there shouldn’t be a problem with that!”
He chuckled as he put the car in gear and drove away. And that was the last they had seen him alive.
Alex shook her head slightly to chase the last remnants of the memory from her mind. She had to think of Cordell now, not herself. He had been totally silent on the way home from the bar. While she sobbed openly, he held her hand tightly, doing his best to comfort her. But, the words would not come. In fact, she wondered if they ever would. Perhaps he would lock them deep inside, unable to let himself deal with the feelings those words would evoke.
She glanced out the window, catching a glance of him as he went about his task of feeding and watering the animals. She couldn’t help but notice how mechanical his movements seemed, and how stiffly he held his body. It was almost as if he feared that loosening even the smallest amount of control would cause his fragile grip on his emotions to fail. He finished what he was doing and headed slowly toward the house. Alex stepped back from the window and turned to meet her husband.
“Are the animals okay?” She asked as she moved to wrap her arms around him.
“Of course.” Walker said softly. He slipped around her and started up the stairs. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, and with his back still towards her, and said, “Alex, I…..I just need to get some rest. Please, can we just go to bed?”
Alex stiffened at the abject defeat in the tone of his voice. For the second time in his life Cordell Walker had lost his father. How could she begin to comfort him? C.D.’s death could not help but bring up tragic memories of another time for him. A time when he had been left alone to face the world. When he woke up from nightmares alone and terrified. When there was no warm shoulder to rest on, and no sweet voice to calm his fears and promise better times.
“Baby, that’s just what I want to do also.” She replied. “You go on up, and I’ll just turn off lights and lock up down here.” She touched his back tentatively with one hand and felt the rock hard muscles, stiff with grief. He made no response, just continued up the stairs.
Alex realized that they had had nothing to eat since before the funeral. Neither had wanted anything more than coffee at the wake. She closed and locked the front door and wandered into the kitchen. The phone caught her eye, and she reached out to turn the ringer off not wanting to be disturbed. Opening the refrigerator, she was surprised to find a small tray of crackers, meat, and cheese that a neighbor who watched their house had left. There was a small note attached. “Alex and Walker, please accept our deepest sympathies.”
Her breath caught, and she leaned against the door, once again seized by a spell of tears. How will I ever get through this? She made an effort to control her tears, remembering what a counselor had told her years ago when her mother had passed away. The key to making it through a tragedy was to accept the grief, not fight it. Grieving was the body’s natural way to relieve emotional pain, and to deny those feelings was to prolong the pain. She subconsciously looked up toward the second floor bedroom. Would Walker prolong his grief? Would he let it eat away at his heart and soul, or would he allow himself the privilege of expressing it? And, more than anything, she questioned her ability to help her complicated and sometimes recalcitrant husband through this time.
Wanting him to eat something, she picked up the tray and carried it with her as she climbed the stairs and went into the darkened bedroom. But, Walker was already in bed, and did not stir as she took her shower and crawled in beside him. She usually curled up against him as he put his arms around her. They would sleep wrapped together. But, tonight he remained on his side, his back toward her. It took her a long time to finally fall asleep.
Sometime in the early morning Alex woke up feeling cold. She reached for Walker, but he was not in the bed. Pulling on her robe, she quickly searched the house, but couldn’t find him. Finally, she noticed the light in the barn. She crept out into the cold night air and quickly moved toward the barn. Stopping at the entrance, she saw Walker, bare-chested and with only a pair of jeans on, chopping wood. Sweat was pouring off his body, mingling with the frosty night air to cause steam. He was breathing heavily.
“Honey, what are you doing out here? It’s freezing!” Alex asked, startled at his appearance.
Walker stopped in mid-swing and set the ax down, leaning on the handle as he tried to catch his breath.
“Just needed….to….get….this done.” He said through gulps of air.
Alex instantly felt sorry for him. He looked exhausted and suddenly very fragile to her. She moved closer to him and gently took his arm.
“I think you are done.” She said softly as she turned him to move out the door. He submissively let her lead him back to the house. He trod heavily up the steps mumbling to her about getting a shower. She watched him go, her heart heavy. As the sun once again rose over the eastern skyline another day had begun. Their first day without C.D. Blinking back the tears, Alex began preparing breakfast.
Walker came into the kitchen. Alex noticed the dark circles starting to form under his eyes. Lack of food and sleep was already taking a toll on him, and that was not a good sign. He saw her looking at him and managed a weak smile. Crossing the kitchen, he pulled her into his arms and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“You okay, Baby?” He said softly, his hand brushing the blond curls from her face.
“I’ll be okay.” She tightened her arms around him, needing his strength and love. She looked up into his face, trying to judge what she saw in those deep, gray eyes. But, there was a veil over them as there had been ever since they received the news of C.D.’s death. Walker was not going to let anyone see his true feelings. She suspected that he felt if he did, he would possibly lose that person too. And, he couldn’t live with that.
“Let’s eat.” Alex tried to sound cheerful. “My boss told me to take the rest of the week off, so maybe we can do something together today.”
Walker nodded. He, also, had the week off. His gaze looked at the enticing display of fruit and muffins that Alex had set out. Despite the temptation, his stomach lurched when he considered eating anything.
“It all looks great.” He said. “But, I’m sorry….I am just not hungry.”
“Walker, you haven’t eaten or slept since yesterday. You’re going to make yourself sick.” Alex noticed his pale countenance and relented.
“At least a cup of coffee?”
Walker smiled and agreed. He looked at his wife with affection. “Honey, I don’t know how I would make it through this without you.” He said, shyness creeping into his voice. “I hope I can be there for you too.”
Alex grinned at him. “Of course you are here for me. I never would doubt that.” She looked down, searching for the right words. “Walker, I know this is harder for you than it is for me….” She began, but he interrupted.
“Why would you say that?”
“Well, because of your parents….”
“What do my parents have to do with this?” He almost seemed to be annoyed.
“You lost them, and I know C.D. was like a father to you…..” Alex continued, noticing his cheeks getting red.
“C.D. was my friend. The same as he was to you. My parents’ deaths have nothing to do with this. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bring that up again!” He rose and exited the kitchen leaving a stunned Alex to stare at his untouched cup of coffee.
Not knowing what else to do, she went upstairs and dressed. Thinking that maybe Walker would want to go for a ride, she grabbed a heavy wool jacket, gloves, and a hat, and strode out to the barn. Walker had finished mixing the horses’ oats. He poured the steamy mixture into two buckets, and set them down into their stalls. Then he absently rubbed the back of Angel’s neck as she ate.
“Well, she’s my horse, but she is in love with you!” Alex said as she moved to Walker’s side. He put his arm around her and pulled her close.
“Alex, I’m sorry for yelling at you.” He said.
Alex rubbed her hand across his wide chest hoping the physical touch could help him somehow. She leaned her head against him, listening to his strong heartbeat.
“I love you.” She said simply.
Walker stiffened slightly. This was too
close again. He knew that to keep his emotion under control he had to have
space, distance, no contact.
“I thought I might go for a ride…” he began. Alex stepped back and forced a smile.
“Sounds good.” She looked at her husband, clad in a tee-shirt and jeans. “Don’t you think you’d better put on something warmer? I’ll pack us a picnic basket while you get dressed.”
Walker looked down in confusion. “No, Alex…..I meant a ride…alone.”
Alex faced him and looked squarely into his face. He was exhausted, cold, and hungry, but would rather face those physical obstacles than the emotional ones that threatened to tear him apart. And she knew this was coming. She had prepared her answer. She took a deep breath and spoke….
Alex nodded her head. “That’s right. NO. Walker, I knew there would come a time in our marriage when you would try to do this, and I am not going to let you.”
“Try to do what?” He was starting to feel trapped.
“Try to run away from me when something bad happens. You want to go off by yourself. You want to find a place inside you where you can file your feelings about C.D.’s death away. To tuck them into a locked vault, as far away from your conscious thoughts as you can get them.”
She took a small step forward, softening her voice. “And when you come back to me, it will be with a heavier heart. A heart burdened once again with unresolved emotions. A heart that is closed to me.”
“Alex,” Walker’s voice was almost pleading, “I could never shut you out of my heart. I just need to be alone….” He shook his head in exasperation. How could he make her understand? But, Alex was undaunted.
“I’ll go make a lunch.” She said evenly. When he didn’t respond she turned abruptly and headed toward the kitchen. If he left without her she would just saddle up and follow him. He knew it, and so did she.
“Fine.” Walker said to her retreating back. Ignoring her request to put a coat on, he saddled the horses and waited under the overcast October sky. The sharp bite of the cold wind felt good to his weary spirit. At least he could feel physical pain.
Alex came out with the lunches and frowned when she saw him still in his tee-shirt. But, his steely gaze kept her from saying anything. If he got sick then maybe he would stay home she reasoned.
They mounted and rode for several miles in silence. The beautiful fall colors had faded and the trees were stark and dull. The scenery sure matches our mood, Alex thought glumly. Finally, they came to a creek bed. The cold water of the creek gurgled over the stones and around the fallen tree branches. Dead leaves rustled in the wind, everything was dead or dying. They dismounted, and Alex spread a blanket on the ground and began taking the lunches out. Despite Walker’s mood, she was starving. She had been eating everything in sight for the last several days it seemed. She figured it must be the fresh country air.
Walker sat on the edge of the blanket, his face dark and unreadable. Alex offered him a sandwich that he dutifully took, but didn’t eat. Sighing, she began to eat hers looking at the scenery, waiting to see what he would do next. When she was almost finished, Walker surprised her by getting up and pacing along the creek bank. His hands jammed in his jeans pockets, his eyes looking at, but not really seeing the surrounding area. Inside his head a battle raged.
Why had this happened? He and Alex were finally together and happy. Their marriage was everything he had hoped it would be. He was happy. Maybe that was it. His happiness always seemed to be followed by tragedy. He thought back in time. Having fun at the fair, cotton candy, his dad and mom arm in arm, the perfect family. And then they were gone. He recalled Ellen, his former fiancée. He had finally worked up the nerve to ask her to marry him, and then he just couldn’t get the words out. But, instead of the situation ending badly, she had known what he was trying to say. They were happy. They were going to be a family. And then she was gone. And now C.D. Did C.D. pay the price this time? Was Walker and Alex’s happiness the cause of his friend’s death?
Walker shook his head, anger boiling to the surface. Years of pent up anger rushed to his consciousness. Every time his family had been taken from him, his parents, Uncle Ray, Ellen, Lucas, C.D…….
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” His strangled cry startled Alex, who had been watching him from the blanket. She jumped up and ran toward where he stood shaking.
“Walker?” She laid her hand gently on his shoulder. Tears began streaming down his face as he struggled to breathe beneath the racking sobs. He looked at Alex, despair on his face.
“I can’t.” Was all he could get out. Alex pulled him to her as he sank to his knees. She held his head against her abdomen, stroking his hair as he sobbed. Finally, he seemed to calm and she dropped down to look into his troubled gray eyes.
“You can if we do it together.” She said softly as her own tears began to fall. “It’s okay to let it out, Cowboy. Your heart needs to heal.”
Walker looked into his wife’s loving eyes, seeing the truth depth of her feelings for him. His lips descended onto hers, their kiss reflecting their deep emotional connection.
As the two lovers knelt on the creek bank, their battered souls seeking solace and comfort, the clouds parted and a beam of sunshine descended from the sky. Feeling the warmth of its rays, Alex and Walker parted, looking at the creek and seeing something new there.
“Life goes on.” Walker whispered as he pointed to a small, but sturdy evergreen tree growing from out of an old, rotted tree trunk. Its bright green needles stood in sharp contrast to the death and decay all around.
“Yes, it does.” Alex smiled and buried her head in his neck. Noticing he was shivering, she kissed him there and stood up, pulling him with her.
“Let’s go home, Cowboy.”
“Alex!” Walker’s hoarse voice came from the living room.
Alex grinned as she stirred the hot chicken soup. Her husband had never had a cold before, and he was acting like a two-year-old. Somehow, that actually made her feel good. She filled a bowl with soup, and reached for the crackers.
“My throat hurts!”
“Your throat wouldn’t hurt so much if you stopped yelling.” Alex rolled her eyes as she filled a glass with juice. She reached up into the cabinet for the bottle of aspirin. Then she loaded a tray with everything and walked into the living room.
Walker was snuggled into the couch under a quilt with a large oversized pillow propping him up. His nose was red and his cheeks flushed with the fever that marked his mild case of pneumonia. He coughed loudly as Alex set the tray down. Picking up the juice, she held out the aspirins to him. He looked at the bottle with dismay.
“I just took some.” He said stubbornly.
“That was four hours ago.” Alex said patiently.
Frowning, he picked the pills up, popped them in his mouth, and downed them with the juice. He looked up at Alex again as she started to arrange the food tray.
“Did you put butter on the crackers?” He asked skeptically.
“I only like white meat….”
“That’s all I used.”
“Did you give me a big spoon?”
“Walker!” Alex finally said in desperation. “Eat your lunch!”
With a wounded look, he picked up the spoon and took a sip. His eyes got big and he spluttered.
“It’s too hot!”
That was enough for Alex. She reached over and picked up the telephone receiver.
“The doctor said you can get over the pneumonia at home or at the hospital. I guess you’ve made your decision….” She stopped when Walker began to take big spoonfuls of soup with gusto. As he was chewing, he grinned at her, a drop of chicken broth dribbling down his chin.
“You are incredible.” Alex smiled as she wiped it away.
“That’s why you married me.” He smiled back at her.
Several minutes later lunch was over and Alex sat on the couch with Walker’s head resting on her lap. The late afternoon sun had vanished and the cool night had made a fire necessary. As she gazed into the dancing flames, she decided, sick or not, it was time for him to hear her news. She smoothed his hair away from his forehead and looked into his eyes.
“Honey, do you remember that day on the creek bank before you got sick. When we saw the evergreen tree?”
Walker nodded. “New life. We saw it as a good omen that day.”
“Well, it was a good omen, but it was also a real sign of new life.” She grazed her knuckles down the side of his bearded face.
“You want me to plant some evergreen trees?” Walker asked suddenly.
“No!” Alex giggled, and then her face softened. “You’ve already planted something. The new life was ours, Darling. I’m going to have our baby!”
Walker sat up and faced her on the couch. His eyes moved from her face to her stomach and back again. He reached out and gently placed his hand on her abdomen.
“I love you!” He whispered softly.
“I love you, too!” Alex whispered back. They embraced as she kissed him and held him as tight as she could. Finally they sank back down, his head on her lap. Each content to let the questions be answered at a later date, savoring the moment with their closeness only.
“Alex?” Walker finally spoke his voice hoarse from the cold.
“Let’s go upstairs to the bedroom.”
Alex grinned. “Baby, you have temperature of 104 degrees. You’re a little too hot for me to handle tonight!”
Walker groaned softly and then another coughing spell hit. When it was over, he nestled back into her arms.
“Walker, you need to go to sleep.”
“I know, but do you think C.D. knows that he got his last wish?”
Smoothing his hair, Alex let her hand fall to lie across her tummy. She remembered the last thing C.D. had said. He wanted them to have a little Walker.
“Yes, I think he knows.” She said softly as she reached over and turned out the light.
“Walker, GO TO SLEEP!”