Life After…

   By Roz <Roswell1947_98@yahoo.com>

   Alex frowned and walked out of the ranch house, quietly shutting the door behind her. Outside, the night was unusually silent - no crickets chirped, no owls hooted, no wind dared to rustle the trees. The only noise came from the pastures near the barn, where the horses were prancing and whinnying uneasily. She checked her watch. 1:27.

   Alex hurried to the pasture fence and sat on it. Cookie and Angel immediately trotted up to her. “You guys feel it, too, huh?” she questioned softly, stroking their muzzles. Amigo, now the oldest horse, slowly made his way up to Alex and nuzzled her arm. “I know you do,” she whispered to him. She hugged horse, keeping her arms around Amigo for a while longer than the others.

   The ranch house door slammed. “Mom? What’s wrong?” the young girl called, hurrying down the steps and running to Alex. “You okay?”

   “Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, brushing a stray wisp of reddish-blonde hair out of her daughter’s face. “What are you doing out of bed?” she scolded gently.

   “I heard the horses. I thought something had scared them, but you were already out here when I looked through the windows. I thought you might need my help.” Sam shivered, pulling her flannel nightgown closer to her.

   Alex took off her own coat and wrapped it around the girl’s shoulders. Sam raised an eyebrow when she realized her mother was still dressed. “Let’s just say the horses didn’t wake me up,” Alex explained.

   Sam gave her a questioning look. “Then what did?”

   “Would you believe… a ghost?”

   Sam raised an eyebrow. “A ghost? The ghost of a person?”

   Alex nodded.

   “Dad’s ghost?” the young girl whispered.

   “Yeah.”

   Sam climbed onto the fence and embraced her mother tightly. “Tell me about him.”

   Alex’s eyes were filled with tears. “I used to tell you about him all the time.”

   “I know. Tell me again,” she replied. “Did he really love me?”

   “Of course he loved you, kid,” Alex insisted, ruffling Sam’s hair. “He loved us both. You should have seen him the day he found out I was pregnant…”

~/~

   Walker reached across the booth to grasp his wife’s hand. “I know we had our honeymoon last week, but… a week wasn’t long enough. I was thinking - maybe we could take this weekend off and go somewhere. You know, just the two of us.”

   Alex cleared her throat uneasily. “Uh, Walker, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, actually…”

   “Is something wrong?” Walker grabbed her other hand, concerned.

   “Um… well, not really. I guess it depends on how you want to look at it,” she replied uncertainly.

   “Go on.”

   “You know how you always want to do things with ‘just the two of us?’”

   “Uh-huh.” Walker stared at her with a puzzled look not quite sure what she was hinting at.

  “Well… we’re not going to be able to do that anymore. In fact, our honeymoon really wasn’t…”

   He didn’t speak for a while. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

   Alex walked around and seated herself next to her husband and placed his hand on her stomach. “I mean, there are three of us now. And two of us will be very connected for another eight and a half months.”

   Walker’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “You mean you’re… pregnant?” he gasped, shocked. His expression gave Alex no indication of whether he was excited or horrified.

   “Yes,” Alex said carefully.

   Walker grinned and let out a joyous holler. Picking up his wife, he stood and swung her around the room. When he finally set her on the ground again, he pulled her into a tight embrace. The Ranger kissed her quickly twice before capturing her mouth and giving her a long, passionate kiss.

   “I take it you’re happy, then?” Alex questioned when he let her breathe.

   “Happy? I'm ecstatic! I love you,” he exclaimed, kissing her again

   “Hey, partner, you been drinking a little too much tonight?” Trivette questioned as he and C.D. made their way over from the bar. “What’s all the fuss?”

   Walker kept an arm around Alex’s waist, as if he couldn’t bear to be separated from her. “Alex is - we are - gonna have a baby!”

~/~

   “Everyone was so excited,” Alex said. “There were hugs and handshakes all around. People were congratulating me for weeks!”

   Sam grinned, but her smile faded quickly. “When did Dad… leave?” she whispered.

   Alex stared at the ground for a moment before answering. “That was much later, sweetheart. I was eight months pregnant by then.”

   “How did you find out?” she asked.

   “I got a phone call at 2:30 in the morning. It was a friend of mine - a Ranger. She said I should come to HQ immediately.” Alex subconsciously twisted her wedding band around her finger. “I guess in my head, I knew what had happened, but my heart didn’t want to admit it.”

~/~

   Alex rushed into the main office of Company B. Scanning the people in the room, she quickly found Jimmy, but couldn’t locate her husband. “Jimmy, what’s wrong? Where’s Walker?” she asked, hurrying toward his desk.

   Jimmy stood and came to her. “Alex,” he said gently. “Walker’s -“

   “Oh, God, he’s hurt,” Alex interrupted, panicking. “Where did they take him?”

   “Methodist,” he began uncertainly.

   Alex ran to the door.

   “In the basement.”

   She froze, her hand on the doorknob. “The basement?” she whispered, turning back to her friend.

   Jimmy nodded.

   “But Jimmy, that’s the morgue,” she stated simply.

   He nodded again, taking a small step toward her and holding out his hand. “I’m so sorry, Alex.” His voice broke halfway through the sentence.

   She processed what he had said, then shook her head. “No. That’s not possible,” she insisted.

   “I’m sorry.” Jimmy took a few more steps toward her.

   “You don’t understand. He can’t be,” she said angrily, but Jimmy could see tears forming in her eyes.

   He crossed the room to her and placed a hand on her arm. “He took a bullet meant for me,” he whispered.

   A tear dripped down her cheek, and she shook her head. “No, Jimmy, don’t do this to me.” She bit her lip, holding back tears. “Please.”

   He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her tenderly. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. She leaned against him as her knees gave out, and he lowered her to the floor as gently as he could. He shook her gently, realizing she was unconscious. “Somebody get an ambulance!” he called.

~/~

   Alex swallowed hard and stared straight ahead, into the silent darkness. “I was… crushed,” she recalled. “I loved him. I needed him.”

   “What happened, Mom?” Sam questioned, hugging her mother tightly.

   “A few Rangers had been hurt in a drug bust a few days before, so the graveyard shift was short-handed that night. Your father and Uncle Jimmy volunteered to pull an extra shift. There was a robbery that night, and they thought they’d arrested all of the robbers. But… they missed one.”

   Her daughter flinched, realizing what her mother was going to say.

   “The man they hadn’t caught was hiding behind a counter. Jimmy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

   “You mean Dad was in the wrong place, right?” Sam interrupted, confused.

   Alex shook her head sadly. “They think Walker saw a reflection in one of the freezer doors as Smitts - the man - went for his gun. No one is really sure, but he knew it was going to happen somehow. He tackled Jimmy, and… he got shot instead. Walker died saving his partner’s life. The medics got there immediately - at 2:43 - but it was too late to save him.

   “What happened to you?”

   She laughed ruefully. “They sent me straight to the hospital.”

   “Do not pass Go, do not collect a hundred dollars?” Alex’s daughter suggested, trying to cheer her mother up a little - Sam had noticed that she got like this every year.

   Her mother smiled. “Exactly. I was in shock, and they sedated me because they were worried about you. They kept me sedated for nearly a week. Jimmy had to convince my doctors that I was well enough to go to his funeral. The truth is, I wasn’t well enough, but not going - not seeing him - would have killed me, and Jimmy knew that.

   “I don’t really remember the funeral. I think I was still pretty much sedated, so I couldn’t really feel anything. I know Dad was next to me, and C.D. was on my other side - Jimmy was standing with my boss and some other Rangers.”

   “Why wasn’t he with you?” the small redhead questioned.

   Alex shrugged. “There’s always a group of colleagues standing. They don’t do anything, they just stand. Out of respect. Usually, I was a part of that group.”

   “Oh. What else do you remember?”

   “I know that half the law enforcement officers in Texas came. There were Marines, Texas Rangers, Police Officers, even some of the Feds.”

   Sam made a face. “Feds? Ugh.”

   Alex ruffled her hair. “You’ve been around your Uncle Jimmy too long.”

   “I know. Go on.”

   She thought a moment before continuing. “I guess what touched me the most… were the people who came. They weren’t cops, weren’t friends - they were the people he had helped at some time in his life. And they came from everywhere. There were his students from Kick Drugs, families that he’d rescued - like a couple who’s daughter had been kidnapped, and your dad found her - there were even gang members that he had influenced.”

   Sam hopped off the fence to stroke Amigo’s nose. The old horse was standing nearby, as if he was listening to his owner’s story.

   “Some of them told me their stories,” Alex continued. “I just nodded, mostly - they seemed so insignificant then. My husband was dead, what did I need to hear about their troubles for? But now - now I can look back and see all the good he did before he died. Those stories are so precious now - they’re all I have left. Except you.” A tear slid down her cheek, and she brushed it away quickly, not wanting Samantha to see her cry.

   Alex heard a small sniff come from Amigo’s direction - her daughter was crying, too.

   “Come here, kid,” Alex whispered.

Sam turned and ran back to her mother’s arms, hugging her tightly and burying her small face in Alex’s shoulder.

   Alex rubbed her back gently. “You know what Walker used to tell me when I missed him?”

   Sam pulled back. “What do you mean?”

   “Before we were married, he used to go on long, undercover missions. He couldn’t call me or anything - that could blow his cover. So he told me something I could do to stop missing him so much.”

   The redhead raised an eyebrow, clearly interested. “What?”

   Alex studied the sky for a moment, then pointed almost straight up. “See that star? The really bright one?”

   Sam looked up, not quite sure what her mother was getting at. “Yeah…”

   “Now see the one next to it? It’s kind of bluish.”

   “Uh-huh.”

   “That’s your dad’s star,” Alex explained.

   “His what?”

   “His star. His father gave it to him a long time ago.”

   “So?” Sam asked.

   “So… whenever I missed him, I could look up at his star. If it twinkled, I would know he was thinking about me. You could do the same.”

   The young redhead smiled and stared at the star for a moment. “It twinkled, Mom!” she shouted. “Did you see it? It twinkled!”

   Alex smiled and said nothing.

   “Hey, what are you guys doing up?”

   The tall blonde kicked one leg over the fence so she could see Jimmy a few feet behind her. C.D. was slowly making his way over from the driveway - his knee troubles had gotten worse recently, forcing him to walk with a pronounced limp, and sometimes with a cane. He had moved in with Jimmy at the younger man’s insistence - “just in case.” Alex had offered him a place at the ranch, but he’d refused because of moral issues - a man living with a single mother.

   “Talking,” Alex replied softly.

   “Uncle Jimmy!” Sam shouted. “Daddy’s star twinkled! Did you see it?” She hurdled the fence and ran to her ‘uncle,’ leaping into his arms.

   “No, I didn’t, but I wasn’t looking, kid.” He tapped her on the nose. “You should be in bed.”

   Sam gave him a disgusted look and jumped down. “Did you see it, Grandpa?”

   C.D. laughed. “I wasn’t lookin’, either, honey. But I’m sure it did.” He leaned down to hug her before sitting on the fence to get the weight off his knee. “How’re you doin’, hon?”

   “Surprisingly good,” she answered softly. “I thought I’d lose it today, but… so far, so good.”

   “What’s wrong with today, Mom?” Sam questioned eagerly, trying to avoid getting sent to bed.

   Her tactic failed. “Nothing, sweetheart. Why don’t you go to bed now?” Alex checked her watch. “It’s after 2:30, kid. And you have school tomorrow.”

   Sam sighed. “You just want me to go away so you can talk.”

   The three adults crossed their arms and nodded in unison.

   Sam pouted for a moment, then gave C.D. and Jimmy a hug goodnight. Her mother held her for a long time before releasing her. “I love you, Samantha,” she whispered.

   “I love you, too, Mom,” she answered. She decided to beat it before things got ugly - her mother’s use of her full name usually preceded some long lecture. “Goodnight.” She returned her mother’s coat and hurried back to the ranch house.

   They waited until she was gone before speaking.

   “Ten years,” Jimmy said, more to himself than anyone else.

   “Ten long years,” Alex added. “So much has happened since then.”

   “Samantha’s more of a blessin’ than you’ll ever realize,” C.D. spoke up.

   “She’s only nine, but she looks so much like him,” Jimmy added.

   “I noticed that the first time I ever held her, Jimmy,” Alex teased. “That hair is perfect. And her eyes - they’re exact duplicates of his.” She paused for a moment. “I never really thought about it, but she understands so much for her age. I talked to her teachers yesterday - they said she’s years ahead of her class.”

   “Hon, those ain’t Walker’s genes,” C.D. argued. “She got her brains from you.”

   Jimmy nodded, and Alex blushed. “So, what did you guys really come out here for?” she asked. “You couldn’t possibly have known I’d be up.”

   “Actually, we came to talk to him… if you don’t mind. We thought we’d take a walk down the river.”

   “Go ahead, Jimmy. You both know this place belongs to you as much as it belongs to me.” She could envision the place he had mentioned - trees on each side of the river, two small graves. It was a place she had visited almost daily for ten years.

   All three were silent for a moment. In the bar, there was always something to talk about. But here, it was so quiet - almost forcibly peaceful.

   Jimmy finally broke the silence. “Alex?”

   “Yes?”

   “Do you still believe what you told Sam? About the star, I mean?”

   “Jimmy, she tends to see what she wants to see. Kids are like that.”

   “But do you believe?” he asked.

   “It hasn’t twinkled for ten years, Jimmy. Not since the night before he died,” Alex whispered. “I’m not sure if I still believe or not. I’m not sure I still can believe.”

   He just nodded. “Well… I guess we should get going.”

   C.D. climbed the fence and gave her a hug. “Hang in there, hon. We’ll see you later.”

   “You want to saddle up a couple of horses?” Alex offered.

   “No, hon. The walk’ll do me some good.”

   She hugged the older man again, then embraced Jimmy warmly. “Be careful.”

   He laughed at her standard warning. “We will.”

   They turned and started through the pasture. Alex watched them get dimmer and dimmer. When the darkness finally swallowed them up, she checked her watch again. 2:41.

   Alex slid off the fence and lay flat on her back in the cool grass, staring at Walker’s star. “You gave me so much, Cowboy,” she whispered. “You gave me a gorgeous ring - two of them, beautiful horses because you knew I would love them, flowers… just because.” She smiled at the thought. “And you gave me a beautiful baby girl who’s growing up to be an even more beautiful woman. But most of all, you gave me love, Walker. That was something I had never truly experienced, and I’ll never forget it.” She swallowed hard, wiping away a tear that had fallen out of the corner of her eye. “I miss you, Cowboy. I love you.”

   The star twinkled.

   Alex smiled and walked into the ranch house. As if on cue, the night came to life again. Alex shut the door quietly behind her and went to bed.

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