¯±Noel¯±

A “Walker, Texas Ranger” Christmas “Carol”

By: Terry [Irish] & Dan McNeely, Irish2@erols.com

                             And

      Mare Briere, Dancemomri@aol.com

          Cordell Walker paced restlessly across the floor of his living room, finally stopping at the large window overlooking the side fields.  Sighing heavily, he stared out at the blanketing snow.  Oblivious to the hushed majesty of white, criss-crossed by shadows of grey against the fading sun, he sighed again.  “Why now?” He thought.  “I know it’s Christmas time, and all the kids want snow, but there couldn’t be a worse moment for this storm to hit.  I can’t get into Headquarters, Alex can’t get to court, and what if the baby starts to arrive?  I know it’s still three weeks away, but babies can be early…” Hearing movement overhead, Walker turned away from the silence and splendor in front of him and decided to get a fire started.  Alex would be down in a minute to help with starting dinner and he wanted to make sure it was warm enough for her.  Grinning, he corrected his thought,  “Warm enough for them.

          Dinner plates were washed and put away, the morning coffee set up, the kitty fed.  Walker and Alex retired to the living room and the welcoming fire.  After helping Alex sit comfortably and get her feet up, Walker tried to drape an afghan around her shoulders.  “Walker! I’ll melt from the heat,” Alex laughed as she put up a protesting hand.  “Come and sit down, honey. You’re hovering like a mother hen!”  Walker smiled a bit sheepishly. “I can’t help it, Alex. I’m just concerned, it being our first, and all…” “Don’t panic, honey, women have been doing this for a very long time you know.”  Alex’s eyes sparkled with merriment at the memory of some of her husband’s other solicitous efforts.   “Now come sit down beside me.  Let’s catch a weather report on TV and enjoy our Christmas tree and some holiday music.  You know, I think it’s the very best tree we’ve ever had.” “Alex, you say that EVERY Christmas.” “But Walker,” Alex retorted, “every Christmas, it’s TRUE.”  Smiling broadly, Walker joined his wife on the couch. Putting his arms around her, they snuggled close while Alex turned the news on.

          Alex turned the TV off.  The weather report hadn’t been very encouraging.  The snow was expected to continue throughout the night, adding another six inches to the twelve that had already paralyzed Northern and Central Texas. “Walker, maybe we should call and check to see how Jimmy and Josie are doing over at H.O.P.E. house?  I wonder if they have enough supplies for everyone?  Several of the women and children were stranded there when they couldn’t get home in the storm and I’m a little worried.”   Receiving no response, Alex glanced down at the head resting on her shoulder and saw that the heat of the fire, combined with dinner and a small glass of wine, had sent her Ranger slumbering.  Kissing the top of his head, Alex moved gently and quietly.  Slipping out of Walker’s embrace, she placed his head down on a pillow on the couch and then stood, awkwardly, her substantially enlarged stomach making rising a tricky proposition.  She paused for a moment, rubbing her aching lower back.  She picked Walker’s feet up and eased them onto the couch.  He’d already kicked off his boots, so she covered him with the afghan and whispered, “Sweet dreams, honey.  I’m going to call Josie.” Adding, to herself, “Think I’ll give a call in to Sydney and Gage’s cell phones, too.  I know they’re out there trying to help people deal with this mess.”  On her way out of the room she turned the lights out, leaving only the glow of the twinkling Christmas lights and the fire’s low flames as company for her snoozing cowboy.

       “She’s right, my Nephew.  It’s the best tree you’ve ever had.”  Walker opened his eyes, then rubbed them lightly, trying to dispel the “sleep” in them.  Ray Firewalker stood by the tree, looking at it wistfully.  “And you know why it’s so beautiful, Nephew?  Because every branch, every light, reflects the accumulated joy of all the Christmas’ you’ve experienced.”  “UNCLE RAY?” Walker gasped, incredulously.  Uncle Ray’s right eyebrow shot up.  “And why not, Nephew?  The most wondrous Magic happens at Christmas, you know.”  Stretching out his hand, Ray Firewalker pointed to the flames in the open hearth.  “After all, look at the Magic of other past Christmas’ my Nephew.”   Staring into the fire, Walker felt the years of his life slip away…  until he found himself in the bedroom of his young childhood, and it was Christmas morning…

          He was six or seven years old, wriggling in excitement and anticipation, waiting to hear the sounds that proved his mother had gotten up to stoke the banked fire in the fireplace and his father had gone out to tend the horses.  He wasn’t supposed to peak at the tree until his folks were up, so it was an agony of restless waiting.  Finally!  He could hear his parents speaking in low voices and moving towards the kitchen. “Cord” jumped out of his narrow bed and raced down the hallway to the tiny living room.  He ran smack-dab, straight into his Dad, at full run.  Laughing, John Firewalker grasped his small boy and hoisted him up in his arms.  “Slow down, little man, or you’ll burst before you even get to see the tree! First, let’s wish your Mama a Merry Christmas.”  Elizabeth Firewalker stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her already floury hands on a towel. Seeing her tall, black-haired husband holding her little, red-haired son, she smiled in full contentment and gave a little prayer of thanks for the blessing of her family.  “Merry Christmas, Mama, Merry Christmas Papa! Squiggling like an eel in his Father’s arms, the child blurted out what was most on his mind, “ Did Santa come?”  Teasingly, John said, “Santa?  Who’s Santa?”  Cord looked horrified at his Father’s sacrilege. Joining in her husband’s laughter, Elizabeth knew it was time to let the little one see what Santa had brought.  Inwardly, she sighed, knowing it really wasn’t very much.  The Firewalker family had very little money, or material possessions.  But she and John had taught Cord that Christmas wasn’t just presents; that it was the season of reflecting on the great Gift that the birth of the Child brought to Man.  She knew that her wee son would be delighted with whatever he received.  Taking her husband’s hand in hers, the three turned toward the small living room. From the height and safety of his strong Father’s arms, Cord could just glimpse a few shining lights, and a smile wreathed his face…

            Blinking, Walker looked away from the bright hearth.  “How could I have forgotten what it was like,” He thought, “How much joy there was in our tiny home, how wonderful Christmas was?  Will Alex and I be able to give our child that kind of Christmas?  The real kind?”  He turned, “Uncle Ray…  Uncle Ray?”  Walker saw no one.  Shaking his head, Walker barely whispered a heartfelt message, “Merry Christmas Mama, Dad.  Merry Christmas, Uncle Ray.”

       “Oh, don’t you worry about that, Cordell. They’ll have the best Christmas ever. Nope, no doubt about that.  Be about the best Christmas since those stable animals crowded around that little manger, trying to give that tiny babe a bit more warmth.” Standing over by the Christmas tree, Chester David Parker, complete with battered cowboy hat, white mustache, and twinkling eyes, pulled off his glasses and tried wiping them clean on his shirttail. Replacing them on the bridge of his nose, he peered over his spectacles.  “What’s the matter with you, Cordell?  Cat got your tongue?”  “C.D.?” Whispered Walker, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. “C.D. We miss you so much!”  “Oh, no, none of that, son.  This ain’t no time for tears or cryn’.  Ain’t nobody else cryin’. Look.”  C.D. pointed into the flames, and the walls faded away…

Sitting on one of the dining room chairs, Alex was using the phone by the breakfast pass-through to speak with Josie.  “I’m glad everything is all right. I was really worried you might be getting low on food and diapers for the babies.  I should have known Jimmy would come through.  Thank heavens H.O.P.E. house isn’t very far from the grocery store.” Alex listened for a moment. “Oh, yes, we’re ok.  Laughingly, Alex reported, “Walker’s asleep in front of the fire. Didn’t even make it through the weather report. My back is hurting pretty badly, but that’s been going on for the last few months,” Alex noted, ruefully. “Now, Josie, don’t you let Jimmy overdo it.  After a few more pleasantries and an invitation (happily accepted) to join Walker and her for Christmas dinner, Alex hung up and began to redial…

Josie hung up and turned to Jimmy, who enveloped her in his arms.  Unbeknownst to Walker, (Alex knew, Sydney suspected, Gage was clueless, as usual), the two friends had become “much more than friends” in the last year. “Hmmm… she thought, “Wonder if he realizes he’s standing directly under the mistletoe?”  “Oh, Jimmy… she wheedled.”  “Yes?” “Look up, darling!”  Glancing overhead, James Trivette smiled, a little nervously, and thought, “Perfect, this is absolutely perfect!”  “Josie, would you close your eyes for a moment?”  Puzzled, Josie said, “Sure,” and closed her gorgeous chocolate browns. Reaching into his shirt pocket, Jimmy brought out a small, blue velvet box.  Opening it up, carefully, Jimmy held it before Josie.  “Open your eyes, darling.”  Josie stared at the box and it’s contents.  “Will you marry me, Josie Martin?” Trivette found he couldn’t breathe quite right.  Josie raised her face and looked Jimmy squarely in the eyes.  “Yes,” she said, lowly, but distinctly. “With great joy, and great honor.”   Placing the ring on her finger, Jimmy found he could breath again, all right, but that he felt kinda’ light-headed, giddy, and giggly.  Then he kissed Josie and everything was fine, just fine…

Alex had reached Sydney on her cell phone.  She and Gage were standing out in the snow, shivering next to a ruined SUV, half-buried under an overturned semi-truck that had lost it’s brakes when entering I35E.  The ambulances had already left. “I can’t believe it, Alex. It’s a miracle, that’s all. An honest-to-God, Christmas miracle. Not one of those kids was hurt, not a single, tiny scratch. The father has a broken arm, that’s all.  And the mother will just need a few stitches in her forehead. The newborn was saved by being in an infant seat that was facing backwards and harnessed in correctly. The Dad told us that they went to one of those classes given by their local police, about how to strap an infant seat in correctly. They found out they were doing it totally wrong, and the local officer taught them how to do it safely.  Alex, that was yesterday!  And the semi-truck driver is going to make it too; he just has a collapsed lung.  I just can’t believe it; all seven of these folks should have died.  But they didn’t.  I sure hope they thank whatever Providence they believe in.  Sydney finally ran out of steam and stopped speaking.  She listened to Alex for a moment and broke out into her radiant smile.  “Sure,” we’d love to, if we can.  Dinner with you and Walker for Christmas would be great!  If it’s at all possible, we’ll be out at the ranch tomorrow at four!  Is it Ok if Gage’s sister, Julia, comes also?  She came in on Friday, before the storm got started.  Francis is running out of ideas on how to entertain her.  Grinning at her glowering partner, Sydney snickered as Gage stuck his tongue out at her.  He hated having his given name used.  A few more sentences, and Sydney clicked the “End” button on her cell phone.  Turning to Gage, she outlined the Christmas invitation.  The tall, blonde, Ranger looked down at his petite partner and his handsome features softened, considerably.  They were fighting it all the way, wouldn’t talk about it, unless it was in a joking manner; wouldn’t discuss how they felt; wouldn’t go anywhere near the subject, and especially wouldn’t be alone together.  But denial wasn’t going to make anything go away.  The overwhelming attraction was there, the mutual feelings were there, the reciprocated trust and admiration were there.  Sooner or later, Sydney Cook and Francis Gage were going to talk to each other, very seriously…

Alex, using the dining table to steady herself and support her added weight, stood and headed upstairs.  She still had a couple of surprise gifts to wrap for her husband of just over a year…

Walker shook his head like a great black bear, trying to clear his mind.  Turning to C.D., he started to ask if the things he had seen were real, or just events that might be.  But C.D. was nowhere to be found.

“Of course not, Uncle Walker.  He’s busy celebrating with Uncle Ray and your parents.  And by the way, you were right, me and Unca’ Ray really like each other, just like you said we would. And it sure is wonderful to have “Granpa” C.D. with us this year.”  “LUCAS?!!!” Walker felt his world go, “TILT!   Lucas Simms’ angelic face swam in front of Walker’s eyes.  Lucas reached for a silver bell ornament on one of the branches of the tree and listened, enraptured, as it softly chimed.  Walker reached for the child who had stolen his heart, and broken it.  Embracing Lucas in a hug that would need to last unto Eternity, Walker felt a portion of the joy that had been his when Lucas was a living boy; a mischievous, delightful, caring, compassionate, naughty, energetic, and wholly alive, seven and a half year old boy. Walker’s breath came in gasping sobs.  “NO! Please, Walker, not for me, please!  I’m happy, really happy, Uncle Walker. There’s no room in your future for tears about me.  They’re not needed. Honest.”  Pointing to the fire, Lucas looked up into the face of the one man on earth he had dearly wished to call “Daddy,” and smiled.  Nudging Walker slightly, Lucas whispered, “Look…”

Cordell Walker stood up, knocking the branches on the Christmas tree, and stretched his back, groaning. “Blast it, “Some Assembly Required,” my A- -!”  “Walker!  Don’t’ you dare finish that sentence,” laughed his sympathetic wife. “That’s not exactly a proper Christmas sentiment for little ears to overhear, is it?” “No,” he admitted, grudgingly, “But what do they expect us poor parents to do?  Putting together these computer-controlled “Glo-Pets” doesn’t exactly lend itself to “Christmas cheer,” he grumbled.  “Oh, poor baby,” Alex commiserated, ruffling her husband’s hair, shot through with a bit of silver now.  “But, aren’t you the one who ran around trying, desperately, to find this toy for John?”  Walker knew when to admit both guilt and defeat.  He wound his arms around Alex’s middle, no longer able to span her waist with just his hands.  Seven months pregnant with their third child, Alex looked wonderful. Bending his lips to her ear, he whispered, “What would you like this time, honey?  A boy or a girl?”  Alex shook her head.  “Walker, you know the answer to that.  All I want is, HEALTHY!”  Nodding in agreement, Walker commented, “Yes, we’ve been very lucky.  John was a little fast getting here, but we had no idea what it was like to be really frightened for a child until Kate was born.”  Nuzzling Alex’s hair, Walker reflected on the panic and hysteria Kate’s birth had flung them into.  A breech birth, Kate had entered the world cyanotic, still, breathless.  In the three minutes or so before she screamed out her discomfort and anger about the whole situation, Walker had prayed for the life of his new-minted daughter as he had never prayed about anything before.  And the prayer had been answered.  A fact Walker would never forget, and always bow his head in gratitude for.  Rolling his aching shoulders in an effort to relax, Walker asked, “Will Jimmy, Josie, and the twins be able to make it for Christmas dinner with us and your Dad this year?”  “No, not this year, honey.  They’re going back to Baltimore to be with Jim’s brother. But they’ve promised to join us for New Year’s Eve.  Sydney and Gage will be here, as well as my Dad, and won’t the kids just love it!  Grandpa, Aunt Syd and Uncle Frank are their three absolutely favorite people.  I can hardly believe that Syd and Gage have been married three years already.” Leaning back into her husband’s embrace, Alex reflected, solemnly, “It was terribly difficult for them, learning that they couldn’t have children.  I hope that the adoption agency that is working with them is able to find them a child, either from here or from overseas.” “Don’t you worry about that, Alex, Syd and Gage will have a whole houseful of kids, just you wait and see!”  Gazing out the darkened window, Walker stroked his lady’s hair and ruminated, “Wonder what Uncle Ray and C.D. would think about all these marriages and babies?”  Turning in his arms, Alex looked up into her handsome Ranger’s wistful eyes. “My love, they’d be utterly delighted, and you know it.  Wherever they are, they’re with Lucas, and your parents, and my Mother, and they’re happy, Cordell, truly, everlastingly, happy.  Smiling with a spark of shimmering, internal, joy, Walker hugged Alex, closed his eyes and…

Woke on the couch, the fire long gone to smoldering coals, and Alex’s voice echoing down from the bedroom… “WALKER, WALKER!  Help, Oh God, honey, my water’s broken…!”

 Walker shook his reeling head and rubbed his eyes vigorously.  Still confused and disoriented, he struggled to fully wake and up the stairs to answer his wife’s cry for help

Bound up, skipping every other step, Walker quickly approached the landing at the top of the staircase where he came to a dead stop, hearing Lucas’ voice once again.  Only this time, he was sure he wasn’t dreaming

“This will be a very special Christmas, Uncle Walker,” Lucas confided, as he bounced up the stairs, lightheartedly, behind the stupefied Ranger. “You’ll need to be strong for Aunt Alex and your new little boy. I’ll stay with you, I promise……….. You're gonna be a great Dad Uncle Walker, and Alex is going to make the best Mom."

          The shimmering small spirit of a boy ran in front of him to lead the way.  Walker tremulously extended his hand to graze the child’s arm as he passed, checking to feel a physical presence.  Their momentary connection was unmistakable...This child was as real as the frenzied feeling within Walker’s own ferociously pounding heart. Cordell instantly felt a tidal wave of fear wash over him as he rested against the banister to support his shaking body.  His out-and-out panic wasn’t caused by the ghostly encounter he appeared to be having with a boy he had desperately loved and lost several years ago.  It was also a reflection of his realization that his God and the Great Spirits had sent Lucas, C.D. and Uncle Ray to guide him through this night, a night which would surely challenge him like he’d never been challenged before. Walker knew he’d hold “John David Ray Walker” this night.  He would be born at the ranch, delivered by his father; bearing the names of Walker’s three extraordinary fathers. “Before today, Alex and Walker hadn’t wanted to know the gender of their first child.  Nor, had they ever come close to agreeing on his or her name. 

            WALKER!  HURRY!  PLE-ASE!   Alex’s hoarse plea resounded desperately through the hallway, returning her husband’s attention to the undeniable reality of his wife and child’s life-threatening situation.   

“Come on, Uncle Walker.  It’s almost time. You’d better go to her. Aunt Alex needs you.”  Lucas waved towards the bedroom, prompting Walker to get moving..

Walker, once again, forced himself to maintain his composure before he rushed into the room. His searching eyes quickly found Alex, doubled over on the floor, huddled  at the threshold of their bathroom.

“Alex…. Oh my God!” Walker’s fear spiraled as he sprang to his wife’s side.  “The pains are so strong.  I can’t move. Walker, the baby isn’t going to be born now, is it?  It’s too soon.  Can we make it to the hospit……?”  Alex’s questions transitioned into a reflexive outcry of immobilizing pain as another contraction poured as a wave through her abdomen.

“Git her up on the bed, Cordell. RIGHT NOW!  She needs to be as comfortable as you can make her. Get along, git goin’ son.”

 C.D.’s resonant voice bellowed from the far corner of the room.  Walker turned his eyes towards the familiar and beloved figure, before he reacted obediently to the simple instructions. 

Walker lifted his distressed wife with utmost care onto their bed. He propped her grimacing head upon her pillow, then blanketed her trembling legs with a soft, warm quilt.

Walker stood uselessly at her side, confused as to what he should do next.  He had delivered babies during crisis situations as a Texas Ranger, yet he was substantially intimidated by the thought of delivering his own child. Walker was deeply afraid of hurting his baby OR his wife.  He could never live with himself if he caused either of them unnecessary harm or pain.

“Stay focused, Nephew.  Remember the great wisdom of your ancestors. React to the situation, not the emotion.”  Uncle Ray placed a reassuring hand upon Walker’s shoulder.  The sensation of his comforting touch infused Walker with a new, solid sense of determination and  rejuvenated his spirit.

“I already feel like I need to push, Walker. The baby’s coming.  Oh dear God please protect my baby!”

“Alex, hang on. Don’t push just yet, okay?  I need to time your contractions and I’ve just gotta’ go and get some towels out of the closet in the hall.  I’ll be right back. I promise, honey.”

As Walker quickly searched through the cabinet, he became intuitively aware of yet another presence close by. 

“I’m happy to finally make your acquaintance, son-in-law. I couldn’t have chosen a better match for my daughter. And, don’t you worry one bit about that new baby of yours. You’re going to do a fabulous job of bringing my first grandson into this earthly world.  He’ll be strong and sturdy, just like his Daddy. Yet, he’ll be blessed with a peaceable, sensitive spirit, a gift from his gentle-hearted Mother.”

Walker turned around, and found himself facing an older, graceful, still exquisite version of his beloved wife: Emily Cahill, Alex’s cherished mother; a woman he had only been fortunate enough to see in photos showcased by Alex.

“Alex is the most honest and loving woman I’ve ever met, Mrs. Cahill. No one deserves to have the things that she’s prayed for more then your daughter does.”

“I knew I liked you, young man.  Now get back in there and take care of our lady.  Let her know that she’s doing a good job, and be sure to keep her as calm as possible.  She needs your unwavering strength right now. You have a job to do; now go and do it!  And son….., please tell her…her mother is SO proud of the intelligent, and gracious woman she’s become. I could never have asked for a more exceptional daughter.  This child is very lucky to have her as his mother.  Please share with her my undying love.”

As Cordell turned his eyes upward to respond to Emily Cahill’s parting words, a feeling of sweet regret touched his heart as he realized that her warm presence had faded.

Walker rushed back into the bedroom and began to position the towels carefully around his wife.

            “Walker, I’m afraid”…… Alex  admitted. “It’s going to be okay sweetheart. We’ve got a host of guardian angels watching over our little boy,” he promised.  “Boy?  How do you know?  Walker, how do you……….”  Alex’s words were interrupted by another telling seizure within her belly.  She dug her fingernails into her husband’s shoulders, holding on for dear life as she screamed through the excruciating pain.

            Walker cradled her spasmodically twitching body ever so gently in his arms while he timed her frequent contractions on his wristwatch. They were less then two minutes apart. It was time to start pushing.

            “Alex, when the next contraction starts, I want you to push, as hard as you can.”  Walker held her shoulders firmly, holding his wife’s frightened gaze with the strength of his own persuasive look.  Once she caught her breath, Walker quickly reached for the phone to dial  *911.  “This is Ranger Walker.  I need an ambulance out at my ranch right away.  My wife is eight months pregnant and she’s in heavy labor.  Make sure your rescue team has a preemie incubator on board.”

            Walker hurried to the bathroom to wash his hands thoroughly.  Upon his return, he eased Alex onto her pillow before he carefully checked the status of their baby’s imminent arrival.  He could see the crown of his son’s tiny head.

            Another contraction…. “Okay Alex, PUSH.  I can see his head honey.  Try and push.”  “I can’t do this WALKER”……. Alex shrieked through the pain.  “Yes you can, Alex.  It’s almost over now.  It’s just about time to meet our son.”  “Uncle Walker, baby John’s arm is stuck. He can’t make it through. You’ve gotta help move him around, Uncle Walker.”  Lucas stood vigil by Walker’s side as he reached in to carefully turn the baby’s shoulders, clearing his path through his wife’s constricting cervix.

            After bearing down determinedly through countless contractions, Alex anxiously strained to lift her weary head.  Tears of utter joy cascaded her face as she beheld the sight of her extraordinary husband holding a tiny little extension of himself in his steady hands.  Almost immediately a lusty and healthy cry, signaling the miraculous beginning of new life, graced their waiting ears.  Walker joined his sobbing wife, spilling tears of joy and thankfulness of his own, onto the perfectly pink skin of his newborn son. 

            Walker looked at his watch. It was 12:02AM on Christmas Day when little John introduced himself to his Mom and Dad.

            “Please, Walker, let me hold him,”  Alex pleaded, wanting so desperately to embrace her new baby and feel the life flowing through his tiny body. Walker wiped his little face clean before he placed the tiny strawberry blonde on his mother’s waiting chest. “Oh Dear God, thank you.  He’s beautiful.” Alex nestled her face close to her son’s healthy, pink cheeks.  His crying subsided as he stared wide-eyed up into his mother’s gentle face. “Walker, he’s looking right at me.” Her radiant smile and sparkling eyes were all Walker would ever need to witness to understand the unsurpassable miracle of life.

            He leaned in to kiss his beloved’s lips, then his new son’s glistening forehead.  “Thank you, my love. Thank you for being there for me.  You will always be my knight in shining armor.”  Alex tenderly placed her hand on her husband’s flushed cheek. “We have to give him a name. He’s already five minutes old and he doesn’t have a name yet,” she cooed, kissing the infant’s perfect little fingers.  “His name is John David Ray Walker.  Is that okay, Alex?” She watched her husband’s anxious expression for a moment before she answered him.  “Yes, that’s VERY okay, honey.”  Alex thought of the three wonderful men that their child would be named for. “Well hello there John David Ray. I’m your Mommy and this big guy over here, is your Daddy, though, I think you two have met already.”

            Walker stood quietly, watching his beautiful wife bond with their child.  “Yah did real good, Cordell. That’s one fine looking junior Ranger you got there. I’m gonna’ be lookin’ in on the three of you every now and then, and when this youngun’s outta’ diapers, I fully expect you to teach him the fine art of serious fishin’.”  Cordell felt a comforting pat on his shoulder. When he turned to look behind him, C.D. was gone.

            “He will be a great warrior of life, just as you have been, Nephew.  Teach him the ways of our people and his strength of spirit will guide him safely throughout his journeys.” Walker looked around once more, hoping for one last glimpse of Uncle Ray before he vanished from his life once again.  It was too late.  Lucas was the only spirit he was still permitted to see.

            “It’s time for me to go too, Uncle Walker. You’re going to be all right now.  I’ll miss you and Aunt Alex and baby John. Give them a kiss for me. I know we’ll all be together someday. Then we can go on a wonderful picnic and ride our horses for miles and miles.  Tell John to take good care of Little Ranger for me.  I know they’re gonna’ be great pals. I love you Walker.”  

Cordell watched the dearly beloved little boy fade from his sight.  “Walker?  WALKER?  Are you alright?”  Alex’s voice quickly brought him back to her and their son, snuggled safely in their bed.  “The paramedics are here, honey.  They’re going to bang down the door if you don’t get downstairs and open it for them.”

Epilogue…

            Christmas Day had two-thirds faded by the time Cordell woke from his well-deserved nap.  He reached across the hospital bed to embrace his recuperating wife. She wasn’t in the small hospital bed beside him and her pillow was stone cold, suggesting she hadn’t taken a very long nap like she’d promised. Walker looked up and found her gazing intensely into their new baby’s pram.  The nurses must have finally brought John down for a brief visit.  Because he was more then three weeks early, and born outside of a hospital, baby Walker had been put through several batteries of tests for the better part of the day.  Walker and Alex had been frantic with worry that something might be wrong, but all of the tests came back fine.  John’s lungs were very well developed and he’d weighed in at a respectable 5 pounds and 4 ounces. Walker couldn’t be angry with Alex for skipping her rest-time to be near their child.

            “Hey! What are you doing up?”  Walker teased, as he circled his arms around Alex’s significantly reduced waistline. She placed her hands over her husbands’ as she let out a deep sigh, laced with a hint of uneasiness.

            “What’s wrong honey?  Did the doctors come back with more news about John’s tests?” Walker was slightly perturbed by her noticeable distress.   “No -- He’s perfect,” she offered, with a gentle, pride-filled smile. “I’m just a little nervous about being a good mother, I guess.  This little guy is going to be relying on the two of us for everything he needs to keep him healthy and happy.  I’m just afraid of making mistakes with him, Walker.   Standing here, watching this precious little angel sleep makes me realize that I’ve never been so happy or so utterly terrified in my entire life.”

             “Alex, we’re going to make mistakes with John. We’re human. But that doesn’t mean he’ll love us any less.  We’re going to do the best possible job we can as parents, and you, my dear, are going to be an awesome Mom.”  He enhanced his hold on her waist, being extra careful not to squeeze her still swollen abdomen too tightly. Walker paused for a long moment, contemplating whether or not he should tell his wife his remarkable secrets.  “Your mother came to me Alex, just before John was born. She wanted me to tell that you’ll always have her undying love….and, that this little baby here, is very lucky to have you as his Mom.  You couldn’t have made her any prouder, sweetheart.”

            Alex turned around to face her husband. A flood of tears, which had been mounting in her heart since her mother had died, were finally released.  “You…. saw my mother?” She asked, completely bewildered by his announcement. Though Alex knew her husband would never lie to her, she needed to hear his answer while looking straight into his eyes.

            “Yes, Alex.  I saw her. She came to me last night to help us through John’s birth. C.D., Uncle Ray and Lucas were there too.  They’re all watching over us, Alex.  So you see, there is no way we could possibly fail at raising this child with the crew we’ve got pulling for us Upstairs.”

            She collapsed into his arms, crying harder then she could ever remember.  They had been blessed with the ultimate Christmas gift, their child. And on the wings of that miraculous event came the calming insight of knowing that the most extraordinary host of loving angels were protecting him.

            After her tears had subsided, Walker led Alex to the rocking chair and placed their sleepy infant into her welcoming arms.

            “Hey, Merry Christmas, Walker family!” Jimmy announced his and Josie’s arrival with a jovial “HO – HO – HO.” Sydney and Gage entered the hospital room right behind them. Everyone’s arms were brimming with the fixings for a makeshift Christmas dinner and colorfully wrapped presents.

            Their friends were able to get a sneak-peak of the brand new baby before the nurse came to whisk him away to the nursery. Their dinner was accompanied by animated stories of the baby’s birth, Josie and Jimmy’s engagement, and Sydney’s rendition of how Gage knocked down her Christmas tree.  “I was in the kitchen making us some coffee when Gage decided he was going to hang a mistletoe in my doorway. Mister Graceful fell off the chair and wiped out my tree.”

            “But, did he get his kiss?” Alex didn’t hesitate to ask the really important question.  Gage was smiling from ear-to-ear while Sydney blushed in embarrassment and looked away.  No further verbal response was necessary. 

            After the Christmas festivities had broken up, Walker tucked Alex in for the evening. Her eyes were already heavy when he kissed her goodnight.  It had been a long and arduous, yet completely fulfilling day for her. “I’ll be back first thing in the morning, sweetheart.”  Her eyes were closed before her husband reached the doorway.

            Walker decided to stop by the nursery to steal one more look at  John. As he watched his baby sleep, he realized how amazing this Christmas had been.  Walker bowed his head for a moment, silently offering his prayer of thanks to The Lord.

            “Cordell?”  Walker opened his eyes abruptly.  He knew that voice only too well. It was the voice of his father, John Firewalker. “Dad?” Walker braced his body against the glass of the nursery, his senses rattling. Inside, he clearly saw his mother and father, standing on either side of his son’s pram. Each had one hand on baby John. The newborn continued his peaceful sleep, obviously undisturbed by their presence.

            “You have been blessed with a fine son, just as your mother and I were, not so very long ago. You will do well by him, Cordell.  He will grow up to be a strong and honorable man, just as you have. Teach him the ways of the Cherokee Nation.  Keep our heritage alive through your son. There is no elder or warrior more qualified to show him our ways then you, my son. We have watched you from afar and your actions have always filled us with great pride.”

            Cordell John Firewalker sobbed openly as he etched every single second of their presence into his heart, mind, and soul.  He would savor this extraordinary moment until the end of his days.

            “Mama, Dad… I tried to stop those men that day.   I felt so helpless.  I’m so sorry for letting them take you away from me.”  For the first time in his live, Cordell Walker gave voice to the enormous guilt he’d carried with him for too many years.

            “Cord.”  Elizabeth Firewalker spoke compassionately to her son.  “Don’t carry this burden one minute longer. You were a twelve-year-old boy against three grown men. You never could have stopped them. We were lucky that they didn’t kill you too.  It was our time, Cord.  I know that has been difficult for you to accept, but it is the truth.  We’re just so sorry that you had to suffer for so long because of it. Let it go, son.  You could not stop the will of God.  Now, go home and rest so you can come back to your beautiful wife and this cherished little baby. Don’t waste a moment of your precious time with them, my child. We must go now. Let our never-ending love will always be in your heart.”

            “It will, Mama. It will.”

            “Oh….and Cord?…….MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

            “A Merry Christmas, indeed,” came the softly whispered reply.

THE END. 

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy, safe, and health New Year from Mare, Irish, and Dan.

All the usual legal disclaimers.

(for those of you who just have to know, pages 1-6 by Irish/Dan, Pages 7-14 by Mare)