BETWEEN FRIENDS

By

Chris (ckline-usa@foreverliving.com)

And

Sissy (sissy@svs.net)

Trivette glanced at his watch-almost noon.  He then glanced across the room toward his partner, Cordell Walker.  He debated on whether to ask Walker if he wanted to go grab some lunch.  His partner had been in a lousy mood all morning.  Seemed like every time Trivette opened his mouth, Walker was snapping at him.  Trivette knew better than to ask what was wrong.  Walker wouldn’t talk until he was ready and Trivette knew that pushing never got him to talk any sooner.  Finally, he got up the nerve.

“Hey, Walker, how about we head to C.D.’s for lunch?  Maybe Alex can join us if her trial has recessed for lunch.”

“No, I’m not hungry.  You go ahead.  I’m just gonna stay here and finish up this paperwork.”

Now Trivette definitely knew something was wrong!  Walker voluntarily skipping lunch to do paperwork!  “Okay, man, if you’re sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

Just as Trivette starts heading for the door, it opens and in walks ADA Alex Cahill, wearing a bright smile.  “Hi, Jimmy!  Hey, Cowboy!  Thought maybe we all could get some lunch.  I’m not due back in court until 1:30.”

“I was just heading over to C.D.’s, Alex.  Walker said he’s not hungry-doesn’t wanna go.  He’s gonna stay and finish his paperwork.”

The look on Jimmy’s face tells Alex not to question the matter.  She stares at Walker, who hasn’t even acknowledged her presence but has kept his nose buried in a file in front of him.  She strides up to his desk, places her hands on the front of the desk and leans forward.  “That true, Cowboy?”

“Huh?  Oh, Hi, Alex.  Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.  Did you need something?”

“I just came by to see if you two wanted to have lunch but I hear from Jimmy that you’d rather do paperwork.  That true?”

“Yeah, I’m not very hungry and I’m really behind on this stuff.  You and Trivette go ahead.  I’ll catch up to you later.”

“Okay.  I’ll call you when I get out of court this afternoon.”

“Okay.”

*******

Trivette and Alex are sitting at the bar at C.D.’s enjoying a bowl of chili.  “What’s going on, Jimmy.  I haven’t seen Walker like this in a long time.”

“I know what you mean, Alex.  Every time I said something to him this morning, he practically bit my head off.  Something’s bugging him but you know Walker, he ain’t talkin.”

“Who ain’t talkin’ ‘bout what?”

“Hey, C.D.  Oh, we’re just talking about Walker.  He turned down lunch to do paperwork!”

“Cordell?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Can’t say as I’ve ever heard him turn down a meal to do paperwork.”

“Jimmy, have you guys been working on anything in particular.  Is there some case that may be bugging him.”

“No, Alex, not that I know of.  We’ve actually been pretty slow this week, which is why we’ve been stuck at the office doing paperwork.  I’m going to try to talk to him again this afternoon.  See if I can find out what’s going on.”

Looking at her watch, Alex takes one last spoonful of chili and stands.  “Sorry guys, I gotta run.  I’m due back in court at 1:30 and I have a couple of phone calls to return before I go back in.  Jimmy; let me know if you find out anything.  If not, maybe I can talk to him tonight.  We’re supposed to have dinner.”

“Okay, Alex.  Talk to you later.”

“Bye, honey.”

“Bye, C.D.”

*******

Trivette returns to an empty office except for Walker who is in nearly the exact same position as when he and Alex left.  In fact, he still looking at the same file and doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere.  “Hey, Walker, you having trouble with that file?  Doesn’t look like you’ve made much progress since we left?”

Walker looks up exasperated and says, “Yes, I know.  Something else came up and I’m just getting back to it.  I suppose you and your computer could get it done faster.”

Trivette throws his arms up in mock surrender. “Whoa, sorry.  Man, what’s eating you today?  I can’t say a word to you without getting my head bit off.  If there’s something bugging you, let me in on it and maybe I can help.”

Walker nearly shouts his response.  “There’s nothing bugging me!  I just wish everyone would get off my back and leave me alone!”  With this, he stands, grabs his hat and storms out the door.  “I’m going out for awhile.”

Trivette watches his partner leave and just continues to stand in the middle of the empty office shaking his head, unable to believe what has just transpired.

Walker returns to the office about an hour later and walks up to Trivette’s desk.  Trivette looks up.  “Trivette, I’m sorry about earlier.  I’ve got some stuff on my mind.  I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

“Hey, no problem.  Anything you want to talk about?”

“Not right now but thanks.”  He strides back over to his desk and buries himself in his files again.

Not a word is spoken for the next several hours.  Finally, at about 4:00 p.m., Walker starts cleaning up his desk.  He places all the files in a neat pile and then stands and grabs his hat. “Trivette, I’ve got an appointment so I’m gonna take off.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay.  Hey, you gonna be a C.D.’s later?  Alex said you guys were having dinner tonight.”

“Damn.  I forgot about dinner.  What time was Alex supposed to get done in court this afternoon?”

“I don’t know.  She said it depended on how long the witness testimonies took.”

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to stop by her office and leave her a note.  I’ve got to take care of few things tonight and won’t make dinner.  If you see her, tell her I’m sorry.”

“Sure thing, man.  Hey, Walker?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Everything’s fine, Trivette.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Walker stops by Alex’s office and leaves her a note telling her than he can’t make dinner and promising to make it up to her later.  He then heads out of the building to his appointment.

Alex returns to her office about an hour later to find Walker’s note.  She is a little upset that he didn’t have the decency to break their date in person so she heads toward his office for an explanation.

Entering the office, she notices his desk is neat and tidy and he’s no where to be found.  “Jimmy, where’s Walker?”

“I don’t know.  He left about an hour ago.  Said he had an appointment and some things to take care of tonight.  Said he was sorry that he wouldn’t make dinner with you.  I thought he was going to stop by your office.”

“He did.  He left me a note that just says he can’t make it for dinner and he’ll make it up to me later.  Did you have any luck finding out what’s bugging him?”

“No.  When I got back from lunch, I made a comment about the file he was working on and he blew his stack.  Stormed outta here for about an hour then came back and apologized.  Kept telling me everything was okay, that he just has some stuff he has to work out.”

“Well, I’m exhausted.  I’m going to head home to a nice hot bath.  I’ll try to call him later.  Maybe he’ll tell me what’s going on.”

“Okay, Alex, see you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Jimmy.”

*******

Later that evening, Trivette is leaning on the bar at C.D.’s.  “C.D., man, I know something’s wrong, but he just won’t tell me what.  I’m kinda worried about him.”

“Jimmy, I’ve known Cordell a long time.  Just give him some time and some space.  He’ll tell us what it’s all about when he’s ready and not before.”

“I know, I know, but something’s different this time.  I just can’t put my finger on what though.  Well, it’s getting late.  I’d better head home.  See you tomorrow, Big Dog.”

“Okay, Jimmy.  And don’t you worry none about Cordell.  He’ll be just fine.”

*******

As he drives, Trivette can’t seem to get his mind off of his partner.  He thinks about heading to Walker’s ranch and confronting him but he knows that rarely does any good unless Walker’s ready to talk.  He turns on the radio to provide some distraction and continues heading for home.

Just before he arrives at his apartment, his cell phone rings.  ‘That’s strange.  Who would be calling me this late?  Sure can’t be good news.’

“Hello.”

“Trivette.  It’s Walker.”

“Walker.  What’s going on?”

“Look, I just wanted to apologize again for the way I acted this afternoon.  I was outta line.”

“Hey, partner, don’t worry about it.  I’ve got a tough skin.  I can take it.  Is that all you called for?”

“Well, no, not exactly.  I was wondering if you would mind coming out to the house.  I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

“Now?”

“I know it’s late but it’s kind of important.”

“Sure thing, Walker.  I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

“Thanks.  See you in 20.”

As he disconnects the call, he turns the car around and heads for Walker’s ranch glad this his friend finally seemed willing to talk but wondering what could possibly be so important that it couldn’t wait until morning.

‘Oh well, guess I’ll find out soon.’

*******

Alex was relaxing on her sofa trying desperately to read a book.  She wasn’t having much luck, though.  Her mind kept wandering to thoughts of her fiancée.  She had come home after work totally exhausted.  She had a headache and her neck and shoulder muscles were stiff and sore.  She had taken a couple of aspirin and drawn a hot bubble bath.  The bath felt wonderful and after soaking for a half-hour, she finally got out, dried off, slipped into one of Walker’s shirts, grabbed a book and headed for the sofa.

She had now read the same paragraph about 10 times and still didn’t know what it said.  She couldn’t seem to get her mind off of Walker.  She had wanted to allow him his privacy and try to talk to him in the morning, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was really wrong and that he needed her.  She finally picked up the phone and dialed the ranch.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Cowboy.  Remember me?”

“Hi, Alex.  Listen, I’m really sorry about dinner tonight.  Something came up that I had to take care of.  I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“Walker, it’s okay.  I was exhausted from court today anyway.  I really don’t think I would have been much company at dinner.”

“How’s the trial going?”

“Actually, pretty well.  I finished presenting the State’s case today.  The defense goes on tomorrow and Thursday and closing arguments are first thing Friday morning.  If all goes well, it should be in the hands of the jury by 10:00 a.m. Friday and if we’re really lucky, we’ll get a verdict before the end of the day.”

“That’s great, Alex.  Mason deserves everything he gets.  I’m just sorry we didn’t get to him sooner, before he hurt all those innocent people.”

“I know.  His victims didn’t stand a chance.  Well, if I have anything to say about, he’ll be put away for a long time.  Hey, the real reason I called was to see if you were okay.  You seemed a little distant this afternoon when I saw you and then when you cancelled dinner, I thought maybe you were mad at me or something.”

“Alex, you know I could never be mad at you.  I’m sorry if I gave you that impression.  I just had a few things on my mind.  Everything’s fine, though.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.  It’s late, babe.  You’d better get some sleep.  I’ll see you at the office tomorrow.”

“I am kinda tired.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

As he hangs up the phone, he feels a twinge of guilt in his stomach.  He hated lying to Alex but she had so much going on with this trial that he didn’t want to burden her with anything else.  He’d have to tell her soon, though.

*******

Trivette made the turn onto the dirt road leading to Walker’s ranch.  As he neared the house, he could see the porch light was on and there was a lone figure standing by the railing.  He pulled up in front of the house, exited the car and headed toward the porch.  As he walked up the steps, Walker offered him a long neck.  Noting the somber expression on his partner’s face, he accepted the bottle, somehow feeling that he was going to need it, if not now, certainly later.

“Thanks.  So what did you want to talk about?”

“I wanted to explain why I was in such a lousy mood today.  I need your word, though, that this is just between us.  No one else can know about this, including C.D. and especially Alex.” 

Puzzled, Trivette answered “Okay, you’ve got my word.”

Turning back to the railing a looking out over the ranch, “Trivette, I found out this afternoon that there’s a chance I may have cancer.”

Trivette was standing just behind Walker and had just lifted the bottle of beer to his lips when his friend made this statement.  He stopped, bottle mid-air, mouth open, eyes wide.  He had to replay the statement several times in his mind before the reality of it struck him.

“Walker.  I…I…don’t know what to say.”

Turning to face him, Walker said, “Yeah, I know.  I didn’t know what to say either when the doctor told me this afternoon.”

“What?  I mean how?  Oh, God!  I don’t know what I mean.  You want to tell me about it?”

“You know how we have to go in for a departmental physical every year, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I went in for mine last Friday.  Yesterday afternoon, I get a call from the doctor’s office saying that there was some problem with the film and they wanted me to come back in for another chest x-ray.  I stopped first thing this morning and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that that doctor wasn’t being straight with me.  He wouldn’t look me in the eye.  I didn’t press the issue but it grated on my nerves all morning, as you no doubt noticed.  Anyway, while you and Alex were at lunch, the doctor’s office called again and asked if I could come in this afternoon.  There was something the doctor needed to discuss with me.  I’d just hung up the phone when you walked back in.”

“Which explains why you about took my head off when I made the comment about the file.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what did the doctor say when you saw him this afternoon?”

“Apparently, the first x-ray showed some “irregularity” on it.  They couldn’t tell what it was so that’s why they had me come back in for a second x-ray.  When they looked at the second x-ray, the same irregularity was there.  They sent it to a couple of different specialists to see if anyone could figure it out and the best they can come up with is that it is either scar tissue from a previous injury or a tumor.  If it’s a tumor, chances are pretty good that it’s malignant.”

“How do they make the determination?”

“Surgery.”

“Surgery?”

“Yeah.  They want me to go to Houston to have exploratory surgery.  If it’s just scar tissue, they’ll determine if it’s okay to leave it or if it has to be removed.  If it has to be removed, they’ll do it right then.  If it’s a tumor, they’ll remove it or as much of it as they can and then I’ll need to go through radiation therapy.”

“Wheww!  Sorry, man, I gotta sit.  This is a little overwhelming.”  Trivette seats himself on the swing, head looking down.

“Yeah, I know.”

He raises his head and looks his friend in the eye.  “What are you gonna do?”

“At first, I didn’t want to believe it.  I figured it was some kind of mistake and they’d call me back in a few hours and say that everything was fine.  But after I got home and no one called, the reality started to sink in.  I took Amigo out for a long ride and did some serious thinking.   I know I have to go through the surgery.  I have to know one way or another.  If it’s cancer, I’ve made up my mind that I’ll deal with it and I’ll beat it.”

“Well, if it is, I know you’ll beat it.  I don’t doubt that for a minute.  I’ve seen you when you put your mind to something.  But, Walker, what about Alex?  What are you going to tell her?  You are going to tell her, aren’t you?”

“Not right now.”

“What do you mean, not right now.  Walker, she’s your fiancée.  She has a right to know.”

“I know, Trivette.  I’m going to tell her but not until I know something for sure.  This may turn out to be nothing and I don’t want her worrying unnecessarily.  She’s in the middle of this Mason trial and I’m not going to dump this on her and have her worrying about me instead of concentrating on the trial.”

“When do they want you to have this surgery?”

“Friday.”

“This Friday!?”

“Yeah.”

“So what did you tell them?”

“I told them I’d be there.”

“Okay, how do you plan to go to Houston for surgery without telling Alex or the Captain for that matter?”

“I’m going to tell the Captain that I’m taking some vacation time and I was planning to tell Alex that I’m going undercover for a couple of weeks.  The doctor said that the surgery would be Friday morning.  If all goes well, I should be out of the hospital in a week.”

Trivette is now pacing back and forth across the porch, arms flailing.  “I can’t believe you, Walker.  You’re going to do what you always do, shut everyone out and try to handle this alone.  Well, not this time, partner.  I’m not going to let you go through this alone.  I’m going with you.  Besides, the Captain will never believe that you are taking vacation time voluntarily and without Alex.”

“Trivette, I appreciate the offer but you can’t.  For one thing, I doubt the Captain will let us both off and for another, I need you here to keep an eye on Alex.”

“No way, man.  You know I can’t keep a secret.  Alex’ll take one look at me and know that I’m keeping something from her.  And if she does, C.D. will.  I’m a lousy liar.  Alex and C.D. will see right though me.  So if you want this kept a secret, you’d better let me come with you.

“Well, you do have a point.  You are a lousy liar and you can’t keep a secret!  So IF I agree to this, how are we going to pull this off without anyone finding out?

“I don’t know.  Let me think about it for a minute.”

They stand silently side by side staring into the star-filled sky.  Trivette understands Walker's thinking.  He’s known Walker a long time.  He’s like a brother to him and he is determined not to let him endure this alone.  Slowly, an idea starts to form.

“Okay, how about this.  We go and talk to the Captain.  Tell him the truth.  We also tell him what we’re planning to tell Alex and C.D.  We have the Captain to cover for us and we tell Alex and C.D. that we’re both going undercover for a couple of weeks.  We’ll tell them that you’re going in and I will be your contact on the outside.  That way, if I need to contact them, I can without raising suspicion and Alex will know that you won’t be able to call her.  They’ll buy it if we’re both going and Alex won’t worry as much if she knows I’m watching your back.  When do you need to be there?”

“Thursday afternoon.”

“Okay, we can talk to the Captain first thing tomorrow morning then tell Alex and C.D. at lunch.  That will give them the afternoon to get used to the idea.  We’ll see them tomorrow night and then we can take off for Houston first thing Thursday morning.  You want to drive or fly?”

“I was planning to drive.”

“That’s fine.  If we leave in the morning, we’ll have plenty of time to get there.  That sound okay?”

Walker thinks through what Trivette has just said. “Yeah, I guess.  I still wish you’d just let me do this alone, Trivette.”

“No way, Walker.  I’ve made up my mind and I can be as stubborn as you can.  I’m not letting you do this alone.  Alex would kill me.  She’s gonna kill both us anyway when she finds out about all this but she’d really kill me if she found out I knew about this and still let you go off on your own.  Besides, I think deep down you don’t want to do this alone.  That’s why you called me out here.  Admit it, man, you were hoping I’d talk you out of running off on your own.”

Knowing his partner is right, Walker shrugs his shoulders.  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Okay, we’ll do you it your way.”

“Okay.  Now, we need to talk about something else.”

“What’s that.”

“I think you should let me call Alex when the surgery’s over and tell her what’s going on.  She said that closing arguments are first thing Friday and they’re hoping to get a verdict Friday afternoon.  Walker, you know Alex, she’s may buy this act initially but when she has some time to think about it, she’s gonna start to smell a rat.  If you wait until after we get back to Dallas to tell her, she’ll kill us both.   I could call her after the surgery and tell her she needs to come to Houston.  I’ll leave you to explain the rest.”

“I don’t know, Trivette.  What if the jury doesn’t come back?  She’ll have to wait until Monday and she won’t be able to leave Dallas.  I don’t want her home alone all weekend dwelling on this.  And you know that once she gets here, she won’t leave until I’m discharged.”

“Okay, I’ll make you a deal.  We’re gonna tell Alex and C.D. that you’ll be inside and I’ll be your contact on this undercover mission.  I’ll call Alex on Friday afternoon to find out the verdict.  If the verdict is in, I’ll tell her; if it’s not, I won’t.  Deal?”

Walker contemplates Trivette’s suggestion for several minutes.  “Deal.”

“Great!  Walker, I want you to know that I’ll be there for you no matter what happens.  You know that, right.”

“Yeah, Trivette.  I know and I appreciate it.  Thanks for being here and helping me sort this out.  You were right, you know.  I think deep down I did call you out here to talk me out of taking off on my own.  I hate lying to Alex, but right now I think this is best.” 

“I’m still not sure I agree with you on that one, Walker but I understand why you’re doing it.”

As they look out over the ranch, they realize that they have talked all night and the sun is starting to rise.

“Hey, man, I better get outta here.  We both need at least a couple of hours sleep before we talk to the Captain."

“You sure you’re okay to drive.  I don’t want you falling asleep at the wheel.”

“I’ll be fine.  I’ll see you at the office around 9:00 and we’ll go see the Captain, okay?”

“Okay.”

Trivette grasps Walker’s shoulder and squeezes. “We’ll get through this, partner, together.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

Walker watches from the porch as Trivette drives off thinking how lucky he is to have a friend like James Trivette.

*******

Just before 9:00 a.m., Walker pulls into the parking lot at Ranger headquarters.  A few cars behind him is Trivette.  They park side by side and walk into the office together.  They are alone on the elevator as it rises to the fourth floor.

Turning toward Walker, Trivette asks, “You get any sleep?”

“A little, how about you.”

“Yeah, a few hours.  You ready to go talk to the Captain or do you want to wait until later?”

“Let’s get it over with now so we can tell C.D. and Alex at lunch.”

“Sounds good.”

They enter the office together, grab a cup of coffee and head for the Captain’s office.

Knocking on the door, they hear Captain Price’s booming voice, “Come in.”

“Hey, Cap, you got a minute.  There’s something Trivette and I need to discuss with you.”

“Sure, Walker.  Come on in.  Morning, Trivette.”

“Morning, Cap.”

“So what’s on your minds?”

Walker and Trivette close the door and each take a seat in front of the Captain’s desk.  For the next half-hour, they explain everything to Captain Price.  He listens carefully, waiting until they are finished before he speaks.

“Walker, I don’t know what to say.  I’m very sorry to hear about this and I hope that everything turns out all right.  I have to tell you that I agree with Trivette that you should tell Alex the truth now, but I guess I see your point in wanting to wait.  I’ll cover for you here.  If anyone asks, I just tell them you and Trivette are on assignment in Houston for the next couple of weeks.”

“Thanks, Cap.  I appreciate your help.”

“Just one thing.”

“What’s that, Cap.”

“Trivette, I want you to call me as soon as Walker’s out of surgery and let me know what’s going on.”

“No problem, Cap.”

“All right, you two, get outta here and let me get some work done.”  He stands and approaches Walker with his arm outstretched, “ Walker, you take care of yourself.  If you need anything, just let me know.”

Shaking the Captain’s hand, Walker says, “Thanks again, Cap.”

*******

Alex enters C.D.’s just after noon to find her fiancée and his partner sitting at the bar chatting with C.D.

Slipping her arm around Walker’s waist, she gives him a kiss on the cheek.  “Hey, Cowboy.”

Reaching an arm around her shoulders, he gives her a small hug and returns her kiss.  “Hey, yourself.  How’d court go this morning?”

“Rough.  The defense team is pulling out all the stops.  I spent more time objecting to their line of questioning than I did on my cross examination of the witnesses.”

C.D. speaks, “Don’t you worry none, Alex.  That jury will see through all the smoke the defense is blowin.”

“I sure hope so, C.D.  If anyone deserves to go down, it’s Mason.”

“You’re sure right about that, Alex,” Trivette says.

“C.D., can you spare a few minutes?  Trivette and I have something we need to talk to you two about.”

“Sure, Cordell, what’s up?”

“Why don’t we get some chili and we’ll talk over lunch.”

“Okay.  Comin right up.  Why don’t you head on over to a booth and I’ll be with you in a minute.”

A few minutes later, C.D. reappears with four steaming bowls of chili.

“So, Cordell, Jimmy, what did you need to talk about?”

“Well, Big Dog, we just wanted to let you guys know that we’re gonna hafta head to Houston for a couple of weeks.”

“Houston?  Walker, what’s going on?  I thought we were going away this weekend?”

“I know, Alex.  I’m sorry.  The Captain just called us in this morning.  They need us in an undercover operation in Houston for the next couple of weeks.  We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”

“What kind of undercover operation?”

“Drug ring.  Walker’s gonna infiltrate the ring as a high level coke buyer and I’ll be his contact on the outside.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“Don’t worry, Alex, we’ll be fine.  We’ve done this before.  That’s why the Captain wanted to send us both.”

“I was hoping we could all celebrate together on Friday if the verdict comes in on Mason.”

“Yeah, Alex, I know.  We were hoping to be here too.  I’ll tell you what.  Why don’t I call you Friday evening and you can let me know what happened since Walker won’t be able to call?”

“Okay, Jimmy.”

Glancing at her watch, Alex is startled to see that it’s nearly one o’clock.  “Hey, guys, I gotta run.  I’m due back in court by 1:15 p.m.”  Leaning over and kissing Walker, “Will I see you tonight?”

“You think I’d leave without saying goodbye?  I’ll pick you up at 7:00 and we’ll go have that dinner I ditched out of last night, okay?”

“Okay.  See you tonight.  C.D., I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Okay, honey.  Good luck with them vultures.”

“Thanks!”

“Alright, you two, now what’s really goin on?”

“What are you talking about, C.D.?”

“Cordell, I’ve known you for too many years.  You’re not going to Houston on an assignment so what’s going on?”

Trivette shrugs and nods at Walker, who just lowers his head and smiles as he shakes it back and forth.

“Yeah, C.D., we go a long way back.  Guess I shoulda known better than to try to pull one over on you.”

“So, you gonna tell me what’s really goin on?”

They spend the next 30 minutes filling C.D. in on everything that’s happened and the scheme they have devised to keep the information from Alex.

“Cordell, that little lady’s gonna be mighty angry with all of us when she finds out about this.”

“I know, C.D. but you saw her today.  She’s totally stressed out and she’s exhausted.  She doesn’t need another thing to worry about.  Besides, we’re not even sure there’s anything to be worried about.”

“I know, son.  I promise I won’t say anything about it to her.  But Jimmy, you make sure you call me the minute you know anything.”

“Don’t worry, Big Dog.  You’ll be the first person I call.”

“Cordell, you know I love you like a son and you know that no matter what happens, I’ll be here for you.  I wish I could come with you but I know that’s not possible so I’ll just say a prayer and keep good thoughts.”

“Thanks, C.D.”

“Well, partner, we’d better get moving if we’re gonna get packed and ready to do.  What about the ranch?  Have you made arrangements for anyone to watch it?”

“Yeah, I talked to a few of the neighbors yesterday when I got home and they’ve agreed to watch things until I get back.  But, C.D., if you wouldn’t mind stoppin out a couple of times and checkin on the horses, I sure would appreciate it.”

“Sure thing, Cordell.  Amigo won’t let me ride him but I can at least let him out in the corral for some exercise and I’m sure Alex and I can take Angel and Ranger for a ride.”

“That would be great, C.D.  Come on, Trivette, I’ll drop you back at headquarters to pick up your car.  C.D., Alex and I’ll stop in after dinner tonight, okay?”

“Okay, Cordell.  Jimmy, you gonna stop in too?”

“Yeah, Big Dog, I’ll be here.”

“Alright then, I’ll see you fellas tonight.”

*******

Walker picks Alex up at 7:00 p.m. and they go to Ernesto’s for dinner and dancing.  Alex notices that Walker seems rather subdued but attributes it to the fact that he is leaving tomorrow.  Still, she can’t seem to shake the feeling that there’s something he’s not telling her.  As they dance, he seems to hold her a little tighter than usual and when the song ends, he seems reluctant to let her go.  She makes a mental note to talk to him about it later.  Right now, she just wants to enjoy the evening.

After dinner and dancing, they head to C.D.’s where they hang out with their friends and enjoy more dancing.  Alex notices that any time she is away from Walker, she still feels his presence.  When she looks up, she always sees him looking at her.  She loves the attention but it only serves to reinforce the feeling she’s had ever since lunch when he told her he was going to Houston.

Around 11:00 p.m., Walker takes Alex back to her apartment.  As they approach her apartment door, she turns and looks him in the eyes, “Come in for a little while?”

“I don’t know, Alex.  It’s getting late and you have to be up early for court and I have to be up early to pick up Trivette.”

She gives him her best puppy dog eyes, “Please.”

He smiles and kisses her softly on the lips. “Okay, just for a little while.  Why is it that I can never say no to you?”

Eyes twinkling, “I have you under my spell.”  With this, she unlocks the door and enters the apartment.  Walker follows, closing the door behind him and taking her gently in his arms.

“Yes, you do.  You’ve had me there for a long, long time.”  Leaning in, he captures her lips in a passionate kiss that nearly takes her breath away.

“Mmmm.  Keep that up and I may not let you leave.”

“I may not want to leave.”  He whispers.

He places his hat on the table near the door and takes his jacket off, draping it over a nearby chair.  Alex takes his hand and leads him to the living room where they sit together on the couch; Alex snuggles tightly under Walker’s arm.  They stay this way for several minutes, simply enjoying each other’s company.

“Walker?”

“Hmmm.”

Sitting up and looking him in the eye, “Are you sure everything’s all right?”

“Of course it is, why?”

“Well, you’ve just seemed a little subdued tonight.  I’ve also noticed that you haven’t let me out of your sight for more than a minute all night.”

“I’m just not very excited about leaving you and going to Houston.  That’s all.  I was looking forward to spending a quiet weekend alone with you.”

“You’re sure that’s all it is?”

“I’m sure, Alex.  Everything’s fine.  Now, I’d better get moving and let you get some sleep.”

She places a finger against his lips, “Don’t leave.  Stay with me tonight.   Please.”

Seeing the desire in her eyes, his body immediately reacts.  He stands and, offering her his hand, helps her up from the couch and leads her to the bedroom.

Their lovemaking that night is slow and sensual, evoking feelings in both far beyond what they have ever experienced.  Every touch is soft, every movement gentle.  Nothing is rushed as they give themselves completely to each other before quietly drifting off to sleep wrapped tightly in each other’s arms.

As the first light of day breaks, Walker awakes and stares down at the beautiful woman sleeping peacefully in his arms.  He pushes aside his feelings of guilt and concentrates on his love for his soul mate.  He leans down and gently kisses her on the forehead as he whispers “Alex.  Come on, sweetheart, wake up.  I have to go.”

She slowly opens her eyes and smiles up at him.  Pulling herself closer to him and wrapping her leg across his, she says,  “What time is it?”

“It’s still early, baby but I have to get back to the ranch and pick up my stuff before I meet Trivette so I have to go.”

She looks up at him and softly kisses his lips. “Thank you for last night.  I’m glad you stayed.”

“So am I.”    With tears forming in his eyes, he continues “Alex, I know I don’t tell you this often enough, but I love you more than anything in this world.  You are my soul mate and my best friend.  Please don’t ever forget how much you mean to me.”

Seeing his tears, she pushes up on one elbow and gently stroking his beard with her hand, “Walker, please tell me what’s wrong.  I’ve never seen you like this before.”

He almost breaks down and tells her the truth but then remembers the trial and everything she has been going through and stops.  “Everything’s fine, Alex, really.  This is just the first time I’ve had to leave you since we’ve been engaged.  That’s all.  If anything would happen to me, I wanted you to know how I feel about you.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you because you’re going to be extra careful, right?”

“I know.  I promise I’ll be extra careful.”  Kissing her passionately again, he pulls back, “Now, I really do have to go.  I’ll see you in a couple of weeks and Trivette will be in touch when he can, okay?  Good luck with the rest of the trial.  I’ll be thinking about you.”

She hugs him tightly and says “Cordell Walker, I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.”  With this he gets up, dresses and heads out the door after one last kiss.

*******

Trivette and Walker arrive in Houston just before noon.  They get Trivette checked into a nice hotel close to the hospital, have lunch and then head to meet Dr. Jeffrey Rhodes.

Dr. Rhodes greets them with an extended hand as they enter his office.  “Ranger Walker, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Thank you, nice to meet you too.  This is Ranger James Trivette, my partner and a good friend.”

Shaking Jimmy’s hand, “Ranger Trivette, a pleasure.”

“Same here, doc.”

“Well, let’s get down to business.”

Over the next hour, Dr. Rhodes reviews Walker’s charts, explains the surgery, including all risks and then has him complete mounds of paperwork.  Walker is then admitted to the hospital and settled into a room.

Dr. Rhodes enters to find Walker and Trivette chatting.  “Ranger Walker, we need to run some preliminary tests before the surgery tomorrow.  It’s going to take several hours.  Ranger Trivette, you can certainly wait if you wish or you can come back this evening.”

“Why don’t you head back to the hotel, Jim.  Get some rest, maybe check in with C.D. and I’ll see you later tonight, okay.”

“Yeah, sounds good.  I’ll see you later.”

*******

“C.D., I just know something is wrong.”

“What makes you think so, honey?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Just the way Walker was acting last night.  I could tell he was holding something back but every time I asked him about it, he kept saying it was nothing.  There were a couple of times, though, that I thought he was finally going to spill it, but then he’d clam up again.  I’m worried about him.  Something’s just not right.”

“Now, honey, I’m sure Cordell is fine.  He’s probably just a little antsy about leaving you.  This is the first time you two have been apart in quite a while.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve sure noticed a change in Cordell since you two got engaged.  He’s a little less obsessive about work and a little more obsessive about you!”

The last comment gets the smile he was trying for. “I guess you’re right, C.D.  I’m stressed out over this trial and I’m letting my imagination run wild.  I’m sure everything’s fine.”

“Thatta girl.  Now, finish your lunch.  You’ve got a long afternoon in court.  How’s things goin, anyway?”

“Frustrating.  That defense attorney is totally exasperating.  I have spent more time objecting to his line of questioning than I have cross-examining the witnesses.  I’ll be so glad when this is all over.”

“You just hang in there, Alex.  You only have to make it through this afternoon and tomorrow morning’s closing and you’ll be home free.”

“Thanks, C.D.  You always help me put things in perspective.”

“Any time, Alex, any time.”

“I’d better run.  I need to make a few stops before I go back to court. And tonight I think I’ll head straight home to a hot bath so I’ll see you tomorrow after the case is handed to the jury."

“Sure thing, darlin.  You get some rest tonight.”

“Bye, C.D.”

“Bye, Alex.”

*******

Later that afternoon, Trivette calls C.D.

“C.D.’s, how can I help you.”

“Hey, Big Dog, it’s me.”

“Hi, Jimmy.  How’s everything goin?  Is Cordell all right?”

“Yeah.  We got him admitted to the hospital this afternoon and met with his doctor.  Seems like a nice guy.  Really up front and honest.  I know Walker appreciated his candor about the operation.  Anyway, they needed to run a bunch of preliminary tests, so I came back here to the hotel to check in and get settled.  How’s everything going?  How’s Alex?”

“Well, Jimmy, I think she suspects somethin’s up.  She said she knew Cordell was keeping something from her and she just about got it out of him last night but then he clammed up on her.”

“Yeah, he told me.  Said he almost told her everything but just couldn’t bring himself to do that and then leave.”

“Well, I think I got her calmed down but I’m afraid she’s gonna be mighty upset when she finds out what’s going on.”

“I know, C.D.  I just hope Walker can talk his way out of this one.”

“Look, Jimmy, I’ve been thinkin.  Maybe it would be better for Alex to hear about this from me tomorrow rather than over the telephone.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why don’t you call me after Cordell gets out of surgery and let me know what’s going on.  I’m sure Alex will be in after the verdict comes in and I can pull her aside and tell her about Cordell.”

“Actually, C.D., I wasn’t really going to tell her everything.  I was going to let Walker do that.  I was just going to tell her that she needed to come to Houston and that Walker would explain everything when she got here.”

“I still think it might be better face to face rather than over the telephone.”

“Okay, Big Dog, if you think that’s best.  I’ll call you after the surgery and then I’ll let you take it from there, okay.”

“Good, Jimmy.  Now, what about getting her to Houston?”

“I’ve already made a tentative reservation on the 9:30 p.m. flight out of Dallas.  Now, if the verdict comes in early in the day, we can always change the flight.  I wanted to give her time to pack a few things and maybe catch a nap.  I know she’s been exhausted and I also know that she won’t leave Walker’s side once she gets here.”

“Sounds good.  Now, you tell Cordell I’m thinking about him and tell him not to worry about Alex.  I’ll make sure everything’s okay.”

“Thanks, C.D.  Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Jimmy.”

*******

Alex was in her office by 7:00 a.m. Friday morning.  She wanted to go over her notes for her closing argument one more time before court resumed at 9:00 a.m.  Besides, she couldn’t sleep anyway.  Between this trial and worrying about Walker, she had spent most of the night lying in bed staring at the ceiling.  The couple of times she had fallen asleep were interrupted by visions of Walker lying in a hospital bed.  She and Walker had had a special connection between them for years.  Each one always seemed to be able to sense when the other one was in need.  Each time she awoke during the night, she sensed that Walker needed her.  She knew that if anything had gone wrong in Houston, Jimmy would have called but she just couldn’t shake the feeling.

*******

Trivette arrives at the hospital at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning.  Walker’s surgery is scheduled to begin at 9:00 so Trivette wants to get there a little early to spend some time with his friend.

He enters Walker’s room to find him staring out the window.  He is deep in thought and not even aware that Trivette has entered.

“Walker?  Hey, man, you okay?”

Startled out of his reverie, Walker jumps slightly and turns around to face Trivette.  For the first time since he has known Cordell Walker, Trivette sees uncertainty in his eyes, even a little fear.  He certainly can’t blame him considering what he is about to face but it’s still a little unnerving to see the great Cherokee warrior looking anything but ready for battle.

“Sorry, Trivette.  I didn’t hear you come in.  Yeah, I’m fine.  Just thinking.”

“About Alex?”

“Yeah.  I’m afraid maybe I screwed up.  Maybe I should’ve listened to you and C.D. and told her what was going on.”

“Come on, Walker.  Don’t beat yourself up over this.  You did what you thought was best.  Second guessing yourself isn’t going to change anything.  Not now.  You need to concentrate on getting through this surgery and making a full recovery.  I talked to C.D. last night.  I’m going to call him when the surgery’s over and he’ll talk to Alex if and when the verdict comes in.  C.D. said everyone is predicting a quick verdict.  Alex’s case was rock solid and the defense attorneys’ game playing apparently only served to annoy the jurors.  Closing arguments start at 9:00 and the case should be handed off to the jury by 10:00.  C.D. said Alex is planning to come to his place to wait for the verdict to come in.”

“Good.  I’m glad she at least has C.D. there to wait it out with her.”

“I’ve already made a tentative reservation for her on a 9:30 flight tonight but if the verdict comes in early, we can change it and get her down here sooner.”

Just then a nurse comes through the door. “Mr. Walker, it’s time to get you prepped for surgery.”  Looking at Jimmy, “I’m sorry, sir.  You’ll need to leave now.  There’s a waiting room at the end of the hall.  Dr. Rhodes will let you know when the surgery is over.”

“Okay.  Thank you.”  Looking at his partner and best friend, “Well, man, this is it.  Don’t give ‘em any trouble, you hear.”

Smiling slightly at his friend’s feeble attempt at humor, “Don’t worry, Trivette, I’ll behave.  I’ll see you later.”  Extending his hand and grasping Trivette’s shoulder “Thanks for being here.”

Trivette places his hand on Walker’s shoulder in return “No problem, pard.”  Looking into his eyes, “Everything’s gonna work out Walker.  You know that.  I’ll be right here when you wake up and before you know it, Alex will be here too.”

“Yeah, I know.”

With this, Trivette strides out the door and heads to the waiting room.  Dr. Rhodes had said that the surgery could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on what they found so Trivette settles himself into a chair to begin the long wait.

*******

“All rise.  Court is now in session.  The Honorable Mark Johnson presiding.”

Alex glances at her watch, 9:00 a.m.  At that exact moment, a vision of Walker flashes through her mind.

“Miss Cahill, are you ready to present your closing argument?”  No response.

“Miss Cahill?”

Snapped back to reality, “I apologize, your Honor.  Yes, the prosecution is ready.”

“Please proceed.”

“Thank you, your Honor.”

For the next 15 minutes, Alex blocks everything from her mind and delivers one of the best closing arguments of her career.  When she is finished, she smiles and nods to the jury and returns to her seat.  As the defense attorney begins his closing argument, Alex’s mind is filled with thoughts and visions of Walker.  She is brought back to reality only when she hears the judge’s voice delivering instructions to the jury.  She listens to the final instructions and watches as the jury files out of the courtroom to begin their deliberations.  It’s a few minutes past 10 o’clock.

Alex cannot exit the courtroom fast enough.  She rushes back to her office, drops off her briefcase, tells Amy that she can be reached either on her cell phone or at C.D.’s if the verdict comes in and dashes out the door.

C.D. looks up when he hears the front door open.  He sees Alex enter and immediately notices the distressed look on her face.

“C.D., have you heard from Jimmy?”

“No, darlin, I haven’t, why?”

She sits on a barstool at the end of the bar and drops her head into her hands.  “Oh, C.D., I don’t know.  I think maybe I’m losing it.”

“Honey, you look plum tuckered out.  Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Not much.  Seemed that every time I closed my eyes, I would see Walker lying in a hospital bed.  Then, just as the court was called into session this morning, I was suddenly overcome with this sharp vision of him.  C.D., he needs me.  I can feel it.”

C.D.’s heart is about to break.  He knows the connection Walker and Alex share.  He’s seen it in action many times.  He desperately wants to tell her what’s happening but knows that unless he can tell her the outcome of the surgery, it will only serve to upset her further.  Coming around the bar, C.D. sits down next to her, wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her close.  “Honey, everything’s gonna be fine.  Look, there’s a couch back in the office.  Why don’t you go back and see if you can get some shuteye.  Your office knows where you are and I’ll keep your cell phone handy.  If anyone calls, I’ll come and wake you.”

Resting her head on C.D.’s shoulder, “I am exhausted.  Maybe a little nap will help clear my head.”

“That’s my girl.  You go rest for a little while and when you wake up, I’ll fix you some lunch.  You probably haven’t eaten all day, have you?”

“Actually, I did have a muffin this morning but lunch would be great.  Thanks, C.D.”

“Sure thing, darlin.”

Alex stands, hands C.D. her cell phone and walks back to the office at the back of the bar.  She takes off her jacket and stretches out on the couch, looking up at the clock on the wall, 10:45 a.m.  She closes her eyes and within minutes, is sound asleep.

Just before noon, C.D. is in the kitchen getting ready for the lunch rush when he hears Alex screaming.  He rushes into the office to find Alex sitting on the couch, hands over her face, sobbing.  He strides over and sits next to her pulling her close.  “Alex, honey, what’s wrong?”

Alex’s sobs slow and she tries to regain control. “I…I had a…a vision…about Walker.”

“What about Cordell?”

“He’s dying, C.D.!” as she breaks down sobbing uncontrollably.

“Easy, honey, come on, now.  Tell me what you saw.”

It takes Alex several minutes to regain her composure enough to even speak.  “I saw him…on an operating table…I could hear the heart monitor and then all the alarms went off.”

Alex’s words cut C.D. to the bone.  He knows that Walker is still in surgery and only prays that what Alex saw was simply a dream and nothing more.  “Come on now, Alex.  I’m sure it was just a dream.  Cordell’s fine.  I’ll tell you what, if it will make you feel better, I’ll try to reach Jimmy on his cell phone and make sure that everything’s okay.  You go get freshened up a little and I’ll see you out front.”

(Sniff, sniff)  “Okay, C.D.  Thank you.”

Ten minutes later, Alex emerges from the back room looking somewhat refreshed, although not much more stable.

“Okay, honey, let’s see if we can reach Jimmy.”  Just as he reaches for the phone, it rings.  “C.D.’s, can I help you?  Yes, she is.  I understand.  I tell her.”

He hangs up the phone and looks at Alex. “Honey, the jury’s reached a verdict.  They need you in court right away.  You go ahead.  I’ll try to reach Jimmy and by the time you get back, I’ll hopefully have some news for you, okay?”

“I guess I have no option, C.D.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  She grabs her cell phone and purse and heads out the door.

C.D. looks up at the clock, 12:30.  ‘Boy, that jury didn’t waste any time’ he thinks. ‘Just as well, though, we need to get that little lady to Houston pronto.’  He reaches for the phone and dials Trivette’s cell phone.

*******

Trivette shifts again in his chair.  Unable to get comfortable, he stands and walks down the hall for what feels like the hundredth time.  He thinks about all the other times that he has waited in a hospital for news on the condition of his partner.  It’s never been easy but at least those other times he had Alex and C.D. to lean on and help pass the time.  This time, he was alone.  Checking his watch, he finds that it’s almost 12:30.  Dr. Rhodes had said that the surgery would take a minimum of 3 hours and could take as long as 6 hours.  Bored and tired of looking at the same four walls, he walks to the nurses’ station near the waiting room to see if there is a cafeteria nearby where he could get something to eat.

“May I help you?”

“Yes.  Thank you.  I was wondering if there is a cafeteria nearby where I might get something to eat.”

“Yes, there’s a cafeteria on the ground level.  Just take the elevator down and make a left at the end of the hall.  You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.  My name is James Trivette.  I’m waiting for word on my friend who is in surgery.  His doctor is Dr. Rhodes.  Would it be possible for you to let Dr. Rhodes know where I’ve gone if he comes looking for me before I get back?”

“I’d be happy to, Mr. Trivette.” 

“Thank you.”

“Your welcome.”

Trivette walks to the cafeteria and orders lunch.  As he eats his lunch, he stares out the window at the park-like grounds of the hospital daydreaming.  He is snapped back to reality by the ringing of his phone.

“Trivette.”

“Jimmy, it’s C.D.  Is everything all right with Cordell?”

“I don’t know, C.D.  I haven’t gotten any word yet.  Why?”

“Well, you know how sometimes Cordell and Alex seem to have a connection where one knows when the other is in trouble?”

“Yeah.”

C.D. fills him in on Alex’s visions.  “Jimmy, when she woke up, she was convinced that Cordell was dying.  It about broke my heart not to tell her what was happening but I knew that tellin her without knowing the outcome of the surgery would only serve to upset her more.  I managed to calm her down by telling her that we’d call you to see if everything was okay.  We were just about to do that when the call came in that the jury was back.  I told her I’d talk to you and hopefully have some news for her by the time she got back.”

“Man, C.D., that’s weird.  Walker’s Cherokee must be rubbing off on Alex.”

“I know it, Jimmy.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Big Dog.  Dr. Rhodes said the surgery could last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.  It’s been nearly 4 hours now.  I just finished lunch so I’m heading back up to the waiting room.  As soon as I know anything, I’ll call you.”

“Okay, Jimmy.  I just hope it’s soon and I sure hope you have some good news for me.”

“Me too, Big Dog, me too.”

Just as Trivette enters the waiting room, he sees Dr. Rhodes coming down the hall toward him.  He walks toward the doctor, meeting him halfway.

“Dr. Rhodes.  How is he?”

“Well, Ranger Trivette, you have one tough partner.  We nearly lost him once, but we were able to stabilize him and he’s being moved to recovery right now.”

“So what did you find.”

“I’m afraid it was a tumor.  However, the good news is that it was very contained and we were able to remove it all.  It also does not appear to have spread.  We did have to remove a small portion of the left lung due to the location of the tumor.”

“How will that affect him.”

“Given his excellent physical conditioning, I don’t think he’ll even notice it.  He will need some physical therapy for a few weeks, breathing exercises, etc. but after that he should be fine.”

“What about chemotherapy or radiation.”

“Truthfully, I don’t see any need.  As I said the tumor was very contained and we saw no evidence of metastasis.”

Reaching out and shaking Dr. Rhodes’ hand, “Doc, that’s the best news I’ve heard all day.  Thank you.  When can I see him?”

“We’re going to keep him in ICU for at least 24 hours, just to be on the safe side.  We need to keep a close eye on him to make sure that the lung doesn’t collapse.  That sometimes happens after surgery of this nature.  He’ll be out of recovery in about an hour and as soon as they get him settled in ICU, I’ll send someone for you.”

“That’s great, doc.  Thanks.”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get cleaned up.”

“Sure, doc.”  As Dr. Rhodes starts walking away, Trivette has a thought.  “Hey, doc?”  Rhodes turns to face the Ranger.  “This is going to sound strange, but what time did you begin the operation, exactly?”

“9:00 a.m., just as we had scheduled.”

“And you said you almost lost him once, what time was that?”

“Around noon, I guess.  That’s why the operation took a little longer.  Why do you ask?”

“Doc, you’d never believe me if I told you!”

Rhodes shrugs his shoulders, turns and continues down the hallway.

A smiling Trivette retreats to the waiting room to call C.D.

*******

Everyone is assembled in the courtroom.  The bailiff stands “All rise.  Court is now in session.  The Honorable Mark Johnson presiding.”

The judge takes the stand, “Be seated.”  Looking toward the jury box, “Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”

“Yes, your honor, we have.”  He hands a slip of paper to the bailiff who in turn presents it to the judge.  Judge Johnson reads the paper, hands it back to the bailiff, who hands it back to the foreman.

“What say you?”

“We, the jury, in the matter of the State of Texas vs. Samuel Mason, find the defendant guilty of murder.”

The courtroom erupts as the victims’ families react to the verdict.  The judge bangs his gavel restoring order to the courtroom.  “Members of the jury, we thank you for your service.  You are hereby dismissed.  Sentencing will take place on July 15.  Court is adjourned.”

A smiling Alex leaves the courtroom, stopping briefly to answer questions from the press, before walking back to her office.  She steps through the door of her office, closing it behind her and falling against it.  Her thoughts are now filled with Walker and only Walker.  She sits down at her desk and dials C.D.’s number.  She speaks to him briefly, telling him about the verdict and asking him if he was able to reach Jimmy.  C.D. tells her that he left a message on Jimmy’s cell phone and is expecting a call back any time.  She tells him that she is on her way and will see him in a few minutes.  Hanging up the phone and retrieving her purse from the desk, she exits her office.

“Amy, I’m heading to C.D.’s.  If anyone needs to reach me, call me on my cell phone.”

“Yes, Miss Cahill.  Congratulations on the Mason case!”

“Thank you, Amy.”

*******

C.D. no sooner hangs up from talking to Alex than the phone rings again.

“C.D.’s”

“Big Dog, it’s me.”

“Jimmy.  Thank God, you called.  Alex is on her way over here and I don’t think I can look her in the eye again without having something to tell her.”

“He’s fine, C.D.  He’s fine.  Dr. Rhodes said that it was a tumor, but it was very contained and they were able to remove it all.  There’s no sign of spreading so there won’t be any need for chemotherapy or radiation.  Doc said they almost lost him once, but were able to get him back.  They did have to remove a small portion of the lung due to the location of the tumor, but the doctor says that after a couple of weeks of therapy, he’ll never know the difference.  They’re going to keep him in ICU for 24 hours then move him to a room.  He should be outta here in a week.”

“Praise the Lord.  Jimmy, that is great news.  Have you seen him yet?”

“No, not yet.  He’s still in recovery.  But get a load of this.  Just for the hell of it, I asked Dr. Rhodes what time the surgery began and he said exactly 9:00 a.m.   Then I asked him what time it was when they almost lost him and he said it was around noon.  Do you believe that?”

“Yeah, Jimmy.  I do.  I’ve seen this thing between Cordell and Alex in action before.  It’s the strangest thing, but somehow, some way, them two are connected.”

“I’m going to check the available flights to see if we can get Alex down here sooner.  I’ll call you back.”

“Okay, Jimmy.”

*******

Alex comes through the door and is greeted by a smiling C.D.  “Alex, honey, congratulations.  We’re all so proud of you.”

“Thanks, C.D., but right now all I can think about is Walker.  Have you heard anything yet?”

“As a matter of fact, I just got off the phone with Jimmy.  Everything’s gonna be just fine.   Come on over here and sit down, honey, you and I need to have a talk.”

“What happened?  Is he all right?”

C.D. leads Alex to a nearby booth and they both sit.  C.D. explains everything that has happened over the last two days concluding with the details just given to him by Trivette.  Alex is quiet, listening very carefully to everything C.D. is telling her.  When he is finished, he looks up at Alex and sees an extremely angry lady.

Eyes flashing, Alex starts in on C.D.  “Let me get this straight.  You’ve known about this all along and didn’t tell me.”

“Now, Alex.  Cordell didn’t want to worry you.  He knew you had a lot on your mind with the trial and all and he just didn’t want you worryin’ if this turned out to be nothing.”

“NOTHING!!  C.D., this is not nothing.  No matter how it turned out.  I can’t believe he did this again!  Here, I really thought we were making progress since we got engaged.  He seemed to be opening up a little more and letting me in.  But look what happens.  As soon as he’s facing something potentially bad, he goes right back to his old ways.  He clams up and tries to “protect” me.  He just doesn’t understand.  And I can’t believe that you and Jimmy would go along with him.  C.D., how could you?”

“Alex, honey.  In all fairness to Cordell, he did tell Jimmy about it and he let Jimmy go with him.  He could’ve just run off and done this alone, which is what the old Cordell probably would’ve done.  He wasn’t planning on telling me but I’ve known Cordell long enough to know when he’s tryin to pull something and I forced it out of him.  Both Jimmy and I tried to get him to tell you but he was so worried about how hard you’d been working and how exhausted you were that he was afraid of how you would react.  He knew that you’d have to finish the trial and he didn’t want you losin’ on account a worryin’ about him.  That’s why he agreed to let Jimmy go with him, so that as soon as the verdict came in, we could tell you what was happening and get you on your way to Houston.”

“AS SOON AS THE VERDICT WAS IN?  You mean that if the verdict hadn’t come in today, you weren’t planning on telling me?”

“Well…ummm….we….”

“Oh, this is just great!”

“I’m sorry, Alex.  We really thought we were lookin’ out for your best interest.”

“C.D., that’s just not good enough.  Four weeks from tomorrow, Walker and I will be married.  Is this what I have to look forward to?  Him running off by himself every time something bad happens so that he won’t worry me?  There’s going to be times when I’m involved in a big case.  If this is how he’s going to be, maybe we just shouldn’t get married.  I’m sorry, C.D., I need some time to think.  I’ll see you later.”  She stands and heads for the door.

“Alex, Alex, wait!  Jimmy’s trying to get you a reservation on a flight this afternoon to Houston.”

“C.D., right now, I’m not sure I’m going to Houston!  Walker obviously didn’t want me around or he would have told me what was happening.  Maybe it’s better for him to just handle this alone and when he comes back, maybe then we can try to salvage this relationship.”

C.D. watches as Alex leaves shaking his head and saying to no one in particular “Boy, Cordell sure did it this time.”  He then heads for the phone to call Trivette.

*******

The nurse approaches an anxious Trivette. “Ranger Trivette, you can go in now.  He’s still unconscious but he should be coming around soon.  I’m afraid you can only stay a few minutes, though.  He needs to rest.”

“I understand.  Thank you.”

“He cautiously enters the ICU unit and is directed to a curtained area near the back of the room.  He approaches the bed and takes Walker’s right hand in his, placing his left hand on Walker’s shoulder.  “Walker, hey man, you still with me?”

Walker’s eyes slowly open and try to focus.

“Come on, Walker, talk to me, man.”

A hoarse voice responds, “Yeah, I’m still here.”

A huge smile crosses Jimmy’s face and he gently squeezes his friend’s shoulder.  “Hey man, welcome back.”

Still fighting to stay away, “Thanks.  So, what’s the bad news?”

“Bad news.  Who said anything about bad news?”

“Come on, Trivette.  Give it to me straight.”

“Okay.  It was a tumor but Dr. Rhodes said it was very contained and they were able to remove it all.  There’s no sign of spreading so there’s no need for chemo or radiation.  That doesn’t sound like bad news to me.”

“What’s the rest of it?”

“Rest of what?”

“Trivette!”

“Okay, okay.  They did have to remove a small portion of your left lung due to the location of the tumor.  But don’t worry.  Dr. Rhodes said that with as good a physical condition as you’re in, you won’t even notice it after a week or so of therapy.”

Walker stares at his friend as he absorbs what he’s just been told.  “You called C.D., yet?”

“Yeah, just got off the phone with him before I came in here.  The verdict was in and Alex was in court but C.D. said she was coming in as soon as it was over.  He’ll talk to her when she gets in.”

“It was strange.  I saw her just before they put me under, standing in the courtroom.”

“Trivette smiles and shakes his head.  “Yeah, man, she saw you too!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know what it is about you guys, but you seem to have some weird connection.  I think your Cherokee is rubbing off on her.  She told C.D., she saw you just as court was starting this morning.”

Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, “I should’ve told her, Trivette.  I should’ve told her.”

“It’s okay, man.  She’ll understand.  You just rest and before you know, she’ll be here.  I’ll see you later.”

He leaves the ICU unit and returns to the waiting room to see if he can get Alex reservations on an earlier flight.  Just as he is getting ready to make the call, his phone rings.

“Trivette.”

“Jimmy, it’s me.  Son, we have a problem.”

“What’s up, C.D.?”

“It’s Alex.  She just stormed outta here madder’n a wet hen.  Said she’s not sure she’s goin’ to Houston.  Jimmy, she’s really upset with Cordell and none too happy with the two of us either.  She feels like Cordell didn’t trust her enough to tell her what was happening.  She’s even threatened to call off the wedding!  Jimmy, what’re we gonna do?”

“Whoa, slow down, C.D.  What do you mean she threatened to call off the wedding?”

“Well, she said that she thought she and Cordell were making progress since they got engaged.  That he was opening up and letting her in but as soon as something like this comes up, he runs off without telling her.  She said that if this is what she has to look forward to when they’re married, maybe they shouldn’t get married.”

“Oh, man, Walker really did it this time.  I knew Alex would be mad, but I never thought she’d be this mad.  How did you leave things with her?”

“Well, she left a few minutes ago.  Said she needed time to think.  I figure she’ll head home.  Jimmy, that little lady is plum exhausted.  I’m sure at least some of her reaction was influenced by fatigue.  I just hope she comes to her senses and realizes how much Cordell needs her, especially now.  I think you’d better hold off on them reservations ‘til I hear from her.  We’ll just make them from here if she decides she’s goin’.”

“Okay, C.D.  I’ll cancel the reservations I made earlier and let you handle things.  I just saw Walker.  He’s doing okay.  Man, I sure hope Alex is here before I see him again.  If she’s not and he asks, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell him.”

“Well, son, if’n he does ask, you best level with him just in case Alex decides she’s gonna stay here and wait‘ll he gets back.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Big Dog.  We’ve gotten ourselves into this pretty deep.  It’s time to start comin’ clean.  You’ll let me know if you hear from Alex?”

“Sure thing, Jimmy.  Give Cordell my best and tell him I’ll see him soon.”

“Okay, C.D., talk to you later.”

*******

Alex leaves C.D.’s and heads for her apartment.  She is still steaming over everything that C.D. had just told her.  ‘How could he?’ she thinks.  How could he keep something like this from her?  After all, it’s not like they’re just casual acquaintances; they’re going to be married in four weeks!  As she drives, she begins to calm down and remembers the dreams she had earlier in the day.  By the time she reaches the apartment, the tears are flowing freely, both from anger and from fear.  She rushes into the apartment, drops everything and throws herself on the couch sobbing.  She lies crying for nearly 20 minutes before she finally falls asleep from sheer exhaustion.

Her sleep is filled with dreams of Walker and the times they have shared-fights they have had and how they have always made up.  A vision of Walker lying in a hospital unconscious wakes her with a start.  She looks at the clock to see that she has been sleeping a little over an hour.  It’s now nearly 3:00 p.m.  Going to her bedroom, she changes out of her suit and into a pair of stretch pants and a long t-shirt.  She makes herself a cup of tea and returns to the couch.  Sitting with her knees up under her chin, she sips the warm liquid and thinks about Walker. 

“CANCER.  Cancer.  The word pounds in her head.  She knew that there was always a chance that she could lose Walker, but she never thought it would be to something like cancer.  She always thought he’d be killed in the line of duty, not that that would be any easier to take, but she had prepared herself mentally for that possibility.  She wasn’t prepared for this.  She pushes the thoughts from her mind, saying out loud “NO!  Everything’s fine.  C.D. said they got it all and there was no sign that it had spread.”  Realizing that no matter how angry she is with Walker, he needs her and she needs to be with him.  She promises herself, though, that she and Walker will have a long talk about this as soon as he’s well.  She’s not letting him get out of this one that easily.

Picking up the phone, she dials the District Attorney’s office and explains what has happened.  The DA is very sympathetic, telling her not to worry about work and even offering to fly her to Houston in a private plane.  She thanks him and tells him that if she is unable to get a commercial flight, she just may take him up on the offer of the private plane.  She hangs up and calls the airline.  She’s able to book a flight leaving Dallas at 4:30 p.m.  She goes back to her bedroom and packs some clothes and other necessities, then calls C.D.

“C.D.’s, can I help you?”

“Hi, C.D., it’s me.”

“Alex, honey.  I’m so glad you called.  Are you okay?  Alex, I’m so sorry about all of this.  I know we should’ve told you the truth right from the start.  I hope you can forgive us.”

“It’s okay, C.D.  I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past couple of hours and I guess I understand why you did what you did.  I don’t agree with it, but I understand.  And Walker and I are going to have a serious talk about this as soon as he’s well enough.  Right now, though, all I’m concerned about is his health.  C.D., you’re sure he’s all right?”

“Honey, he’s gonna be just fine.  Jimmy’s been in to see him and said he’s doing okay.  Are you gonna go to Houston?”

“Yes.  I’ve made a reservation on the 4:30 flight so I’m just leaving now.  Can you call Jimmy and ask him to meet me at the airport?”

“I sure can, honey.  I’m so glad you decided to go.”

“How can I not go, C.D.  I love him so much.  If something happens to him….”

C.D. hears the tears in her voice.  “You just stop that right now, young lady!  Cordell’s gonna be just fine.  You’ve gotta be strong.  You can’t let Cordell see you like this.”

“I know, C.D., I know.  I’ll be fine.  We’ll talk to you soon.”

“Okay, honey.  You give Cordell a hug from me, okay?”

“Okay, C.D.  Bye.”

“Bye darlin.”

*******

Jimmy is waiting by the gate when the door opens and the passengers begin to flow into the Houston airport.  He recalls his conversation with C.D. of an hour earlier.

“Trivette.”

“Jimmy, it’s me.   I just got off the phone with Alex.  She’s made reservations on a 4:30 flight out of Dallas.  She’ll be arriving at 5:40.  Can you meet her at the airport?”

“Sure thing, Big Dog.  I’m glad she decided to come.  Do you know what made her change her mind?”

“I think she just needed some time to think.  She’s still pretty upset with all of us and she said that she and Cordell are gonna have a serious talk as soon as he’s well enough, but for right now, I think she just needs to see for herself that he’s all right.”

“That’s great, C.D., cause Walker’s feelin’ pretty bad about not telling her.  She’s all that’s on his mind right now.  I think seeing her will help a lot.  They can hash through this once he’s recuperated.  I’m gonna stop in and see him and let him know that she’s on her way then I’ll head to the airport.  I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay, Jimmy, bye.”

Looking toward the doorway, he sees Alex walking toward him.  Her eyes are red and swollen-it’s obvious she’d been crying.

She exits the plane and immediately spots Jimmy waiting for her.  As she makes her way over to him, she hopes that he hasn’t noticed her red, swollen eyes.  She’d gotten herself together before leaving for the airport but sitting alone on the plane with nothing but her thoughts and fears had started the tears flowing once again.  She had buried her face in a magazine to avoid drawing attention to herself and had managed to pull herself together by the time the plane was landing.

As she approached Jimmy, she saw his sympathetic eyes and outstretched arms.  She immediately fell into his arms and broke into tears once more.

“Shhh.  Come on, Alex, it’s okay.  Really.  He’s gonna be fine.  He was awake when I left him and he’s anxious to see you.

Pulling back and drying her eyes, she flashed him an angry look and half-heartedly punched his arm.  “You know, I’m still mad at you!

Jimmy laughed slightly and said, “Yeah, I heard.  C.D. called me to warn me.”  This comment brought a slight smile from her. “Look, we screwed up, all of us, and we know it.  We should’ve told you right from the start but what’s done is done and the important thing now is that you’re here.  Come on, let’s get you over to the hospital.  I got you a room at the hotel where I’m staying.  It’s only a couple of blocks from the hospital.  We’ll stop into see Walker for a little while and then you can go to the hotel and get some sleep.”

“Okay.”

Keeping an arm around her shoulders for support, Trivette leads Alex through the airport and out to Walker’s truck.

They arrive at the hospital and as they approach the ICU unit, Dr. Rhodes meets them.

“Ranger Trivette, we’ve been trying to reach you.  We tried your cell phone but there was no answer.”

“I know.  The battery went dead.  I had to leave it at the hotel to recharge.  Dr. Rhodes, this is Walker’s fiancé, Alex Cahill.  I went to the airport to pick her up.  Why were you trying to reach me?  Has something happened to Walker?”

Nodding toward Alex, “Miss Cahill,” then turning his attention to them both, “I’m afraid Ranger Walker had suffered a temporary setback?”

In her exhausted state, this is not what Alex needs to hear.  She takes in a quick breath and leans toward Trivette.  He immediately places a supporting arm around her waist, “Easy, Alex.”  Looking toward Dr. Rhodes, “Setback.  What do you mean?  He seemed to be doing so well when I left.”

“Now, don’t worry.  He’s going to be fine.  You’ll remember when I first talked to you I had indicated that we were going to keep him in ICU to make sure that the lung didn’t collapse.  Well, I’m afraid that is exactly what has happened.  It was not totally unexpected so we were prepared for it.  We’ve put in a chest tube and re-expanded the lung but he’s in quite a bit of pain.  I gave him some medication to make him more comfortable.  We’ll need to keep him in ICU until we take the chest tube out in a day or two but you can still see him.”

“Doctor, you’re sure he’s going to be all right?”

“Yes, Miss Cahill.  He’ll be just fine.  In fact, is he always so stubborn?  It took me nearly 10 minutes to convince him to accept the pain medication.”

Smiling, Trivette nods his head.  “Yeah, Doc, that’s Walker.  He’s not much for medication of any kind, especially anything that makes him feel out of control.”

“I gathered that from my conversation with him.  Anyway, he’s doing much better now.  Try not to let him talk too much when you see him.  He really needs to rest and let his body heal.  I need to check on some other patients but I’ll check back in on him a little later this evening.  It was very nice meeting you, Ms. Cahill.”

“Thank you.  It was nice to have met you and thank you for taking such good care of Walker.”

“My pleasure.”

Dr. Rhodes heads down the corridor, leaving Alex and Trivette standing alone outside of the ICU unit. 

“Thanks, doc.” Trivette calls after him.  “Alex, you gonna be okay by yourself or do you want me to come in with you?”

“I think I’ll be okay, Jimmy.  I’d really like to be alone with him if that’s okay.”

“Sure.  I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“Thanks, Jimmy.”

 “No problem.”

Alex slowly enters the ICU unit.  The room has several curtained areas with a nurses’ station in the center.  As she passes it, one of the nurses nods a silent greeting.  Alex smiles in return and continues walking to the end of the room.  As she enters the area, she gasps, not quite ready for the sight before her.  Walker is lying in bed, several IV’s flowing into his arm, a nasal canula helping him breath, a tube coming from the left side of his chest and a pained expression on his face.  His eyes are closed.  He looks pale, weak and almost fragile.  Even though she’s seen him like this before, it still hurts.  Gently sitting down on the bed next to him, she carefully takes his hand in hers and with the other hand reaches out to softly touch his face.  As she strokes his beard, his eyes flutter, then open.  She can tell that he is having difficulty focusing, probably due to the pain medication he was given.

“Alex?”

“Yeah, cowboy, it’s me.”

Struggling for each word spoken, “Alex…I’m…sorry…should have told you…the truth.”

Placing a finger across his lips, “Shhhh.  That’s not important right now.  We’ll talk about it later.  Right now, the important thing is getting you back on your feet."

“But…”

“Shhhh.  Cordell, just rest.  The doctor said not to let you talk.  You need to rest and let your body heal.  Now go to sleep.  I promise, I’ll be here when you wake up.”  Leaning forward, she kisses him lightly on the lips.

Unable to fight it any longer, Walker gives in to sleep as Alex continues to gently stroke his face.

Several hours later, Walker wakes up.  Looking to his right, he sees Alex and Trivette quietly talking at the end of the bed.  Alex hears him stir, turns and, seeing that he is awake, gives him a huge smile as she comes toward him.

“Well, cowboy, you look a little better.  How do you feel?”

Still finding it difficult to speak, “Like someone…sitting…on my chest.”

“Are you in pain?”

“Not much.”

Approaching the other side of the bed, Trivette places a hand on Walker’s shoulder.  “Hey, pard.  You gave us a little scare there.  Do you remember what happened?”

Walker nods his head in response.

“Okay, then, you know it’s just a minor set back.  You’ll be outta here in no time.”

Looking back to Alex, “verdict?”

She gives him a big smile, “Guilty on all counts.  Sentencing will be in a few weeks.”

“Good.  You look tired.”

“I am a little, but I’ll be okay.”

Looking to Trivette, “make her rest.”

“Don’t worry, partner, I’ll take good care of her.”

“Time?”

“It’s about 10 o’clock Friday night.  As a matter of fact, they’re gonna kick us outta here real soon.  Visiting hours were over at 7 but Dr. Rhodes said we could stay at least until you woke up.”

Trivette no sooner gets the words out of his mouth than a nurse approaches them.  “I’m sorry but I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now.”

Alex pleads, “Oh, please, can’t we stay a few minutes longer?”

“I’m sorry, miss, but we need to change his dressings and he really needs to sleep.”

“Go…you’re exhausted…see you tomorrow.”

Leaning down so that her cheek rests against his, “Okay.  I’ll see you in the morning.  I love you, darling.”

He whispers back, “Love….you…too.”

Taking his hand and squeezing “You take care, Walker.  I’m sure you’ll feel much better in the morning.”

“Trivette…thanks…for everything.”

“Don’t mention it, man.  I’m just glad everything turned out okay.”

Alex kisses him softly on the lips and then she and Trivette leave.

*******

Arriving at the hotel, Trivette walks Alex to her room. “Get some sleep, Al.  You look beat.”

“I am exhausted, Jimmy.  Now that I know Walker’s okay, maybe I can get a good night’s sleep.  I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Sure.  Give me a call when you get up and we’ll go have some breakfast before we head over to the hospital.”

“Okay.  Goodnight, Jimmy.”

“Night, Alex.”

She closes the door, locks it and slides the chain into place.  She unpacks her suitcase, placing clothes in the closet and drawers and her toiletries on the counter in the bathroom.  Needing to relax, she decides to take a hot bath.  She turns on the water and goes into the other room to change.

After her bath, she makes herself a cup of tea using the coffee maker in the room and relaxes on the bed.  It takes only a few minutes before her eyes grow heavy.  She places the tea on the nightstand, turns out the light and climbs under the covers.

She wakes with a start, sits up and looks all around the room; not sure what has awakened her.  It takes her a minute to remember where she is.  She glances at the clock on the nightstand-4:30 a.m.  Knowing that she’ll never get back to sleep, she gets up, showers and dresses and decides to head over to the hospital.  She tapes a note to Jimmy’s door as she leaves, deciding to walk the two blocks to the hospital.

Arriving at the ICU unit, she waits around the corner until she sees the night nurse leave her station to attend to another patient.  She slips through the door and into Walker’s cubicle before she is noticed.  He is sleeping, a peaceful look having replaced the strained look he had earlier.  ‘The pain must be easing a bit,’ she thinks.  Pulling a chair close to the bed, she sits down and takes Walker’s hand in hers.  Gently rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb, she watches him as he sleeps.

*******

Waking to the sound of his alarm at 7:00 a.m., Trivette gets out of bed and opens the door to retrieve the morning paper that is left outside each morning.  When he opens the door, he notices the note taped to the door.  Pulling it down and opening it, he reads:

Jimmy, couldn’t sleep.  Went over to

the hospital.  Meet me there

and we’ll have breakfast.

Alex

4:30 a.m.

‘4:30!  She’s crazy!  That woman’s gonna crash soon.  I just hope I’m around to catch her when she does,’ he thinks.  ‘Oh, well, guess I’d better get dressed and get over there.’

*******

The nurse makes her rounds at 7:15 and as she turns the corner into Walker’s cubicle, she is startled by the presence of another person.  Looking on, a slow smile crosses her face at the site before her.  Alex is sitting in a chair, her head lying on the bed next to the patient’s hand.  She wonders how this woman slipped in here unnoticed.  ‘Oh, well,’ she thinks, ‘no harm done.’  Not wanting to disturb her patient or his visitor, the nurse slips out quietly.

*******

Arriving at the hospital just before 8:00 a.m., Trivette heads straight for the ICU unit.  He enters, nods hello to the nurse on duty and heads for Walker’s cubicle.  As he rounds the corner, his partner catches his eye and puts a finger to his lips signaling him quiet.  He smiles as he sees Alex asleep in the chair with her head on the bed next to Walker’s hand.

Looking back at Walker’s questioning expression, he whispers, “She left me a note.  Said she couldn’t sleep and was coming over here.  That was 4:30 this morning.”

Walker just slowly shakes his head.

“You look a little better this morning.  Pain subsiding?”

“Yeah, I feel a lot better than last night.  I just hope I can get rid of this chest tube today.”

“Hey, I’m gonna run down and get some coffee.  You want to wake sleeping beauty?  I’ll bring her a cup too.”

“Okay, thanks.”

As Trivette leaves, Walker slowly strokes Alex’s hair trying to coax her awake.  After a few minutes, she begins to respond, slowly lifting her head and turning to look into his eyes.  He smiles down at her and strokes her face gently.  “Hi, sleepyhead.”

She returns the smile, “Hi.  Guess I fell asleep, huh?”

“Guess you did.  What I want to know is why you aren’t sleeping at the hotel?”

“Something woke me up this morning about 4:30 and I couldn’t get back to sleep so I decided to come over to see you.”  Taking his hand in hers, she lightly kisses the back of it.  “You look much better this morning.”

“Well, I feel much better, too.  Trivette just arrived.  He went to get some coffee.  Said he’d bring you a cup too.”

“Oh, good.  I could sure use it.”

“Well, here it is,” says Trivette as he comes around the curtain holding two steaming cups of coffee.

“Morning, Jimmy.  Thanks.”

“No problem.  So, Walker, have you seen Dr. Rhodes yet today?”

“No, not yet.  He should probably be in soon, though.”

The three friends chat casually for the next hour until Dr. Rhodes arrives.  “Well, looks like you’re feeling a lot better this morning.”  Looking at Alex, “I’m sure your presence helped that a lot.  Will you both excuse us for a few minutes?  I’ll call you when you can come back in.”

“Come on, Alex.  I’ll buy you breakfast.  We’ll see you in a little while, Walker.”

Returning to the ICU unit about 40 minutes later, they are met by Dr. Rhodes.  “I was just coming to look for you two.  I have good news.  Seems Ranger Walker is progressing much quicker than I expected.  I’ve removed the chest tube and we’re going to move him to a regular room.”

“That’s wonderful.  How long will he need to stay in the hospital?”

“Well, Miss Cahill, that’s entirely up to him.  If he keeps progressing the way he’s going right now, we should be able to release him by Thursday or Friday.  I want to start him on some breathing treatments later this afternoon and if he’s up to it, we’ll get him up and walking around tomorrow.”

“Doc, let me tell you something about my partner.  He’s not much for hospitals so don’t be surprised if he’s driving you crazy along about Tuesday to let him outta here.  If we were in Dallas, he’d probably try to leave on his own, but here, he’s got no place to go so you have a better chance of keeping him in line.”

“Actually, I have heard of Ranger Walker’s reputation.  His doctor in Dallas called me and told me to be on the alert.  Believe me, he’s not gonna feel much like trying to escape, at least not for the next several days.  If he’s really doing that well, I may just let him go back early anyway.  I understand that you two drove down here.  Is that correct?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Well, I’m not going to want him to drive back.  I’d prefer he fly.”

“No problem.  He can fly back with Alex and I’ll drive the truck back.”

“That’s fine.  He should be settled in his room by now.  Room 212 if you want to go up.”

“Thanks, doc.  We’ll talk to you later.”

*******

The next four days pass by quickly for Walker and Alex.  On Monday, Trivette decides to return to Dallas since Walker seems to be doing well and Alex is with him.  Walker’s progress totally astounds his doctors, nurses and his physical therapist.  His breathing treatments are progressing at a rapid pace and by Wednesday, he’s running on a treadmill with little difficulty.  Alex is by his side throughout all the therapy sessions offering encouragement and support but Walker notices that as he gets stronger, Alex seems to be withdrawing from him.  The changes are subtle but definitely noticed by Walker.  He makes a mental note to ask Trivette if he knows what’s up.  After much negotiation, Walker convinces Dr. Rhodes to release him a day early, on Thursday.  He promises to check in with his doctor as soon as he gets back to Dallas so that he can continue his therapy.  Dr. Rhodes tells him he can go back on light duty on Monday.

Walker and Alex fly back to Dallas Thursday afternoon and are met at the airport by an excited C.D. and Trivette.  After hugs and handshakes, the foursome head to Walker’s ranch.

C.D. offers to cook dinner as a “Welcome Home” for Walker and the four enjoy a great meal and good conversation.  When C.D. and Trivette finally leave, it’s nearly midnight and Walker is exhausted.  Alex is staying at the ranch through the weekend to make sure Walker lives up to his promise to Dr. Rhodes to take it easy.

Alex says goodnight to C.D. and Trivette and heads back into the house to clear away their dessert dishes.  Walker takes the opportunity to talk to C.D. and Trivette.

“Hey, guys, can I ask you both something?”

“Sure, Cordell, what’s on your mind?”

“Have you noticed any change in Alex?”

“Change?  What kind of change?”

“I don’t know, Trivette.  She just seems a little distant.  It started while we were in Houston.  Seemed the stronger I got the more she backed off.  At first, I thought she was just trying to give me space, but now, I get the feeling something’s bugging her.”

“Cordell, I think I might know what’s goin’ on.  You see, when I finally told Alex what was happening with you, she was pretty angry with all of us.  She said some things.”

“Like what?”

Trivette looks at C.D. and nods.  “Well, she said that if this was how you were gonna handle things after you two got married, maybe you shouldn’t get married.  She wasn’t even sure she wanted to go to Houston.  Said she might just wait til you got back and see if there was anything left to salvage.”

Walker’s head dropped and he stared at the ground. “Guess I really messed things up this time, huh?” 

“Now, of course, she came around after she thought about it for awhile but she told me before she left that you and she were gonna have a serious talk about all this as soon as you were well enough.  Something tells me that talk is comin’ soon.”

“Walker, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner.  When Alex arrived in Houston, she seemed okay.  I thought things had blown over.”

“It’s okay, Trivette.  I should’ve suspected something was up.  That first night she came in, I tried to apologize.  She told me not to worry about it that we’d talk later.  We never did.  Never seemed to have any time alone to talk.  There were always doctors, nurses or therapists hanging around.  I should have seen this coming.  I really hurt her but not letting her in and she’s been stewing over it for nearly a week now.  I’ll give her another day or two, see if she comes to me with it.  If not, I guess I’ll have to make the first move.  Thanks for clueing me in, C.D., Trivette.”

“We’d better get moving, C.D.  Talk to you later, Walker…and…good luck.”

“Thanks.  Something tells me I’m gonna need it.”

*******

Walker watches as Jimmy and C.D. drive away, then turns and heads back toward the house.  He climbs the front steps and sits on the top one looking up at the sky and marveling how beautiful the night is.  He’d only been gone a week, but he’d really missed the ranch.  There was something so peaceful about nights out here.  The stars were out, the moon shone brightly in the night sky and the air was full of the sounds of nature.  Leaning back on his hands, Walker closes his eyes and soaks in the calm serenity of home.

“Walker, you okay?”

He turns to see Alex standing just inside the screen door, a concerned look on her face.  He smiles at her and extends a hand, inviting her to join him.  “I’m fine, Alex.  Just enjoying being home again.  Care to join me?”

She returns his smile, relieved, and steps onto the porch.  Sitting down beside him, he wraps his arm around her shoulder and she rests her head against his.  “Long day, huh?”

She nods.

He almost brings up what C.D. and Trivette told him, but decides against it.  It had been a long day and they were both tired.  Getting involved in a serious discussion this late would serve no purpose.  He’d wait until tomorrow to see if she brings up the subject and, if not, he will.  They need to get this out in the open and resolved before it puts any more of a strain on their relationship.

They sit together for several minutes enjoying the night before Walker feels Alex lean more heavily on his shoulder.  He smiles, knowing she has fallen asleep.  He shifts her body so that she is lying across his lap.  He watches her sleep, wondering if she was serious when she told C.D. that maybe they shouldn’t get married.  He hopes that it was anger talking because he can’t imagine his life without her in it.  How could he have been so stupid?  Things had been going so well for them and he had to go and mess it up.  He chastises himself for lying to her and hopes that it’s not too late to make things right.

Slipping one arm under her legs and the other under her arms, he gently lifts her and carries her into the house.  Still slightly weak from the surgery, he decides not to try to carry her upstairs.  Instead, he takes her to the guestroom and gently places her on the bed, removing her shoes and covering her with the blanket from the chair.  He kisses her on the forehead, slips quietly from the room and returns to the porch swing.  There, he reflects back on everything that has happened over the last week and thanks God and the spirits for taking care of him.  He tried not to think about dying-life was too short to waste time thinking about how it might end.  When he did think about it, though, he always thought he would be killed in the line of duty-fighting for what he believed in.  It would be over before he realized what had happened.  He never once thought about something like cancer slowly consuming his life.  This experience had changed all that and the outcome undoubtedly would stay with him for a long time.  He was being given a second chance at life and he wasn’t about to waste it.  Standing, he offered a silent prayer toward the heavens and went inside.

*******

Alex awakes on Friday morning to the smell of bacon.  She sits up and looks around, finally realizing she’s in the guestroom but she doesn’t remember how she got here.  Looking down and seeing that she’s still wearing her clothes from yesterday; she smiles and says to herself, “Walker.”  Sitting up in bed, she thinks about Walker and how close she came to losing him this past week.  It still makes her angry that he lied to her and she knows that they need to talk about it.  She tried to bring the subject up a couple of times while they were still in Houston but they never seemed to be alone long enough to have a serious discussion.  Finally, she had let it drop but it continued to nag at her and over the last few days, she could feel herself pulling away from him.  She knew he felt it too and wondered why he hadn’t said anything.  ‘Probably waiting for me to make the first move,’ she thinks.  She decides to see how things go today-maybe they can find some time to talk.

Climbing out from under the blanket, she quietly opens the door and pads to the kitchen to see what her cowboy is up to.  She lingers in the doorway admiring the view.  He is standing at the stove wearing just a pair of workout pants.  She’d noticed yesterday that he seemed uncomfortable wearing a shirt and suspected that it was rubbing against his healing incision.  She was surprised that he hadn't turned around yet-surely he had heard her coming.

Walker had heard the creek of the door but refrained from looking behind him.  Seconds later, he is aware of her presence in the doorway but focuses his attention on cooking.  A few minutes later, beautiful arms encircle his waist and he feels Alex lean against his back, “Morning, cowboy.”

Turning in her arms and pulling her close, he kisses her lightly and says “Morning, sleepyhead.”

She pulls back slightly, “Sleepyhead?  It’s only 6:00 a.m.!  The sun’s barely up!”

He laughs and pulls her into a warm hug. “Breakfast is almost ready.”

“Do I have time for a shower first?  I’d kind of like to get into some clean clothes.”

“Sure, you’ve got a few minutes.”  Then with raised eyebrows, adds, “Need any help?”

She smiles “I’m a big girl now, I think I can handle it.”  With this, she slips from his arms and heads toward the stairs.

She returns 20 minutes later looking refreshed and beautiful.  Walker is just finishing cooking the last of the pancakes when she enters the kitchen.

Without turning around, he asks, “You ready?”

“Yep.”  She sits at the table and he places the plate in front of her.  “Mmm…looks good.”

He joins her and together they enjoy breakfast and light conversation.  As they finish and begin clearing the dishes, “Walker, would you mind if I stopped by the office for a little while this morning?  I’ve been gone all week and I’d like to see if there’s anything critical that needs handling before the weekend.”

“No problem.  I have an appointment with Dr. Morrison at 10.  Why don’t I drop you by the office on my way to the doctors and then, when I’m finished, I’ll come back and pick you up.  I’d like to stop in at Headquarters and talk to the Captain about coming back to work.  Maybe we can talk Trivette into going to C.D.’s for lunch with us.  We’ll let him buy!”

Laughing at his last remark, “Sounds like a plan.”

“After we get things cleaned up in here, I’m gonna head out to the barn and check on the horses.”

“Walker, you promised Dr. Rhodes that you’d take it easy through the weekend.  Taking care of the horses does not fall under the category of taking it easy.  Besides, I thought Hank had agreed to handle the chores until you were stronger.”

“He did.  He was over this morning.  I was just gonna go spend some time with them.  Maybe we can go for a ride this afternoon after we get back.  Nothing strenuous, just a ride down to the lake and back.  Whatya say?”

“Let’s see how you’re feeling when we get back, okay.”

“Okay, Dr. Cahill.”

“Well someone has to keep you in line.”

“Come on, let’s get these dishes finished.”

*******

Walker pulls into the parking lot at the courthouse just before 11:30 a.m.  He finds a parking spot and heads inside. 

“Morning, Amy.”

“Morning, Ranger Walker.  Welcome back.”

“Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m not back quite yet.  I’ll be back part time starting Monday for a couple of weeks but probably not back full time until after the wedding.  Is she busy?”

“Not at the moment.  I think she’s just getting some things organized for next week.”

He quietly opens the door.  Alex is standing with her back to him, placing files in the filing cabinet.  He silently closes the door, walks up behind her and slips his arms around her waist.

What!?  Walker!”  Turning in his arms, “You scared me.  How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Enter a room so quietly.  I’ve never seen anyone like you.”

“What can I say.  I’m one of a kind.”

Kissing him softly, she replies, “that you are, my love.  So, what did Dr. Morrison say?”

“Well, he said everything looks great.  He took a chest x-ray and said everything seems to be healing fine.  He said I don’t need the breathing treatments anymore and that I can start back into light workouts on Monday.  I can come back to work on Monday part time.  He doesn’t want me back on full duty until after we get back from our honeymoon.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“I don’t have much of a choice, but yeah, I’m okay.  Working part time will help.  Hell, who knows, maybe I’ll let Trivette teach me a thing or two on the computer.”

Feeling his forehead, “Are you sure you’re okay?  What have you done with my fiancé?”

Chuckling, “I’m fine, Alex.  Come on, let’s see if Trivette wants to have lunch.”

“You go ahead.  I’m going to finish up this filing and then I’ll come up.  You said you wanted to talk to the Captain.”

“Okay, I’ll see you upstairs.”  He pulls her close and kisses her, then turns and leaves her office.

Walker enters Ranger Headquarters and is quickly surrounded by well-wishing co-workers.  He spends a few minutes chatting with friends and then strolls over to Trivette.  “Hey, pard.  How about lunch?  I’ll even let you buy.”

Looking up and grinning, Trivette says, “Whatya mean let me buy, it’s your turn!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll buy.  I want to stop in and say hello to the Captain first, though, and Alex is finishing up a few things in her office then she’ll join us.”

“Okay.  I’ve got to finish this download so why don’t you go talk to the Captain and by the time you get back, I’ll be ready.”

“Okay.”

Walker returns 15 minutes later to find both Alex and Trivette waiting for him.  They all pile in the Ram and head for C.D.’s for lunch.

The four friends enjoy a leisurely lunch together, laughing and talking.  Walker fills Trivette and C.D. in on his visit to the doctor and invites them both to the ranch on Sunday for a ride and barbecue.

Trivette looks at his watch and then at his friends. “Hey, guys, I hate to be a party pooper but some of us still have to work today.  I really should be getting back.”

“Sure, Trivette.  I’m ready.  How about you, Alex?”

“Just give me a minute to use the restroom and I’ll be ready.”  She slips from the booth and disappears down the hall.

“So, Walker, have you talked to her yet?”

“No.  I thought about it after you guys left last night, but it was late and we were both tired.  I suggested that we take a ride down to the lake this afternoon hoping that maybe that’ll get her to talk.”

“Give her some time, Cordell.  She’ll let you know when she’s ready.”

“I know, C.D.”

“Shh…she’s comin’.”

“Okay, I’m ready if you guys are.”

“Well, I guess we’d better get Trivette back to work before they miss him.  C.D., we’ll see you on Sunday.”

“Okay, Cordell.  Alex, you make sure he takes it easy.”

“Don’t worry, C.D., I’ll keep him in line.”

*******

After dropping Trivette back at the office, Walker and Alex head to the ranch.

As they drive, Alex becomes quiet, staring out the window of the truck.  Walker makes a few attempts at conversation but doesn’t get much of a response.  When they pull up in front of the house, Alex exits the truck silently, walks onto the porch and sits on the swing.  Walker watches her closely and decides it’s time to confront whatever’s bothering his bride-to-be.

He exits the Ram, walks up the front steps and leans against the railing in front of the swing.

“Wanna tell me about it?”

“About what?”

“Whatever’s been bothering you for the last week.”

“Nothing’s bothering me.  I’m fine.”

“Come on, Alex, I know you better than that.  Something’s been eating at you for days.  Talk to me, please.”

She nearly knocks him over when she jumps up from the swing.  Walking across the porch, she turns and glares at him, “TALK TO YOU?  What, like you talked to me last week?”

Lowering his eyes, he stares at the ground and whispers, “Guess I deserved that.”

“Oh, you deserve a lot more than that.  How could you keep something like this from me?”

“Alex.”  He takes a step toward her but she backs away, hands up.  “No way, cowboy.  Not this time.  You’re not just going to brush this aside with an apology.  You’re going to have to do better than that.  Do you realize that we’re going to be married in three weeks?  Married, as in sharing our lives together.  Words like ‘in sickness and in health’, ‘for better or worse’ leap to mind.  I can’t believe that after all we’ve been through together, you wouldn’t have enough faith in our relationship to tell me you were sick.  What did you think I would do?  Run off?  Oh, sorry, running off’s what you do, isn’t it?”  She stopped for a moment, aware that her last comment had hurt him but right now, she didn’t care.  She was angry and he was going to hear about it.  “But you know the worst part, Walker?  The worst part is that you lied to me.  You didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth.  Is this how things are going to be after we’re married?  Because if it is, I think we better reconsider if we should be getting married!”  When she looked back at him, he could still see the anger in her eyes.

He had never seen Alex so angry and upset.  Trivette and C.D. had warned him that this was coming but he still wasn’t prepared for it.  He still stood several feet from her.  “Alex, please tell me you don’t mean that.”

“Right now, Walker, I’m just not sure.”

“Alex, I would never hurt you.  You were physically and mentally exhausted from the trial.  It took everything you had just to make it through the day.  The last thing you needed was to be worrying about me.  Especially, if the whole thing turned out to be nothing.”

Still angry, but slowly calming down, “Walker, even if it did turn out to be nothing, it was still something.  Don’t you understand?  I love you!  It doesn’t matter if we’re together or not.  I still worry about you.  You’re part of me.  I knew you were keeping something from me;  but as usual you shut me out.  Do you realize that when you nearly died on that operating table, I was there?  I saw you go into cardiac arrest.  I heard the alarms go off.  I knew I was losing you but I didn’t know why.  I didn’t know if you had been shot or what had happened.  C.D. kept telling me it was just a dream, but I knew it wasn’t.  I knew it was really happening.”  When Alex looked up at him again, the anger in her eyes had been replaced by a deep hurt.

Walking toward her and reaching out, he took her hands in his and looked directly into her eyes.  “But, Alex, you didn’t lose me.  I’m right here.  Look, I know I really messed up.  I should have told you the truth from the very beginning.  But you have to understand that I’ve spent most of my life as a loner.  It’s taken me a long time to let people into my life and into my heart, especially you.  I always thought that keeping you at arm’s length would make it easier for you if something ever happened to me.  Letting you in and, for that matter, Trivette and C.D., was a big step for me.  When Dr. Morrison told me that I might have cancer, I shook me up pretty bad.  I was scared.  I’d always figured that I’d die from a bullet, not some disease and certainly not cancer.  I didn’t know what to do.  Part of me just wanted to leave, but I knew I couldn’t do that.  I wanted to tell you.  I needed to tell you but every time I looked into your eyes, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you, knowing how much it would hurt you.  I knew that you wouldn’t be able to be with me for the surgery because of the trial.  And there was no way that I could have let you hand off the case to someone else at that late stage, which I know is what you would have tried to do.  I just didn’t want you worrying about the trial all day and then coming home to an empty apartment and worrying about me all night.  I’m not even sure why I told Trivette.  He said it was because I really didn’t want to face this alone and maybe he was right.  I hadn’t planned on him coming with me, though-which was his idea.  I didn’t want to lie to you, it just seemed like the only solution at the time.  As for not trusting you, you can’t believe that.  Alex, I love you and I trust you with my life.

Alex was now near tears.  Hearing his explanation, hearing him admit he was scared was surprising to her but she was still having trouble coming to terms with everything that had happened.  Why did he always shut her out?  Why didn’t he feel he could talk to her about anything?

“Walker, I guess I understand but I need some time to think.  I’m going to take Angel out for a ride.  I just need some time by myself.”

Releasing her hands, he stared at the floor of the porch.  His voice was barely a whisper, “Okay, Alex.  I’ll be here when you get back.”  He watched as she descended the steps of the porch and walked toward the barn.

“Alex?”

She turned to look back at him.  “Do you remember what I told you the morning I left?”  She nodded.  “I meant every word.  You are my best friend, my life.  I am so sorry for putting you through this.”

She nodded again, but didn’t say a word.  Turning, she continued to walk toward the barn and within 15 minutes had Angel saddled and was on her way.

Walker sat on the porch swing devastated.  How could he have been so stupid?  He should have listened to Trivette and C.D.  He should have told her the truth.  Now he wondered if it was too late.  Would she come back from her ride and tell him that she no longer wanted to marry him?  How would he ever survive without her in his life?  She WAS his life.  He lowered his head into his hands and sobbed.  An hour later, he was still sitting on the swing waiting for Alex to come back.  Suddenly feeling exhausted, he decided to go in and rest for a few minutes.

He woke suddenly, not realizing that he had fallen asleep.  “Alex?”  There was no response.  Looking at the clock, he realized that he had slept nearly two hours.  The sun would be setting soon and Alex still had not come back.  Worried about her, he headed to the barn, saddled Amigo and was off in search of her within 20 minutes.  He knew where she would be.  She always said that the lake was the most peaceful place on the ranch and her favorite.  He knew this is where she would go if she needed to be alone.

As he approached the area, he could see her sitting by the water’s edge, knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around her legs and chin resting on her knees.  He dismounted Amigo and tied him to the tree next to Angel.  Not wanting to scare her, he deliberately made noise as he approached but she did not move.  Kneeling down next to her, he could see her tear stained face.  “Still mad at me?” 

She shook her head then turning toward him and reaching up to caress his face, “Cordell, I love you so much.  You are everything to me and it really hurts when you shut me out.  I know how hard it is for you to let people in but I guess I thought we’d gotten past that when you asked me to marry you.    Obviously, I was wrong.  I understand why you did what you did and I can even forgive you, but just promise me that you won’t shut me out anymore.  No matter what happens, as long as we’re together, we’ll be okay.   No more secrets-no more lies.  Good news or bad, we’ll face it together, promise?”

A slow smile lights up Walker’s face.  He looks deep into her eyes and very seriously responds, “Alex, I give you my word that nothing like this will ever happen again.  I thought I’d lost you.    Does this mean you’ll still marry me?”

Her eyes twinkling, “You’re not getting off the hook that easily, cowboy!”

Pulling her into his arms, “I don’t want off the hook” as he lowers his lips to hers in a passion-filled kiss that leaves them both breathless.  “Are you ready to go home?”

“Let’s stay out here and watch the sunset.”

“I think we can do that.”  Shifting his position so that he is behind her, he pulls her back to rest against his chest and wraps his arms tightly around her waist.  As the sun begins its descent into the horizon, Walker offers a silent prayer of thanks, grateful to have Alex back in his arms.

Softly nuzzling against her neck, he whispers, “I love you, Alex.”

She turns slightly in his arms and looking up at him, “I love you, too,” then gently pulls his head down, capturing his lips with hers as the final rays of the sun disappear.

THE END