December 22, 2001
This time of year seemed to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others; just in the past four days he’d dealt with two bank robberies, a jewelry store heist, a hostage situation, a carjacking that had turned into a high speed chase…and those were just the highlights.
In that time he’d been lucky to get four or five hours of sleep a night and guilt prickled at him as he stared at the woman asleep in his arms; he hadn’t been much of a husband in the past few days, a kiss, a whispered declaration of love, then falling almost immediately into an exhausted sleep.
She knew he was awake and the tension in his body told her he was upset about something; rolling over to face him she asked, “Want to talk about it?”
“I owe you an apology.”
“The past few days, the fact that I’ve been asleep by the time my head hit the pillow…”
“Oh darling, I understand, you seem to forget that we’ve been through several holidays together; it’s always crazy and this year is worse because you don’t have Jimmy with you; you’re trying to do the work of two people.”
“I just feel like I’m neglecting you and our daughter.”
“Cordell Walker, you get that idea out of your head this instant; I know how crazy your schedule is and our daughter will adjust.”
“She shouldn’t have to get used to her Daddy being gone for days on end or coming home so wiped out that he’s not even awake enough to say good-night.”
“What are you getting at Cowboy?”
Sitting up he responded, “Alex, when the Captain retires…I know I’m going to be offered the job, I’m seriously considering accepting it.”
To say she was flabbergasted would be putting it mildly; they had talked about it before and he had been adamant about not wanting to be tied to a desk.
Reading her mind he said, “I wouldn’t stay out of the field completely, but I wouldn’t be working undercover and my hours would be a lot more normal.”
“Darling unless you know something I don’t…you have a couple of years before the decision needs to be made.”
“I’m going to make some enquiries as to what sort of classes I would need to take; I’m positive the move up will definitely mean I have to stop fighting you and Trivette about taking some computer courses.”
“You know I’ll support whatever decision you make.”
“I know; it’s one of the many reasons I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
Sinking back down on to the bed he said, “You know I think I can put off chores for a little while.”
“Actually I called Angus yesterday and he’s taking care of the barn, Betty is going to watch Angela, and I’ll help you wash the truck after we get back.”
“Back from where?”
“Walker! It’s only three days until Christmas, we have to get a tree and I’d like to get it decorated before my Dad flies in tomorrow afternoon.”
Giving a huge sigh of resignation he replied, “Okay, we better get up then.”
Immediately she rolled over on top of him as she said, “You aren’t going anywhere just yet Cowboy; I want you all to myself for a few minutes first; I’ve missed you.”
Trying and failing to hold back his grin he replied, “I’m all yours; be gentle with me.”
Over an hour later they were just finishing breakfast when Angus and Betty arrived; a few minutes later Walker threw the equipment he needed into the back of his truck and they set off to locate the perfect tree.
When they returned Angus helped them move furniture and get the tree set up; looking at them he said, “You two are going to be busy; I’ll wash the truck then Betty and I will take Angela home with us while you work on the decorations.”
They thanked him and Walker went into the attic to start bringing down boxes; he looked at the one closest to the steps and after debating with himself for a minute he added it to the stack to be carried downstairs.
She watched as he scattered stuff all around the living room and then her eyes fell on the box he had been undecided about; she hesitated for a minute then walked to it and slowly opened it.
Realizing what she was doing he walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist as they both looked at the contents for a minute.
Turning to face him she buried her face in his shoulder as she said, “I’d forgotten about these; we didn’t do any decorating last year.”
“I know; you were in the last trimester of your pregnancy and I was dealing with a maniac.”
They carefully laid out the ornaments and she whispered, “CD had a story for every one of these.”
“Yeah he did; I still can’t believe he left them all to you.”
“Face it darling; between Jimmy, you and I…I’m definitely the most gung ho about Christmas, when we first became friends…even after we started dating…you didn’t do the Christmas thing here at the ranch.”
“I remember the first time that changed; you and CD talked Trivette into taking me out to the Badlands, supposedly to learn more about how to survive in the wilderness.”
Laughing in delight she replied, “I’ll never forget the look on your face when you came home; CD and I were afraid you were going to kill us both…and poor Jimmy…I think you aged him at least ten years with the glare you gave him.”
Tightening his hold he said huskily, “After they left you made sure I didn’t stay mad for long; you seduced me under that damned tree.”
“Seduced? Oh come on, it wasn’t like you tried to resist.”
“How could I resist when you started taking your clothes off right in front of me?”
Putting her arms up around his neck she murmured, “You still can’t resist me.”
“Not a chance.”
Their lips met and all thoughts of decorating the tree were forgotten for a while.
As they went through the decorations later they had a hard time deciding how to blend everything together until he said, “Let’s just put all of them in a box, take turns pulling one out, start placing them at the top of the tree and work our way down.”
Contemplating for a minute she knew it would be a very unconventional tree but giving a silent laugh she couldn’t stop herself from thinking about how far from ordinary her husband was and smiling she responded, “Sounds perfect.”
“Lights or no lights?”
“Let’s go with no lights this year; when Angela gets older we’ll definitely have to include those.”
Their eyes met and they immediately began to laugh as they remembered a few years ago when an argument between all of them had turned into a tinsel fight; which left all of them covered and the tree bare.
“Do you remember when Trivette grabbed a couple of ornaments and managed to get them to hang from his ears?”
“Yeah and CD wrapped lights around him.”
“Then you dumped that silver and gold glitter on his head.”
The memory set them off again and he gasped out, “I thought he’d never get rid of that stuff, it clung to him like it was glue covered.”
“Of course CD had to take a picture and he showed it to everyone who walked through the door; Jimmy couldn’t figure out why everyone would look at him and double over with laughter.”
Sobering he said, “It’s going to be strange with neither of them around this year.”
“I know darling, but Erica and Jimmy aren’t comfortable traveling with the twins yet.”
“You know when all the kids are a little older we’ll have to take them all to visit your Dad in New York for Christmas.”
Momentarily startled at the change of topic she asked, “You would do that?”
“Hon you know how I feel there…like a fish out of water…but for kids…it’s magical.”
“Mmm, the tree-lighting at Rockefeller Center, sleigh rides through Central Park…”
“The offer does come with restrictions.”
“You don’t try to get me on ice skates for one; but the most important thing…under no circumstances do you let your Dad take Angela to FAO Schwarz by himself; he’d probably buy her the whole store.”
Her eyes filled with mirth as she said, “You could be right.”
By mutual agreement they began working on the tree and other than a break for lunch devoted themselves to their task, once finished they sank down onto the couch and studied their handiwork; it was the strangest looking tree either of them had ever seen and as their eyes met both of them began howling with laughter.
Standing up he pulled her to her feet saying, “Maybe we should start over.”
“Walker, don’t you dare touch it; I may laugh every time I look at it, but it’s our first tree as a married couple and I love it.”
Giving her a wink he said, “Be right back.” He disappeared upstairs and returned a few minutes later with a camera. “Okay Mrs. Walker, pose in front of this gorgeous tree of ours so I can get a picture.”
Mysteriously she said, “I have a better idea.” She made a call and a few minutes later Angus and Betty appeared with Angela.
Their jaws dropped as they walked around the tree and Angus asked uncertainly, “You really want me to take pictures of the three of you in front of this?”
Taking his daughter in his arms Walker confirmed the request and Angus muttered something about them being crazy before he started snapping pictures.
After the roll of film was finished Alex said, “When we go to the store later we can drop this off at the one hour photo place; then tomorrow when we stop by Jimmy’s we can show him our awesome tree.”
December 23, 2001
The morning was comical as they dashed around trying to get themselves and Angela ready for the day ahead; somehow they managed to make it to church on time and they joined Trent’s family as they listened to Roscoe’s sermon.
Katie Malloy smiled as she watched her son Trent with the Walkers’ little girl; it was obvious he would make a great father, assuming he ever met the right woman. Looking at Walker it was easy to tell he definitely had; she’d known him since Trent was a boy and she’d never seem him look so relaxed and happy; stepping closer she peered intently down at the baby and said, “She is adorable.”
Walker gave her a hug saying, “That’s because she takes after her mother.”
Roscoe joined them and they talked for a while before Alex said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but we have to leave; we’re going to stop by and see Jimmy’s family before we pick up my Dad from the airport.”
Reluctantly handing the baby over Trent said, “Tell him to give me a call when he’s ready to show them off, Mom and I are anxious to meet the new arrivals.”
“We’ll do that.”
A few minutes later the four adults were all laughing at the pictures from the day before and Erica exclaimed, “That has to be the strangest looking tree I have ever seen.”
Jimmy saw the look he was being given by his two best friends and with a deep sigh he stood up saying, “I’ll be right back.” He returned in a couple of minutes saying, “I knew I should have burned this.” Handing it to his wife he said, “Yet another example of my family’s crazy sense of humor.”
She looked from the picture to her husband and back again; she really did try to suppress her laughter but there was absolutely no chance of doing so.
Alex and Walker joined in and after a couple of seconds Jimmy started laughing as well before saying, “I was still finding flecks of glitter two weeks later!”
The sounds of a baby crying immediately got everyone’s attention and they all walked down the hallway to the nursery.
Angela stared down at the babies with rapt fascination and Walker carefully lowered her close enough so she could touch them as he said, “This is Simon.” She touched the top of his head and Walker moved her over saying, “This is James.” She reached out to touch him as well and all four of the adults were stunned when she looked up and said very clearly, “Mine.”
Erica asked, “When did she start talking?”
Alex stared at her husband saying and said, “Unless he knows something I don’t…I have to say just now.”
Shaking his head in denial Walker said, “First word I’ve heard her say, that was understandable anyway.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes asking, “Aren’t you going to bring up that vision?”
Looking from her husband to his partner she asked, “What vision? What are you guys talking about?”
Placing her hand on Erica’s shoulder Alex said, “A while back Walker saw Angela as a grown woman and she was marrying your son.”
“One of those “Cherokee” things Jimmy is always mumbling about?”
“I see.” She looked at her son and then at Angela before grinning as she said, “Far be it for me to stand in the way of soul mates.”
When Jimmy started laughing they all looked askance at him and he said, “Talk about confusing…if that actually happens Simon will still be calling you guys Aunt and Uncle while James will be saying Mom and Dad.”
“We’ll get it all figured out.”
When they left Jimmy’s to go the airport Alex asked, “So do you think our daughter is actually talking now?”
“No, I think she was staking her claim.”
Amused glances were exchanges before she said, “Erica took it much better than I expected her to.”
“Hon, I have a strong suspicion that she and Jimmy are both humoring us at this point.”
“You may be right.”
They met Gordon at the gate and he immediately claimed Angela as they went to pick up his luggage; she happily babbled away and as Alex locked eyes with her husband she couldn’t keep from laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
When she told him what had happened at Jimmy’s he looked down at the baby he was holding and said, “Sounds like this little one knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.”
On the ride back to the ranch Gordon fell asleep and Alex gave Walker a concerned look as she asked quietly, “Is it just me or does he look exhausted?”
“You know how he is; I’m sure he’s been burning the candle at both ends trying to tie up all his cases before he came down.”
Reaching out for her hand he raised it to his lips saying, “You told me yourself that after he stopped drinking it was like he had an epiphany and devoted himself to helping people that he felt had received a raw deal from the system.”
“Yes he did; money is no longer his motivation.”
Giving her a wink he said, “It doesn’t have to be.”
She relaxed back against her seat and thought back to when Walker had first learned just how rich her Dad really was; it had taken her a few days to make him believe that she would choose him over money every time. There had been a closed door talk between the men in her life and to this day she had no idea what they had talked about, Walker had refused to discuss it and her Dad would only say that she’d chosen well.
Once they got home she took care of Angela before joining her Dad in the living room and smiled as she found him circling the tree with a bemused expression on his face. “It’s a long story.”
Reaching out he touched one of the ornaments saying, “I remember a few of these from when you were a little girl.”
Going to his side she said, “There are things from my childhood, some I added after I was on my own and several I inherited when CD passed away.”
“You really loved him didn’t you?”
“Yes I did; he and I, plus Walker and Jimmy…essentially we were all each other had…we made our own family…I miss him so much Daddy.”
Coming in from outside Walker heard the last part of the conversation and saw the tears in her eyes, he knew who she was talking about and making his way immediately to her side he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight against him as he said, “We all miss him hon.” Seeing the look of guilt in Gordon’s eyes he went on, “I remember how happy he was when you and your Dad reconciled.”
With a slow smile she said, “He told me that if Daddy ever broke my heart again he would stake him out naked on an anthill and pour honey all over him.”
Gordon’s eyes went wide at the image and he sputtered out, “Good thing I got my act together.”
All of them laughed and Walker said, “I need to go check on a couple of things for tomorrow; I don’t want anything to go wrong.”
Swatting his arm Alex said, “Will you stop! I’m sure you have everything under control…you always do.”
She kissed him then said, “Just don’t be late for dinner; I’m making turkey meatloaf for my two favorite guys.”
After he left she turned to her Dad asking, “Do you want to take a nap until dinner? You still look exhausted.”
“That sounds like a good idea; I know it’s silly but I still hate getting on a plane, I don’t think I slept a wink last night.”
“Understandable, it’s only been a few months since the attacks.”
Much later that night as she relaxed in her husband’s arms she asked, “Are all your plans for tomorrow in place?”
“They seem to be.”
“Who’s playing Santa?”
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”
December 24, 2011
They dropped Angela off with Betty and Angus before driving to the orphanage; several of the kids ran up saying, “We missed you last year Ranger Walker.”
“I missed you guys too; are you ready for a Christmas story?”
Receiving positive answers he said, “We better get inside then.”
After everyone was inside and settled he told them a story about legendary Texas Ranger Hayes Cooper…how a few days before Christmas he’d been attacked by a bear and been rescued by an old Indian medicine woman who had saved his life and managed to get him home just in time to celebrate with his wife and kids.
Alex loved hearing those stories and she turned to ask her father what he’d thought only to realize he had disappeared; she caught Walker’s eye and pointed to the empty spot behind her, getting just a wink in reply she started towards him when a very familiar voice called out “Ho, ho, ho.” She looked on incredulously as her father appeared in full Santa garb carrying a sack of presents.
Walker made his way behind her, encircled her in his arms and whispered, “Your Dad and I talked a while back and he started talking about all the ideas he had for Angela’s presents; I talked him into doing this instead.”
She watched in amazement as name after name was called and her father rattled off what the child had wanted; some things were small enough to fit inside the sack but there were bigger things that were carried in, everything from baseball mitts, dolls, games, bicycles to handheld video games.
Every child had something when Gordon stood up saying, “Merry Christmas everyone; I have to get back to the North Pole and get the reindeer ready for tonight.”
Leaning back against her husband’s chest she said, “That was amazing; look at the smiles the kids are wearing.”
“Right this second every one of them believes that Santa is real; even the older kids.”
They stood there in silence just soaking in the feeling of joy in the air until Gordon joined them a few minutes later.
Hugging him tightly Alex said, “You were amazing.”
“Thank you, but your husband deserves the credit, this was his idea after all.”
Whispering she said, “I’ll thank him later.”
Seeing the look of love his daughter sent in Walker’s direction he cleared his throat saying, “Impressionable children in the room, behave!”
They stayed through dinner then collected Angela and drove home where Gordon said, “I’m going to take a shower and go to bed, as much fun as I had today…I’m exhausted.”
Walker took care of the horses while Alex took care of Angela then they took a shower and crawled in bed.
“You know darling the kids love your stories but I have to say that my father upstaged you today.”
“I noticed, but that’s okay.”
“Really? Well then I guess I don’t need to make you feel better.” She rolled away from him wondering how long it would take him to react.
Knowing exactly what she was up to he forced himself to remain still as he responded, “No you don’t.”
Rolling back towards him she saw the laughter in his eyes and sighed, “I guess I’m getting too predictable.”
“Not a chance Lady; you still do things that totally surprise me.”
Moving quickly she pinned him to the bed as she said, “I plan to surprise you for the rest of our lives Cowboy.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Her lips met his and there were no more words spoken.
December 25, 2001
Walking downstairs she found her Dad sipping a cup of coffee and as she poured herself a cup she said, “Good morning and Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Pumpkin.”
She busied herself making breakfast as she said, “A couple of years from now there’s no way I’ll get to sleep this late.”
“You’re right, by then that little angel will know what Christmas is all about and she’ll be waking you up at some ungodly hour to open her presents.”
“Just remember that I agree with my husband 100% about not spoiling her with expensive gifts.”
“I swear you are as stubborn as that husband of yours.”
Overhearing the last statement as he walked in he replied, “At least the mule-headed part hasn’t rubbed off.”
Going to his side she kissed him as she said, “Not yet anyway; you’ve got time for a quick shower before breakfast is ready.”
Once they had finished eating Gordon pulled an envelope from his pocked and nervously cleared his throat as he handed it to Alex saying, “I know I promised but I consider this as an investment in her future rather than a Christmas present.”
Pulling the papers out she read them and blinked back tears as she said, “I’ll let you win this one.” Turning to her husband she said, “Daddy’s set up a college fund for her.”
“I have some very savvy investors so by the time she’s ready she’ll be able to attend any college she chooses with the ability to live off campus if she chooses.”
Both of then eyed Walker warily and he let them stew for a minute before he simply said, “Okay.” The looks they exchanged had him laughing as he said, “I don’t want her spoiled, but I do want her to have the opportunity to get an education.”
The day was spent talking and relaxing until Alex said, “Dad, I hope you don’t mind if I steal my husband away but I can’t wait anymore to give him his present.”
Standing up Walker said, “I thought we agreed we weren’t exchanging gifts this year.”
Guiltily she said, “We did, but…”
Winking at her he said, “I got you something too.”
Gordon looked from one to the other and with a knowing smile he said, “You two go on and take care of that; I’ll watch the munchkin.”
Going into their bedroom they retrieved their respective presents and handed them to each other. He opened his first and he smiled saying, “I’ve been needing a new watch.”
Turning it over he read the simple inscription “AW loves CW 4ever”, he removed his old watch and fastened on the new one saying, “It’s perfect hon.”
She opened her present and looked up at him in astonishment saying, “This is beautiful.” Carefully she removed the necklace with the heart attached and as she studied it she saw the inscription, “For AW love always CW”, holding it out to him she asked, “Will you put it on me please?”
“Aren’t you going to open it first?”
She looked at him in puzzlement for a second then realized it was a locket and she opened it up to reveal a picture of them from their wedding on one side and a picture of Angela on the other; she whispered, “It’s perfect, I love you so much.”
“I love you too.” He fastened it around her neck as he said, “We’ll put an updated picture of Angela in it every year.”
Gordon glanced at the clock yet again and chuckled as he looked down at his granddaughter saying, “I have the feeling it’s going to be just us for the rest of the day.