Life Passes You By
Alex lifted her head from the pile of work stacked on her desk and glanced at the clock. It was late. She was late. Again. She heaved a huge sigh and straightened up with a cracking sound that signaled the fact that her back was not going to tolerate much more of this. Looking back down at the work, she wondered if there was any reason that she couldn’t call it a night. She shrugged her shoulders, instantly regretting the decision as they too shrieked in pain. She supposed that there was no reason she couldn’t leave what she was working on until the next day, but then again, there was no reason to hurry home either.
Looking once again at the clock, she made a decision and closed the top file and a few of her reference books. Her stomach made itself known as it rumbled indelicately, signaling the fact that she had, once again, failed to fuel it at lunch time. She opened her top door and searched through it until she felt a rectangular shape and pulled out a health bar. She unwrapped it and sank her teeth into the sawdust flavored shoe leather. It left a chalky taste in her mouth and her jaw was tired by the time she managed to swallow the first bite. Tossing the remaining length of the bar into her overflowing wastebasket, she reached into her second drawer and pulled out a bottle of liquid antacid. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d washed down an unpleasant meal with the mint flavored stuff. At least it allowed her to skip brushing her teeth.
The ringing of her phone had her reaching to answer it automatically. “Alex?” “Yes?” “Hi, it’s Mary Woods. I have a situation here at HOPE Too. A woman came to us last week, Connie Truman.” “Yes, I remember. She came straight from hospital.” “Yes, well, she must have given the creep she’s married to our address and now he’s lurking outside. We’ve called the police and they’re on their way to arrest him, but we don’t know what to do with Connie.” “You’re sure she’s the one who gave him the address?” “Yes, she admitted it.” “Well then, put her out. She came to the shelter knowing the rules. You don’t give anyone the address, least of all, your abuser. She’s put not only herself, but everyone else there in jeopardy.” “I know; I just have trouble with this part of the job.” “And you need me to do it?” “Would you? I hate to ask…” “No, it’s all right, I’m on my way.”
Alex turned off her desk lamp and began to hoist herself out of the chair. It was slow going as her muscles all moaned in protest simultaneously. The phone rang again and she was tempted to leave it unanswered, but her sense of duty prevailed and she reached to answer it on the third ring. “Hello?” “Alex, I was about to hang up and try your cell phone.” “Oh, hi Walker, I was just getting ready to head out.” “That’s why I was calling. Jimmy and Erika have arrived and I wondered when to tell them to expect you.” “Jimmy and Erika? Oh, was that tonight?” “Yes, don’t tell me you forgot.” “I’m afraid I did. I need to go by Hope Too and sort out a situation there. I should be home in about an hour.” “All right, I’ll tell them, but we won’t wait dinner for you.” “No, don’t do that, I’ll grab something when I get home.” She heard the click of the phone and reached to pick up her briefcase, wondering what was in it that made it so heavy.
As she headed to the elevator, she noticed that once again, she was one of the few left in the building. The janitor nodded to her as she walked by. She realized that she saw him more than she did her own husband these days. That thought made her think of his call. She tried to analyze his response to her telling him she would be even later than she already was. He didn’t seem surprised, or even angry. She tried to determine what she’d heard in his voice and decided that it was resignation. She shifted her thinking, deciding that it wasn’t worth dwelling on what she couldn’t change.
The scene at HOPE Too was not pleasant. The woman begged to be allowed to stay, but Alex stood firm. Her husband had been arrested, but he now knew where to find her and she was no longer safe there. Not to mention the fact that she had put other people in jeopardy and broken her contract with the shelter. It was the most important rule they had. They didn’t house women in jeopardy at HOPE House for a reason, it was too public and easy to find. They had quietly purchased a second property and opened an anonymous shelter. For it to remain a safe haven, everyone had to follow the rules. Alex made some phone calls and found her emergency placement at another shelter, but it took quite some time to do. She then drove the woman clear across town and helped her to take her things in.
Getting on the road that led home, she realized that she was now more than two hours past the time she’d told Walker she’d be home. It would be eleven by the time she got to the ranch. She wondered if Jimmy and Erika would even be there. Well, there was nothing she could do about it. She had obligations and she had people who needed her.
Pulling into the driveway, she saw that the house was dark except for the porch light that Walker had left on for her. So she had missed the company of their friends. She’d try to call Erika and arrange a lunch date with her to make up for it. She let herself in and decided to skip supper and headed straight for the stairs.
Once she reached her bedroom, she entered quietly and stripped off her work clothes. She pulled on a nightgown and after a trip to the adjoining bathroom, climbed into bed. “Did everything go all right?” her husband asked. “Yes, but I had to find a place for her to stay and that took longer than I expected. I’m sorry I missed Jimmy and Erika.” “Yes, they were sorry to miss seeing you too, but they had to get going, they leave tomorrow for that cruise they’ve been planning.” “Oh, is that tomorrow? My, time flies. I guess I’ll have to wait until they get back to apologize.” Walker was quiet and then said, “Jamie called.” “Did she?” “Yes, she sounded blue. I don’t think she’s enjoying law school.” “Well, it isn’t a bed of roses.” “No, but I think she was hoping to talk to you and maybe get some moral support.” “I’ll call her tomorrow.” “Okay.” Walker turned over and fell asleep and Alex soon followed suit.
The next day was as busy as the day before and after arguing a case in court, Alex went out to her Women’s Support group. She counseled the women there and then stayed late with one who was struggling with finding a way to keep her job and raise her children as a single mother since her husband had been sent away for spousal abuse. Her boss was giving her a hard time because she wasn’t able to be at work on time as she had to take her kids to school and daycare first. Alex promised to help figure out a solution and in the mean time, she would help shuttle the kids to the appropriate places. After this was decided, she headed for home.
Walker wasn’t there and she grabbed herself some leftover dinner from the night before and ate it cold. Afterwards, she headed upstairs and decided to soak in the tub. She stripped off her work clothes and happened to see her reflection in the full length mirror. She was startled by her appearance, realizing that once again, she had lost too much weight. She was one of those people who had trouble keeping weight on and she hadn’t been eating well again. Of course, the chronic indigestion didn’t help. Her hair had lost some of its luster, but if she took the time to make it neat, it was still attractive. Of course, that was the key, taking the time. More often than not, she pulled it back in a bun and left it that way. As the day wore on, strands slipped from the neat bun so that by the end of the day, it wasn’t neat at all. There were lines creasing her face, but she still had the bone structure that made her a striking woman. Considering her body had bore four children, two of whom were twins, she wasn’t that bad off. Her breasts drooped somewhat, but not enough to worry about. Now that she really looked, she decided that she was still attractive in her own right. ‘Then why has it been months since your husband last touched you?’ a nagging voice echoed in her head.
Alex gave up on her self contemplation and headed to the bathroom to take that soak. She was just beginning to be chilled when Walker entered. “I didn’t expect you to be home,” he said. “Well, I am.” “So I see,” he answered and proceeded to get ready for bed while she climbed out of the tub and toweled off. Alex went into the bedroom and wondered if she could get her husband to look at her with a bit more interest than he had so far. She pulled out one of her silky nightgowns and combed her hair out, soft around her face.
Just as she was finishing, the bedside phone rang and she went over to answer it. “Hello?” “Hi mom, it’s Angela. Is dad there?” “Sure honey, he’s right here. How’s that grandson of mine?” “You wouldn’t believe how much he’s grown. He’s going to be tall that’s for sure.” “Well, I hope I can see him soon.” “I hope so too.” “Well, here’s your father,” Alex said as she passed the phone over. “Hi Angel,” Walker began. Alex lifted the covers and pulled the sheet over herself. She lay there listening to Walker’s side of the conversation. He and Angela had always had that special bond. She’d never been able to penetrate it. She hated to be jealous of her own daughter, but she had to admit that she was. Walker had barely glanced at her tonight, but he was very involved in his conversation with his eldest daughter.
After Walker hung the phone up, Alex questioned, “How’s Angela?” “Fine, just a little tired trying to be a wife and mother and work too.” “I know the feeling,” Alex muttered. If Walker heard her, he didn’t comment. “I guess little Cord is running her ragged. Ever since he began walking, she’s had trouble keeping up with him.” “He’s walking? When did that happen?” “A couple of weeks ago, but he went straight from walking to running, just like his mother did.” “I remember,” Alex said as she thought of her hell-on-wheels daughter at that age. “It’s hard to believe that we’re grandparents,” Alex said. “Yes, it sure is. I guess we’re lucky the kids have waited this long to make us grandparents. Angela’s been married for seven years now and the boys are both so wrapped up in their careers. I don’t know about Chase though, he seems to be smitten with that Shannon he met at the hospital.” “Shannon?” “Yes, she’s a young intern he met. They work together, but it sounds as if things are heating up pretty quickly.”
Alex sighed and wondered how her son had graduated from medical school when she wasn’t looking. He had specialized in emergency medicine and was finishing his internship. Or had he finished it? No, he had one more year to go. She was surprised to hear that he was serious about a woman though, he had seemed so career minded the last time she’d talked to him. Then again, all of her children seemed that way to her. Angela was busy with her private practice. She was a child psychologist and she counseled children who had been abused. She did a lot of work for the state and some pro-bono work, but she had her own practice and had worked hard to build it up. Chase planned to continue with emergency medicine and often joked that he would be ready to patch up his father or his brother whenever they came in bloodied and bruised. Jase was a Texas Ranger, like his father, but he was in Houston. He wanted to make his own way and didn’t want to be overshadowed by his father’s reputation, especially now that his father was Captain. He thought it best to wait until Walker retired before moving up to Company B.
Alex rolled over and asked Walker, “Have you heard from Jason lately?” Walker opened his eyes, surprised by her question. “He’s on that undercover assignment.” “I know, I just wondered if you’d had any contact.” “No, not yet. I don’t expect to hear from him for another week at least.” “Oh.” Walker looked at her speculatively. She seemed in a contemplative mood and he took the opportunity to say something that he’d been thinking about for some time. “Alex, what would you say to my retiring?”
Walker watched her face and thought that she couldn’t have looked more surprised if he’d said that he was an alien sent to this planet to observe humans. “Retire? Walker, why would you want to retire?” “Alex, I’d like to enjoy my life. I want to spend time with my grandson and my children. I’d like to be able to visit the reservation and spend time there. Since White Eagle crossed the river, I’ve felt the need to go spend time with my Cherokee brothers. And if I retire, Jase will move back to Dallas and we can at least have all of our children within easy reach.”
Alex laid thinking about what he said. She ran through his reasons and realized that he hadn’t mentioned spending more time with her. “What about me?” she asked. “I wouldn’t ask you to give up your job and charity work. I know how important it is to you to feel needed.” Alex’s eyes opened wide, “Is that what you think is important to me?” “Alex, you’ve devoted your life to others. When anyone calls, you come running. It’s gotten to the point where the kids and I don’t even expect you for holidays.” Alex was hurt by his words. She knew that she was busy, but she hadn’t shut her family out completely. She cared about them too. It was just that they were so capable and so independent. Their youngest daughter was in law school and all the others were settled in their lives. Then she remembered that Walker had said that Jamie had called the night before and wanted to talk. She’d forgotten to call her back like she’d promised. Angela had called tonight, although, she’d almost immediately asked for her father.
Alex turned to Walker to ask him if he thought she had sacrificed her family to help others, but he was sound asleep. She lay there contemplating what he’d said and thought about her most recent conversations with each of her children. She couldn’t honestly remember the last time she’d spoken to Jase. His twin, Chase, had been out two weekends prior. She’d seen him leaving as she drove in from a fundraiser. And Jamie, she’d spoken to her a week before when she’d called to ask if she could borrow some of Alex’s reference books. Not exactly a great mother-daughter conversation. Alex held her chest as she felt the burning of the indigestion that plagued her so often these days. She reached into her nightstand drawer and pulled out the antacid. After swallowing several large gulps, she lay back down and tried to sleep.
She was floating, high above the bed. Walker was bent over her in an effort to resuscitate her. Suddenly, she was watching as her body lay in a casket and each of her family members filed passed. There was Walker, looking gray, but still strong and in great physical shape. His face was sad, but somehow she knew that he was mourning what could have been more than he was mourning her passing. Angela, with her blond hair as shiny and soft as Alex’s had ever been, lay a single rose on her mother’s breast and wiped the tears from her eyes. She headed back to the back of the mortuary to where a tall man stood holding a redheaded boy with blue eyes that he’d inherited from his mother, who in turn, had inherited them from her mother.
Alex watched as two men walked to the casket to say their goodbyes. Chase was stoic, but there was a tear shining in his eye. He kissed his fingers and brushed them along her cheek and then walked back to a pretty, dark haired, woman who had stayed back while he bid his mother farewell. Next came Jase, and although they were identical, his weather roughened skin identified him as her husband’s son. Jase’s hair was sun bleached to a strawberry blonde in contrast with his brother’s darker hued red hair. He too kissed his fingers and brushed them along her cheek. Last came Jamie with her auburn hair that curled down her back. She had her father’s gray-blue eyes and they were welling with tears. “I wish you could have seen me graduate. I wanted to make you proud of me,” Jamie whispered as she turned and headed into her father’s waiting arms as he comforted her. Alex watched the proceedings, wishing she could respond to her children and to her husband. “I am proud of you,” she told her daughter, the youngest who had always sought approval. She’d been the one who had been cheated the most of Alex’s time.
Alex was further away now, floating over the cemetery as the final goodbyes were said. She heard Walker do something he never had, express regrets. “I should have insisted she get to the doctor to get seen. She was drinking that antacid like water and I never realized that what she thought was indigestion was really her heart.” “Dad, I’m a doctor and I missed it too. Of course, how much did you actually see of mom? I mean, she was always rushing to help someone. I don’t think I spent more than five hours in the same room with her this last year. And that includes holidays.” “Mom was a great woman, she was helping others. You make it sound as if she was being selfish,” Jamie defended. “You’re right, little sister, she was helping others, but what about her own family? What about us?” Angela asked as she clutched her toddler to her chest. “My son is going to know that he comes first, always.”
Walker stepped forward between his adult children. “Your mother loved each and every one of you. She thought that you were all capable, independent people who could live without her. I don’t think she ever realized how much she was missed when she wasn’t around or how much she missed. It wasn’t always like that. We were both very busy people, devoted to our careers, but we always made time for each other and for Angela. It wasn’t until after you boys were born that she started mixing up her priorities. I don’t know what happened, but I think that maybe she just needed to be needed and you all have always been so able to take care of yourselves. I guess in our own way, we failed her too.”
“No! Walker, that’s not how it was!” Alex screamed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s all my fault,” she sobbed. “Alex? Alex, wake up, honey, you’re dreaming.” Walker shook his wife, trying to wake her. Alex sat up, her face leaving the cradle of her arms. She had been lying with her arms on her desk and she was stiff. She’d stayed late preparing a case for court and she must have fallen asleep. “Walker?” she questioned. “Yes, honey.” “What time is it?” she asked. “It’s a little after eight.” “Eight? Oh my god, Angela!” “She’s fine. Trivette has her over in my office. We stopped by and picked her up when Josie called and said that you hadn’t shown up.” “Oh my god, how could I do that? How could I forget to go pick her up?” “Alex, I don’t think you forgot so much as you fell asleep. You’ve been so busy lately. Between this case, HOPE House, and now fundraising to open HOPE Too…” “But Walker, none of that is important. At least, not as important as you and Angela are to me, you know that don’t you?” “Of course I do, Alex. It’s not the end of the world. Angela has two parents and I don’t mind taking over once in awhile as primary caregiver.”
Alex had to make him understand. “Walker, I want you and Angela to have a close relationship, but I don’t ever want to be on the outside looking in.” “Alex, what are you talking about? You’re a wonderful mother.” “Am I? I’ve put Angela in daycare or dumped her on you three out of the past four weekends.” “But honey, you’re in the process of opening a brand new facility for battered women. It’s a great idea. Frankly, I don’t want women who are possibly being stalked living at HOPE Center. We both agree that it’s not safe.” “I know, I know, but it’s taking up so much of my time and I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with the two most important people in my life.”
Walker looked at his wife’s serious face. “Sounds like you’re feeling guilty.” “Yes, I am and I want to do something about it. I’m going to pass this project on to someone else. I don’t have to spearhead this project; there are others out there who can do the legwork.” “You mean you’re planning to back out completely?” “No, they’ll always have my support, but someone else will have to run HOPE Too and that includes setting it up.” “Have you got anyone in mind?” “As a matter of fact, I have. Josie has HOPE Center well in hand and Erika has been wanting more of a challenge. I think I’ll ask her if she wants to give managing HOPE Too a try. I can oversee both that way without having to devote so much of my time to either.” “Are you sure that’s what you want? I know that this is your baby.”
Alex looked at Walker and responded, “You’re wrong, you know. Angela is my baby and you’re my husband and there is nothing more important to me than my family. I love you.” Walker smiled and leaned forward to kiss her forehead and smooth her ruffled bangs back. “I love you, too.” She smiled at him. “Let’s collect Angela from her godfather and go home. I want to spend a nice quiet evening with my family.” “It’s a deal,” Walker said. “Good, and after Angela goes to sleep, I want to sit on the porch and count fireflies.” “You know where that always leads, Alex.” She gave him a flirtatious grin, “I’m counting on it, Cowboy.”