That Next Breath
“Walker, hang in there. Come on, man.”
Why is he yelling at me to hang on? I’ve spent my whole life holding on. Does he think I really have a choice? But, of course, there is always a choice. Isn’t that what I keep telling the kids?
“You’ve got to breathe.”
Do I have a choice? Or is this the time it’s not my choice?
“We’ve got to get him to the hospital.”
Where are we? Trivette? Did we make it to the hospital?
Alex…Trivette must have called you. You sound so scared. It would hurt you so much if I joined my parents, Uncle Ray, and Lucas. I hear you calling my name. I can’t ignore your voice, I never could. I would never willingly leave you.
“His breathing is stabilizing. OK, let’s get x-rays and then a CAT scan.” The doctors and nurses in the emergency room move to run the tests needed.
“Jimmy, what happened? I thought you were on your way back to C.D.’s?”
“We were, but on the way back we ran across some kids who had gotten themselves caught in a culvert during a flash flood. You know Walker. He grabbed a rope from the back of his truck and we rigged up a line, but someone had to go in to get the rope to the kids. We had almost gotten all the kids out when one of the kids lost his hold and Walker had to change his position to catch him. He got the kid but his feet slipped and he went down hard. For a second I thought he was OK but then he started to drift in the current. The Fire Dept had arrived by then and we got him out, but he wasn’t breathing and they brought him in here and you know the rest.”
They were still standing in the hall. Jimmy stopped to take a breath. “Alex let’s go sit down. The paramedics said that it was probably the shock of the fall that caused him to blackout for a minute. Then taking in the water caused him to stop breathing. I’m sure he’ll be all right now that he’s breathing on his own again.”
“Excuse me, are you here with Ranger Walker?’ A nurse asked looking from Alex to Trivette.
“Yes, we are.” Both answered.
“If you’ll come with me.” The nurse took them to a curtained area where Walker was talking to a doctor.
“When can I get out of here, Doc?” Walker was asking as they entered.
“We would like to keep you overnight for observation.” The doctor began.
“But there’s no real problem, right?” Walker was pushing already, ready to leave.
“Walker, please...” Alex tried to forestall the inevitable. Walker only smiled and looked at the doctor.
“If you plan to leave AMA as usual, at least take the pain medication this time.” The doctor just shook his head and handed the prescription to Walker.
“Trivette, would you get my duffel out of the truck so I can put on some dry clothes?” Walker looked at Trivette for confirmation.
“Sure, Walker, if I don’t you’ll just go get them yourself. Right?” Trivette headed for the door.
Walker laughed and turned his attention to Alex. “Alex, I’m OK really.”
“Walker, are you at least going to take the medication the doctor prescribed?” Alex asked as she reached out to take Walker’s hand.
“Alex, I’ll make a deal with you. We’ll get the prescription filled and if…if I’m in pain later tonight, you can give me one. How’s that?” Walker looked at Alex with a mischievous grin.
“I can give…You’re agreeing to let me stay with you without an argument?” Alex was surprised.
“No argument…not tonight.” Walker looked at Alex with an odd expression in his eyes that she had never seen before.
“Hey, Walker, here’s your duffel. Do you need any help?” Trivette interrupted just then coming back into the room.
“Thanks, Trivette, I think I can manage. Alex, will you wait for me outside? I’ll be right out and we can drive out to the ranch.” Walker took the bag from Trivette.
Alex nodded and turned to leave the room. “Jimmy, I think he hit his head harder than we thought.”
“What…?” Trivette looked after Alex as she left and turned to Walker who was getting dressed. “Walker, what did Alex mean by that?”
“Nothing, Trivette, I just surprised her….Trivette, thanks for being there this afternoon.” Walker held out his hand to Trivette.
Trivette took the offered hand and smiled. “That’s what partners do. You’ve done the same.”
Walker asked Alex to drive which further served to confuse and worry her. They stopped by her apartment and then headed out to the ranch. The drive was a quiet one.
Walker sat on the passenger side with his head leaned back against the seat. Alex kept an eye on him as she drove. “I’m all right, Alex. You don’t have to keep watching me.” Walker smiled.
“I’m just not use to you not arguing and then actually letting someone else drive. Are you sure you’re OK?” Alex asked.
“I am fine except for the guy playing drums in my head. Alex, please just keep your beautiful eyes on the road.” Walker closed his eyes and tried to ignore the drumming.
When Alex parked the Ram in front of the house she thought that Walker might have gone to sleep. “Walker, we’re here. Are you…?”
“I’m awake, Alex. Just resting my eyes.” Walker added with a small smile. Alex just shook her head as they both got out and started toward the porch.
“Walker, would you like me to get you something or do you just want to go to bed?…ahh, let me rephrase that.” Alex blushed.
“I liked the way you phrased that just fine,…but I know what you meant.” Walker said with a grin as he opened the door for Alex and stepped aside for her to enter the house.
Alex was so shocked and flustered at this turn their conversation was taking that she almost didn’t answer. “Walker, I think you have had too much of that medication or your head isn’t as hard as I thought.” This wasn’t like Walker at all, or was it? “This isn’t one of your ‘gotchas’, is it?”
Walker took Alex by the hand and led her to the couch in the front room. “Alex, I am not high on medication, I did not hit my head that hard, and I am not making fun of you. As a matter of fact, my head is feeling better now that we’re out here alone.”
Alex was still not sure if this was really happening. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Do you think that I haven’t thought about us being together thousands of times? And there have certainly been times when I thought we were so close, but something always interrupted and then I would back off. I don’t plan on backing off tonight, unless you want to leave right now.”
“I…I’m not leaving and I hope neither of us wants to back away from where we are right now.” Alex was still a little off balance.
“Alex, I’m not going anywhere without you tonight.” Walker says moving closer and starting to wrap his arms around her.
“What is so different about tonight? That’s the third time you’ve mentioned that. Why now, and not last week or last month or 5 years ago for that matter?” Alex asks still trying to understand.
“Alex, if I died tomorrow, I’d hate to think that I never showed you how much you are loved.”
Is that it? Could it be that simple and that complex? “Did the doctor tell you something…?” The words rushed out.
“No, no. I just…I stopped breathing, Alex. For a few moments I considered whether or not I wanted to keep on breathing. I’ve never done that before even though I’ve had plenty of opportunity.”
“Oh, Walker, it’s only natural to feel scared when you’ve stopped breathing.”
“No that’s not it. It wasn’t that I stopped breathing. It was that I thought about not taking that next breath. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“You think that for a second you wanted to die. I don’t believe that. You could never want to die because that would mean giving up. And Cordell Walker never gives up on anything.”
“You don’t think so, huh. I wish I were that sure. I heard you calling me. That’s why I didn’t let go. I couldn’t hurt you like that. Not as long as there was a choice.”
“Walker, for that second you recognized that you really could die, that is not the same thing as wanting to die.”
Walker sat looking into Alex’s eyes considering her words. Alex reached out and took his hand. The silence was short lived.
“Did you take lessons from Uncle Ray or have you been talking to White Eagle?”
“Seems to me that someone else has finally started listening to his elders. You did say something about L O V E.”
“Did I? Oh, yea, I guess I did sorta say that didn’t I?” Walker said with a grin. What do you say lady, will you spend the night with me?”
“I might consider it Cowboy, but it can’t be casual between you and me.” Alex was smiling, her mood matching Walker’s.
“Oh, no, there is definitely nothing casual about this.” Walker sobered for a moment. “I was thinking more like for the rest of our lives. I do love you, Alex.”
“I have loved you for so long, Walker.” Alex now had tears in her eyes.
“We can’t have any of those.” Walker reached out to wipe the tears. I only want to make you happy.”
“Oh, Walker, I am happy. Can we stop talking now?” Alex says moving to get as close as possible to Walker.
“Come here, you. I think I need a little “mouth to mouth.” And a long deep kiss begins that takes them to the edge. “I think we should move this conversation upstairs, don’t you?” Walker asks when they finally come up for air.
“To your room?” Alex had been there many times in her dreams.
“Only until we make it ours.” Walker stands, holds out his hand to Alex, and they walk upstairs into their future together.
All the usual Legal Disclaimers