A Breath of Hope
The landscape whips by unnoticed as both men get lost in their own thoughts. Rick sits behind the wheel of the Hyundai while Daryl rides shotgun, their hair blowing wildly from the wind rushing through the open windows. A comfortable silence fills the air and Rick doesn't want to ruin it with more questions about Carol, so he bites his tongue and brings up his own relationship instead. "I'd love to find a jewelry store somewhere."
"What for? Gonna give Maggie some pearls?" Daryl says sarcastically. "I didn't think she was into that stuff."
"No. A ring."
"Like an engagement ring?" Daryl sits up straighter and shifts his body to angle toward the driver, more alert than he'd been a moment ago.
"Yeah, and a couple of wedding bands."
"Wow. That's great, man. I'm really happy for you." The sincerity in his voice touches Rick.
"Thanks. Maybe you could help me propose."
"Me? What do I gotta do?" The stoic hunter suddenly sounds terrified at getting involved in anything even remotely romantic.
"Calm down, I'm the one getting married." Rick laughs, liking the way those words feel on his tongue. Though he'd been there before, it was very different this time. Perhaps because it was his idea first, no ultimatums on the table, as was the case with Lori. "I want to surprise her with a special dinner for just the two of us."
"Like an actual date - that's nice."
"Yeah. She likes rabbit more than deer so maybe you could get us a couple. I'll talk to Carol about making something special to go with it."
"When are you plannin' on doin' this?"
"I don't know. Depends on how fast I can find a ring and plan it all out."
"Well I know where you can get the rings. There's a jewelry store up in Stockbridge next to the baby place I took Beth to yesterday."
"Really? That's great! Maybe we can run up there in the next few days. Just don't tell them exactly where we'll be going, I want her to be surprised. "
"No problem. There's a small town just past the little row of shops we can check out while we're there. I didn't wanna do it when I had the girls with me."
"Yeah, I can't thank you enough for taking care of Judy for me, Daryl." Rick looks at him across the center console, genuine warmth and gratitude in his cerulean gaze.
"No problem, that's what families do… I know that now." Though the last words were barely murmured, they spoke volumes as Daryl looks away from Rick, scrutinizing the blurred white lines dividing the two lane road they are travelling.
The rest of the trip is spent in companionable silence and they work well together gathering all the essentials from the home once belonging to Mark and Allison Roberts. They return to the farm to see Michonne and Tyreese sitting on the platform of the windmill and Maggie, Beth, Sasha and Carl gathered in the hot morning sun on the side of the house. When they see the car coming down the lane, they break up their little powwow to meet them in front of the porch. Maggie rushes up to the car and wraps her arms around Rick's neck as soon as he's on his feet.
"You weren't worried about me, were you?" He kisses her soundly and rests his forehead against hers.
"Not at all," she lies. "I'm just glad you're back."
"Me too." His lips touch hers again and he hugs her fervently, lifting her feet off the ground as he leans backward. After a moment, they break apart to help the others who have already begun pulling supplies out of the backseat and trunk. Rick walks around the front of the car to grab a gray plastic bag that had been on the floor by Daryl's feet. He grabs another bag from the trunk and carries them inside the house, going straight to Carol and handing her the gray bag. "Put this in your closet for me. Don't let Maggie see it."
"Ooo, such mystery. I'm intrigued." Carol smiles at her friend with questioning eyebrows.
"I'll explain later. Just don't let her see," he says quickly and nods his head toward the ceiling, motioning for her to go up now before Maggie walks in. "Thank you," he whispers to Carol's retreating back as she heads for the staircase.
~ / ~
The house is quiet as Judith naps in her playpen while Carol and Beth sort through all the new provisions in the dining room. The sun beats down as Maggie, Sasha and Carl show Daryl and Rick where they want to plant a vegetable garden on the side of the house using the seeds that Daryl had brought back from a run to a feed store several days before. He'd grabbed every packet that he could see, regardless of what it grew. He didn't take the time to look at the pictures or names, figuring if it was any kind of food – they'd eat it. If nothing else, this new world taught them that beggars can't be choosers. He'd also grabbed a good amount of fertilizer and compost, assuming they didn't lose their potency over time.
"We'll start with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, green beans, spinach, bell peppers, summer squash, basil, onions and potatoes," Maggie explains proudly.
"It sucks that we'll have to wait two months to actually taste anything, but eventually we'll be eating good." Sasha grins and pats her hands on her flat belly.
"Now let's show 'em where we're gonna dig the moat!" Carl takes off at a slow run toward the windmill.
"It's a trench!" Daryl hollers at deaf ears as he and the others follow the enthusiastic boy's path to the meadow. They pass Michonne and Ty's dangling feet and catch up to Carl about 30 feet beyond the structure, standing behind a bright yellow X spray painted on the ground.
"Okay, follow me." Carl leads them across the field, passing bright yellow or orange markers about every fifteen feet in a large ring surrounding the house, the shed and the pile of ash that used to be the barn. It cuts in front of the tree line behind the house, with one opening on the far left corner and another on the right side near the front of the house. "We'll leave these spots for gates," he explains, "so we'll have a way to get in and out on either side."
"Ty said he can rig up something on wheels that we'd be able to move fairly easily," Sasha adds.
"Sounds great. Now we just need to get that trencher," Rick says, looking at Daryl. "What do you say? Ready to check out that farm?"
"Sure. Le'me get the keys to the pickup." He saunters off toward the house, Bailey at his heels.
"I'll go tell Beth." Carl rushes past Daryl which incites the black lab to sprint after him, ears back and tail wagging fiercely, joyfully playing her favorite game.
"Go in quietly, Carl! Judy's probably still sleeping." Maggie warns the teenager in a loud whisper and then looks down at her hand interlaced with her lover's. "So, you're leaving me again, huh?"
"It's just down the road, honey. We'll be there and back in no time," he says, reassuringly.
"I know." She puts her free hand against his cheek. "It just feels weird being apart after being joined at the hip, literally, for four days straight."
"I know what you mean." He leans into her soft palm. "Do you wanna come? I think we can squeeze one more."
"No, babe. You go have fun with your big boy tools and I'll stay here with Sash and plot our gardens."
He pulls her into a smothering embrace and kisses her collar bone. "I love you, Mags."
"I love you more."
~ / ~
Daryl steers the truck onto the lane that Beth points to over his shoulder from the back of the cab. The vehicle pitches and sways over the uneven terrain of the rocky dirt road, kicking up a dust storm behind the rusty tailgate.
The farm itself seems untouched as they drive around a bit, fairly certain there are no walkers in the area considering there are five hens, one rooster and a goat milling about behind the huge barn.
"Well, look at that." Rick is the first to spot the farm animals and alerts the others to their existence. "Think we can catch 'em, son?"
"Awesome! Hell yeah!"
"We should've brought Maggie," Beth informs the men. "She always caught our chickens whenever they got loose."
"Alright, let's just get the trencher for now, and then we'll come back with Maggie and Michonne for the chickens." Rick smiles at the image of Maggie running around a barnyard after a few clucking chickens.
"Michonne?" Carl splutters, shocked at the mention of the female warrior. "What's she gonna do – slice their little heads off with her katana?"
"No!" The two men yell at the same time and a contagious fit of laughter erupts inside the truck.
"She's quick - she'll catch 'em for us, you dumbass." Daryl explains with a chuckling smirk as the teenager laughs in relief. He parks the pickup in front of the outbuilding with the tailgate facing the open barn doors. They exit the truck and Carl immediately walks around the structure to get a better look at the animals.
"Don't get too close, Carl. We don't wanna scare them away before we get a chance to catch 'em," Rick advises his son before entering the barn with Daryl.
"I won't. I just want to see how many there are."
"Six birds and a goat. Now come help us in here," Daryl calls after the teenager and then looks at Rick, shrugging an apologetic shoulder. Sorry - your kid.
"Come on, Carl." Rick gives his partner an answering shrug, understanding that the fear of his son wandering around on his own was what prompted Daryl's order, not the fact that they really needed his help.
Walking further into the barn, they proceed past open stalls running the length of the building to find the trencher sitting on a small trailer next to several bales of hay near the back of the barn. "Looks like he was getting ready to return it to Hershel. Makes it easy for us. Daryl, can you back the truck up in here so we can attach the trailer?" Rick turns to his partner to see him staring up at the loft, slowly moving his head as he scans the rafters overhead and then focuses on the four walls. "What is it?" Rick asks apprehensively, sliding his hand from his hip to the butt of his gun.
"I can build this," Daryl says pensively, remembering all of the framework he'd done working part time for a construction company in his former life. "Or a smaller version anyway, we wouldn't need one this big."
Rick relaxes on a deep breath. "Sounds great, except for one detail - you need wood, lots of it."
"Yeah, we passed a lumberyard on the way up to Stockbridge. We can check it out when we go up that way."
"Dad, can Beth and I check the house?" Carl calls from the front of the barn, holding a small stick that he'd been using to scrape sticky cobwebs off the craggy stall doors.
"Wait a second and we'll all go in together. Let's get this hitched up first."
Once the truck and trailer are securely attached, Daryl leads the way into the home of Will Casey. Rick and Beth search the kitchen cabinets while Daryl and Carl explore the upstairs. Finding a few items of canned food and more cereal, Rick pulls out a few plastic grocery bags from the gap between the refrigerator and wall. He bags the items for the ride home and turns to see Beth fingering a rack of keys hanging by the useless phone on the wall.
"Got it!" The young woman exclaims as she grabs a set of keys attached to a colorful keychain that advises you to 'Keep Calm and Take a Xanax'. She skips out the back door. "Yes!"
Rick catches up to her as she climbs into a claret colored Mitsubishi Eclipse parked behind the house. "Nice car."
"Yes, it is." She turns the ignition and smiles proudly when the car roars to life. "And now it's mine. Thanks bitch."
"What was that for?" Rick chuckles as he looks down at Beth in the little sports car.
"Ashley Casey was a stuck up bitch that flaunted her fancy crap in our faces every chance she got. I know it's not nice to wish bad things on other people, but I really hope she's a miserable walker now."
"Well there's a pretty good chance of that." He laughs at the young blonde, enjoying this feisty side that she rarely displays.
"Nice wheels!" Carl walks out of the back door followed by Daryl. "Can I ride home with you?"