A Breath of Hope
Dawn seemed to break earlier than usual on this particular Saturday morning, or what Maggie believes is a Saturday according to Beth's calculations. She opens her eyes slowly, reluctant to meet the rays of the sun streaming through the sheer curtains of her bedroom window. Yesterday was another exhausting day in the gardens, but it will all be worth it when everyone can sit down to enjoy a nice dinner tonight.
She would love to stay in bed a little longer, especially since Rick had kept her up late into the night talking. He seemed a little edgy lately, but had assured her that everything was fine. She knew he had something on his mind, but she believed him that everything was okay. He didn't seem concerned as much as distracted, and she knew he would tell her if it was something important. Still, it was nice to lie in his arms last night just talking about minor stuff and trivial things.
She rolls over to face his side of their bed, already knowing that he won't be there but wanting to pull his pillow against her as she does most mornings, breathing in his scent held inside the downy softness. She reaches for the pillow and notices a book with a sheet of paper lying on top of its cover. Unfolding the note, she reads 'Enjoy your day off. Meet me in the dining room at 5:00. I love you, Rick.'
She sits up to check on Judith in the playpen but the crib is empty, he must have taken her down already. She glances down at the book on his pillow and sees that it's the Nora Roberts paperback that she'd been planning on reading for weeks, but never found the time with all the work to be done.
She reads his neat handwriting several times before pressing the note to her chest and the pillow to her cheek, silently thanking the man she loves more than life itself. Smiling at his mysterious behavior and thrilled at the idea of having a 'day off', she places Rick's pillow behind her head and opens the book to chapter one, looking forward to getting lost in the romance of Nora's characters.
Just before 10:00, Maggie finally rises from bed, no longer able to get comfortable after lying down for so long. She dresses in her favorite yoga pants and loose tee shirt, surprised that no one has come looking for her. He must have told them not to. She goes downstairs to find Carol and Kristy in the kitchen. "Good morning."
"Hi, Maggie," Kristy greets her cheerfully.
"Morning, dear." Carol looks up from the food processor after pouring a large cupful of wheat berries into it to grind into flour.
"Have you seen Rick?" Maggie asks.
"He's helping Daryl and Tyreese clear out all the burnt up stuff from the old barn so they can start building a new one."
"We're making bread," Kristy informs her proudly.
"Can I help?"
"No, thanks, we've got this covered," Carol assures her.
"Where's Judy? She was gone when I woke up."
"She's on the porch with Sasha. Why don't you go sit with them."
"Okay, if you're sure you don't need any help in here?"
"Nope, we're fine. Go relax."
Maggie leaves them to their wheat thinking that she can take only so much relaxation before going out of her mind. She finds Sasha on the porch with a bucket of corn cobs at her feet while Judy stands in the corner of her playpen a few feet away gnawing on a large plastic serving spoon. The little girl had started pulling herself up a few weeks before and is now a bona fide table-walker; not really walking freely on her own, but tottering on wobbly legs from table to chair and so on. She lifts her arms as Maggie steps onto the porch, encouraging the woman to pick her up.
"There you are, baby girl." Maggie lifts her from the pen to snuggle against her, hugging her little body tightly before settling them into the rocking chair next to Sasha.
"Can I help?" Maggie offers, shifting the baby to one side of her lap, freeing one arm to extend an open hand to Sasha as an offer of assistance.
"Aren't you supposed to be relaxing?" The dark woman asks as she peels the outer leaves off an ear of corn, tossing the waste into another bucket.
"I can only relax so much before I go insane. What exactly did Rick tell you guys?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she answers with artificial innocence.
"Come on, Sash, what's he up to?"
"No way, I've been sworn to secrecy." She twists her thumb and index finger at the corner of her tightly pursed lips as a symbol of promised silence.
"Fine. Then just hand me a piece of corn so I can help you," Maggie insists.
"What part of relaxing don't you understand, girl?"
"I am relaxing, dammit." She looks at her friend and pastes an almost sincere smile on her face. "I find shucking corn very relaxing. Now, can you please move the bucket over here so I can get my hands on them? Judy's gonna help me."
Her forged smile doesn't fool Sasha but she knows Maggie needs something to keep her busy, so she pulls the bucket over to sit between the two chairs.
After finishing with the corn, Sasha adamantly refuses to let her help with the green beans, so Maggie just keeps her company as the baby falls asleep in her arms with the steady motion of the rocker. Eventually, she lays Judith in the playpen to finish her nap and searches for Beth who was supposedly preparing the chicken that was sacrificed for tonight's feast celebrating the completion of the trench.
After finding her sister plucking the chicken with help from Michonne, and being told that her assistance wasn't necessary, Maggie retires with her book to a rocker in the shade of the back porch, occasionally looking over at Rick as he removes scorched planks and seared beams from the rubble, tirelessly going back for more. She feels slightly guilty for doing absolutely nothing while he works his ass off, and vows to make it up to him tonight. They had been working so hard lately that many nights were spent just falling asleep in each other's arms as soon as they got into bed, completely and utterly exhausted. Tonight, she doesn't care how tired he is, she is not going to let him fall asleep before she can thank him properly for giving her this day to herself.
Two hours later, she strolls back into the kitchen. "Okay, what can I do, Carol? I'm not asking – I'm demanding. So just give me something. I can't sit around all day watching you guys do all the work."
"Alright, sweetie. You can make the salad dressing." Carol takes a large bag from the pantry and places it on the table. "You can use that bowl." She nods to a large bowl on the counter while reaching into the bag and pulling out a handful of ketchup and mayonnaise packets and placing them on the table. "Start with ten of each and see how much that makes. We can add a little bit of onion after. Hopefully everyone likes Russian dressing."
At 3:30 Maggie is still in the kitchen with Carol and Kristy when Michonne brings her a plush towel, shampoo, body wash and a new loofa with instructions to go up to the master bathroom for a nice long soak in the big tub before getting ready for her date.
~ / ~
At 3:45 Rick heads into the house to shower, excited and slightly nervous, anxious to have everything go well. Carol stops him at the top of the staircase to hand him Hershel's old electric razor.
"Don't take it all off - you don't want to shock her with a baby face. Just give it a really good trim. Your clothes are already in the bathroom for you."
"And Maggie's dress?"
"It's all ready. Beth will deliver the bag to her as instructed."
"Thank you." He kisses her cheek warmly and takes the razor to the hall bathroom for some serious grooming.
Thirty minutes later he's walking down the stairs dressed in black chinos, white dress shirt with a burgundy tie striped diagonally with several thin black lines, and a pair of snug fitting black dress shoes that Tyreese had found in the back of Hershel's closet. Slipping his feet into his dear friend's shoes was an emotional task. I wish you were here so I could have officially asked you for her hand. Man, I just wish you were here.
He enters the dining room to find Beth placing her portable CD player on the credenza, loaded with one of Maggie's CD's – a mix of her favorite love songs that she'd downloaded from the internet back when there was such a thing. "Thanks, Beth."
"You're welcome." She squats down to open a cabinet beneath the CD player and pulls out a box of taper candles and several candle holders. "I'll grab the candles from the other rooms and then go bring Maggie her dress."
"Great. Thanks again for all your help."
"No problem. Just keep my sister happy." She gives him a quick hug and goes off to retrieve more candles.
Rick heads into the kitchen for a lighter and nearly bumps into Carl and Kristy carrying dishes for two place settings. "Sorry, Dad."
"My bad. Just set it all up at this end of the table so you guys don't have to walk too far." He steps out of their path and then further into the kitchen. "How's it comin' in here?" he asks Carol as he opens the drawer that contains several lighters.
"It's good. We're right on schedule," she assures him as she slices a cucumber to add to the large bowl of lettuce, tomatoes and carrots in front of her.
"Great. I can't tell you how much this means to me. I really appreciate everything you guys have done to help me with tonight. Really."
"I know. We really appreciate all you've done for us too, Rick. This is the least we could do for you." Her warm smile and kind words touch him deeply, forcing him to clear his throat as he closes the drawer before returning to the dining room with a lighter.
~ / ~
At 4:30 Maggie is looking in her closet for something to wear, unsure of what he has planned, but wanting to look nice for him anyway. Settling on a dark gray blouse to go with a black skirt that she hadn't worn in years, over his favorite black bra and panties, her hand stills momentarily on the hanger when her sister knocks on her bedroom door. She lays the blouse on her bed and opens the door.
"This is from Rick." Beth hands her a shopping bag and gives her a tight hug. "Have fun tonight."
"Thanks. You wanna fill me in on what's going on?" Maggie asks, still pressing for information about the mysterious evening that Rick has planned for her.
"Nope." Beth replies sweetly and disappears down the stairs.
Maggie looks into the bag her sister had just delivered and sees a sheet of note paper lying on top of something green. She lifts the note and reads, 'I've been saving this for tonight. Can't wait to see you in it. I love you, Rick'. She places the bag on the bed and reaches inside to pull out the pretty teal green dress that she had seen in Allison Roberts' closet on Bailey Lane. My God, you remembered. She holds the dress against her in front of the full length mirror on her closet door, excited to put it on. It's loose and low-cut on the top and form fitting at the hips, the hemline stopping a few inches above her knees.
After teasing her hair to give her natural wave a little more body and applying a touch of eye makeup, she heads to the staircase at 5:00 sharp, extremely excited and slightly nervous. On the second step down, she lifts her eyes to see Rick standing at the bottom of the stairs, hands casually in his pockets and looking absolutely delicious as he gazes up at her. He smiles warmly and her heart skips a beat before she continues down the long staircase to her destiny waiting in a pair of familiar dress shoes on the first floor.