November 24, 2011
~*~ Tara ~*~
With only two hours until the Thanksgiving midday meal, Tara reluctantly hands over Meredith to Cricket where she's sitting on the floor of their cabin with Christian. They returned to the cabin after enjoying breakfast at the main house, because every inch of the kitchen there is in use. Their son is very carefully stacking Duplo blocks to build a wall around his toy cars and animals.
That will probably always be his reality - living behind walls. Even if the walkers die off as predicted, the lack of human population will give way to wildlife numbers rebounding, and some of those are as risky or worse than the walkers.
She pushes away the thought, gathering her supplies from the fridge and cabinet. Thanksgiving and Christmas both are the potluck meals where the pantries are flung wide open to choose from. Cricket has something planned for the family dinner, but Tara's contributing her mother's sausage ball recipe for the community meal.
Popping the sausages free of their casings, she minces the meat to the fine ground meat mix she needs. It would have been easier to start with already ground sausage, but that was all wild pig and she's not brave enough to convert the recipe yet.
One of the things Cricket insisted on when their cabin was built to replace the apartment was a great kitchen. What Tara loves is that she doesn't have to stand with her back to her family, isolated, like her mother always seemed to be for Thanksgiving. She can grate the apples and onions while watching as Christian abandons his oversized Legos for admiring his baby sister.
"Do you think he's always going to be fascinated with her?" she asks Cricket. "Or is it just that she's so new?"
At three months old, Meredith is thriving, and while Christian isn't quite obsessed with her, he's attentive in a way Tara didn't think was possible for a toddler his age. He even has a dolly, a handmade gift from Carol, that he carries around as much as his mothers carry his sister. He even 'nurses' the baby, which is the cutest damned thing she's ever seen.
"It's hard to predict. If he has a solid case of the terrible twos, it's possible he might want nothing to do with her or even become jealous. None of us were this close in age."
Tara thinks it over as she adds in minced garlic and the breadcrumbs the kitchens staff gave her in a bag from the leftover rolls from earlier in the week. The rosemary is also from the kitchens, but Tara hopes that the rosemary planted outside their back door thrives. Her mother's access to fresh herbs she grew herself is a fond childhood memory she wants to share with her own children.
"Let's hope he doesn't go too crazy with the terrible twos. Meghan was almost impossible to deal with for a few months."
"I guess we'll see if the sign language pays off then."
Considering Christian's sign language vocabulary is nearly double his fairly strong verbal vocabulary, Tara hopes her wife's theory that lack of communication skills is a significant part of childhood tantrums is correct. Meghan really was a bit of a monster for six months or so, enough so that Lilly postponed plans to have another baby. That turned out to be a good thing, since her husband bailed shortly after Meghan turned three.
A knock on the door has Christian charging to the window and peering out. "Leelee!" He dances excitedly, chanting his version of Lilly's name, while Cricket laughs her way to the door.
Lilly scoops the excited boy into her arms, kissing him as Meghan slips by to peer curiously at Tara's project. T-Dog soon appropriates Christian so his wife can steal away the baby for a cuddle.
Tara finishes rolling out her sausage balls with Cricket and Meghan's help, delighting in the happy chaos after a life spent too quiet, especially after her mother died. This is the cheerful noise a holiday should entail.
~*~ Sophia ~*~
Sophia slides the stacked trays of sweet potato dumplings Beth made onto one of the side dish tables after debating if the things are desserts or vegetables. She figures the dessert tables will end up overloaded by the time all the food arrives, based on prior community potlucks.
Carl grins as he slides a huge casserole dish of Brussels sprouts next to Sophia's delivery. "I don't have anything more to help carry," he says. "Want to go see the baby quail? Daryl says they hatched yesterday, and dinner isn't for another hour."
"Sure." Sophia is free, since the trays she just delivered were her last food courier trip for the morning. Beth, Jazz, and Patricia have moved on prep for the family dinner now, and she's peeled enough potatoes for a couple of lifetimes. Other than vague plans to spoil Ava, she mainly wants to avoid more prep work. Today's a day with various people in and out of the house with equal plans to spoil her baby sister, so she'll wait until tomorrow, when her mama needs the help.
They trek down to the incubator house now built just past the pastures the poultry all wander in. Sophia isn't sure who had the idea to stop leaving the hatching of eggs up to only broody mama birds, but it's one of her favorite buildings.
The sound of various species cheeping greets them as a chorus when they step into the overly warm room. Carl leads her past the larger birds, those past the fluffy chick stage but still in need of extra warmth. He seems to know exactly where the quail are in a secondary room. It makes sense, since the gamebirds are a pet project of Daryl's.
Carl eases open the door to an enclosure and coaxes the tiniest, cutest bird Sophia has ever seen in her life into his hands. He grins at her expression, lowering the chick into her waiting palms.
"Geez. I knew the quail were small, but this is just crazy." No bigger than a cotton ball, the chick's tiny feet tickle her palms.
"Daryl says there are ones even smaller, but he hasn't caught any yet. Just the two bigger breeds, bobwhites and coturnix."
"You keep going out hunting with him." Sophia likes going hunting with her uncle, but it's a once a week thing on off days. The latest chore roster has four of Carl's five work days with the hunters, and she knows Carl will probably join the off day hunt too.
"There's so much to catch up on. A lot of the boys I went to school with hunted with their dads, but Dad didn't hunt and Mom hated guns. Didn't even get to go with Shane because of that." Carl's letting the chicks explore his hand in the brooder as he speaks.
"I guess it's a lot more interesting than supply runs." With the Governor dead and gone, Sophia's parents have relaxed the rules on teens in the field a bit. She can't go out with the first line crews, like Scout and Shane lead, but she's allowed to work with Glenn now. That's nice because it means time with Honey, since she's still subbing for Maggie on Glenn's team.
"Yeah, but less guarantee of bringing useful stuff back, especially since we've been trying to catch breeding stock. Jazz was saying yesterday that some gamebirds can crossbreed with chickens. I hope they try it just to see what they look like."
"Weird as hell, probably." Sophia eases her quail chick back in the brooder so it doesn't get too cold. It toddles into a mass of other chicks.
Carl's quiet as he latches the door to the brooder. "Jazz is gonna be gone a long time when he leaves next."
Sophia nods, feeling a little solemn about it. The age difference her mother cautioned her about is still affecting them, even just as friends. Granted, their trio friendship has been wobbly for a while due to Jazz's frequent travels and she and Carl exploring their future options. Where once she and Carl would beg to share chore assignments, especially with Jazz, now they don't overlap at all.
"Daryl told Mom we might not see him back here until August. Then he had to hug her, because that made her cry.'
Sophia thinks of the sad but proud looks her own mother gives Jazz when the older teen isn't looking. "Mama says it's like college, in a way. Just a little early because he's so smart."
"I wish it was like last year."
Last year, when they were a trio even with Jazz and Sophia were a couple, and their biggest complaint was that the boys could have sleepovers where Sophia wasn't allowed. It's ironic, because Jazz is the least likely teenage boy to cross any lines that Sophia has ever known.
Carl's wistful tone makes her hug him tightly. He returns the hug, before sneezing when her hair tickles his nose. It sends them both giggling, startling the chicks, and they decide to stop disturbing the baby birds.
Back out in the chilly air, Sophia smiles. "Today, Jazz is busy, but he won't be tomorrow. We'll kidnap him a while. Paul won't mind, and Logan will help."
"Alright." Carl looks more cheerful with a plan, and he slips his gloved fingers in hers as they head back to the holiday preparations.
Sophia will just adopt her mother's philosophy of planning to spend as much quality time as she can with Jazz.
~*~ Lori ~*~
Lori kisses Judith's soft curls where she's perched in the high chair. Breakfast is long done, but her youngest likes to sit at the table when Abby is coloring there. The baby is chewing on the arm of a ragdoll between bouts of banging it on the table.
Each time she bangs the doll, Abby stops coloring to talk to Judith about the crayons or the picture or whatever random thought she's having. It makes Lori grin. Anaya slipped back home after breakfast, citing a need to learn how to make the cabbage rolls Shane will bring to the family dinner later.
If someone told Lori two years ago that Shane Walsh would be a devoted husband and father, she would have thought they were delusional. Sure, he was a wonderful uncle to Carl, full of fun and mischief that an uncle gets up to with a favored nephew. But the daily grind of parenthood and marriage seemed beyond his abilities and ill-suited to his personality.
Nearly losing Rick shook all their world's to their foundations, but Shane took it to heart the most. Lori's glad that the whirlwind passed her by with Judith to show for it, because despite her once wishing for that level of attention in light of Rick's absent-minded affection, she doesn't think it would work for her the way it does for Scout.
She takes batches of cornbread out of the oven and slides them on her cooling racks, replacing them with pans of fluffy yeast rolls. Daryl sidesteps around her to drop his crockpot insert from the fridge into the base and turn it on.
Tasks done, she finds herself tugged into strong arms. Daryl doesn't immediately move in for a kiss, instead pressing his face gently into the curve where her neck meets her shoulder. She hugs him tightly and feels his lips press a kiss against her pulse before he raises up to brush another across her lips.
"You smell good enough to eat," he says softly, giving her that lopsided smile she loves so much.
She just laughs and swats his backside. He lets her go, moving to help her when she starts washing the turnips for later. It makes her smile though, as she works, thinking of how easily her husband is enticed. No makeup, no expensive perfume, just a homemade shampoo and soap that makes her happier than modern luxuries ever did.
"Carl wandered off already?" Daryl asks, moving to start cutting the turnips as she keeps washing.
"He was getting restless, so I sent him to take the Brussels sprouts up. Figure he'll go find his dad or Sophia once he delivered them."
"You know those two are flirting, right?"
Lori laughs and nods. "Yeah. I'm just glad he's not pining over Audrey. It looked like he would carry that flame for months."
Carl takes things to heart more than Loei does. It's a sweet trait he got from Rick, because she remembers Rick's first heartbreak when they were kids was similar. Shane got Rick over it by being the ultimate clowney best friend. With Carl, it's been Sophia.
"Like him better for Sophia than the other boys that have been nosing around since she and Jazz broke up."
"They're both perfectly nice boys, Daryl." Oscar's younger son Zaire really is a good kid, respectful and a hard-worker Lori loves having assigned to her chore roster. She doesn't know Jody as well, considering the boy's a Woodbury refugee, but he passes muster with Michonne. That's about as solid a character reference as it's possible to get.
"Jody's sixteen." Daryl sounds so grumpy she wonders how he's going to cope with Abby's teenage years.
Lori doesn't point out that Jazz is sixteen too. There's definitely a difference there that is sometimes uncomfortable for Daryl to address because of his own experiences.
"Do you honestly think that boy would risk Michonne being mad at him, much less Carol and Merle and the rest of the family?"
Daryl's quiet for a minute, methodically cubing turnips. She pauses in her washing, enjoying the play of muscles on display with him only wearing a tank top in their warm cabin.
"Guess not. Still like Carl better."
Lori interrupts his chopping for an affectionate kiss. "I can't wait for the day Abby and Judith start dating."
Daryl snorts, pressing an absent minded kiss to her forehead before directing her away from his cutting board. "Tyreese is raising good boys. Or Jacqui's girls. Could go either way."
"Planning it out already?" Lori can't help the grin overtaking her features. "What about Judith?"
"Hershey." Daryl's firm nod sends Lori giggling. He's smiling, obviously happy he's amused her.
Lori returns to her task, humming contentedly. This sweet partnership is what she always wanted to have.
~*~ Beth ~*~
Alex walks alongside Beth to the event tent, carrying a crockpot full of homemade mac and cheese cradled in one arm. Beth has pies in the pans designed to stack for transport, and he keeps glancing at the stack of pies.
"They really aren't that heavy." Three are meringues, with only the bottom apple pie with any real weight to it. "I'm just happy there was such a surplus of eggs that we could do meringues. They were still fairly reserved for other uses last year."
Beth can remember how Homestead seemed like a paradise after time on the road and seeing all the devastation. But it took a lot of careful husbandry of their animals to build up flocks and herds to this year's bounty.
"I think our Thanksgiving last year would have been mostly canned goods if we hadn't made contact here." Alex smiles slightly, his tone turning wistful. "I was able to make sweet potato pie from the produce trade. It was Kathy's favorite."
Beth smiles reassuringly at the glimpse into his old life. "Like most good Southern girls, right?"
"Yeah. Sweet potato anything was her favorite, especially the marshmallow one."
"My mama loves sweet potato casserole. Shawn and I used to snitch her marshmallows, though, and get our bottom swatted."
Alex actually laughs. "I have a hard time picturing you getting in trouble like that."
"Well, Maggie and Shawn were the hellions of the family, but I still did get up to mischief enough. What about you? Who was the mischievous kid, you or Gareth?"
That gets her a grin. "I confess that was me, all the way up until college. I think it really surprised my mother that I calmed down and became an accountant of all things, and at a time when I had less supervision, not more."
"I think Maggie was like that. She did well at college. I think Daddy is still a little sad that she prefers not to work with animals as much."
"Less likely for her to need to be stationed away from Homestead, though."
They've reached the tent and split up to drop off their food to the correct tables. Beth has to wait a minute as Scout and Jamie set up another table for desserts.
"What are you dropping off?" Scout asks, reaching to help Beth settle her pies.
"A butterscotch, two lemon meringues, and an apple caramel."
"Tasty. Any lemons left behind for supper?"
"Of course." There are four, actually, because Beth had an entire bushel of lemons when she came back from the coast. Jekyll will do brisk trade keeping Homestead supplied with the citrus they're gleaning out of the abandoned groves in south Georgia and northern Florida.
It still feels a little selfish that she kept so much for personal and family use, but Carol told her to get used to it. The specialists will be allowed and encouraged such extras because they have to serve multiple communities.
It's that thought that has her preoccupied as she and Alex head back outside, just in time to see the Terminus vehicles pulling through the property gate. The entire community is coming for the meal, leaving behind a prison booby trapped to the max his brother's mind can imagine.
Beth waivers a little. She's met Mary, Gareth, and Cynthia before, but never as Alex's girlfriend. He reaches out and pulls her close, his prosthetic hand resting against her arm. Once he realized she wasn't adverse to the metal and plastic even against bare skin, he doesn't avoid contact as much.
"Beth, my mother already loves you, and that was as the vet turned nurse that did enough research on amputations to change careers."
She smiles, pushing away the uncertainty, and accepts the chaste kiss he offers.
"C'mon. I want to see if my nephew's doubled in size again since I saw him last."
Laughing, she lets herself be led away to an eagle eyed woman who takes in the arm across Beth's shoulders with a wide smile and arms open for a hug.