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A Valentine's Tail

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Beth looked again at the calendar hanging in the kitchen of the small house she shared with Daryl, Hershel, and Carol. She didn't think anyone else had paid any attention to the date at all. It was weird to be keeping track of time again after almost of year of guessing months and seasons and using the sun for a watch. It was February and the weather had finally moderated, so she had decided to venture out to talk to Dottie about making something special for supper that night, Beth giggled a little at the thought of celebrating a holiday that she had never cared for. She and Jimmy hadn't been together long enough to celebrate it as boyfriend and girlfriend and before that, the celebration was making homemade heart-shaped cookies and her daddy's favorite cake with her mom. They would bake the sweets, and as they sat cooling, they would make something special for supper. This year was obviously different, there was no mama, no brother, no anything that could be called normal. It had been a long year, but they had survived and now Beth was determined that they were going to live. That mantra in mind, Beth headed to see Dottie.
Melting snow sloshed under Beth's feet as she walked back from the Hotel with her arms full. She and Dottie had enjoyed a long visit, and when Beth broached the reason she had come to see her, Dottie was more than a little excited. She pulled out one of her old-fashioned cookbooks and the two began to plan menus for their respective suppers. There was enough canned chicken just inside the expiration date that Beth decided to make a pot pie. Dottie wrote down the recipe and made sure that Beth had the rest of the ingredients she needed.
Three hours later, Beth was elbow deep in chopping and sauteing vegetables. The kitchen in the small house smelled warmly of sugar and chocolate, a luxury that Dottie was happy to share with the younger woman. Beth had baked heart-shaped sugar cookies, well, as heart-shaped as she could get with a paring knife, but they turned out pretty good. A drinking glass to cut the dough, then a 'V' cut out of the top of the cookie and pressed point down at the bottom of the cookie had made the shape she was looking for since she didn't have any real cookie cutters. Mama had always told her that where there was a will, there was a way. Well, Beth was definitely living proof of that. Shaking herself out of her reverie, Beth checked the time left on the clock she had sitting on the window sill. The old-fashioned wind-up clock told her it was time to test the cake she was baking, so she got her pot holders and a clean broom straw. Mama never used anything but a broom straw to test her cakes, and she taught her daughter to do the same, and once again Beth found herself smiling at the thought of how her Mama would have dearly loved this Cove they had found themselves in.
The straw told the tale of the cake, and after setting the pans on the counter to cool for a few minutes, Beth turned back to her supper. She had put a glass of water in a bowl of snow, and now it was hopefully cold enough to make a pie crust. Ice water was needed, and this was the best she could do under the circumstances. Measuring out the precious flour and shortening, Beth added the definitely icy water a tablespoon at a time until the dough was a smooth round in the bowl. She liberally floured the kitchen table and turned the dough out. Cutting it in half, she let it sit for a moment while she turned her cake layers onto the wire racks she had found in the baking supplies. Those set to cool completely, Beth went back to her dough. Taking half, she halved it again and set about rolling the dough out. She lined one of the cast iron pans with the dough and poured the filling she had made into the crust. Topping it with the other piece, she repeated the process in another cast iron pan. Both pans went into the oven in the wood cookstove and once again Beth marked the time on the little clock.
By now, the cookies were completely cool and Beth set about decorating them. Dottie had a few things left over from the stuff they had to make birthday cakes for kids staying at the village before the turn. Once the cookies were iced, Beth turned her attention to the chocolate layer cake that she was making. The icing she was making as tricky because it could not turn out if it was too damp out or even because of altitude. It was her mama's recipe, but luckily Dottie's cookbook had tips on making sure it came out right since they were in the mountains now, Fifteen minutes later, her chocolate cake with seven-minute icing was sitting on the counter and the pot pies were ready to be dished up. Now all she needed was her family home and they could celebrate.
Neth didn't have long to wait when she heard the front door open and Daryl's voice calling for her. "Lil B, where ya at?"
"In the kitchen," Beth answered.
She heard the door close and then footsteps moving towards the kitchen. "Mmm... smells good in here. Ya been busy today."
Beth grinned. "Yep, I just thought, after everything, we deserved a little bit of good in our lives."
Daryl nodded his agreement. "Yeah. Don't hurt it's Valentine's Day either."
Beth ducked her head to hide the blush that as creeping into her face. "How'd you know I... "
"Girl, I know everythin' about ya. I don't forget nothin' ya do or say." He nodded over to the wall. "Been watchin' ya eyein' that calendar for a couple a weeks now."
Beth huffed. "I guess I can't have any secrets, huh?"
"Well, go wash up and when Daddy and Carol get back we'll eat." Beth turned from where she was finishing setting the table and caught Daryl with pink icing and crumbs on his lips. "Daryl Dixon! You get away from those."
Daryl chuckled and licked the sweetness from his lip. "Nah, don't think I will seein' as I got ya a present for Valentines."
Beth's eyes got huge. She had no idea that Daryl even knew what day it was, much less that he had gotten her a present. "What is it? Can I have it now? I didn't get you an actual present, I just cooked... "
Daryl threw his hands up. "Woah, Lil B, slow down. Ya cookin' a special supper is plenty a present. And cookies and cake? I think we all got the good end of the deal." He tilted his head at Beth, looking at her like he was reading her mind. "Stay right here, I reckon you can go ahead and have ya surprise."
Beth nodded eagerly and waited as Daryl went back down the hall towards the front door. It didn't take him long to come back into the kitchen. In his hands, he was carrying a wicker basket with a yellow ribbon tied around it. Daryl didn't speak just held the basket out to Beth. She hurried to take it and almost dropped the basket when she saw what was in it. Somehow, somewhere Daryl had come across a mama cat and her litter of kittens.
"Oh, Daryl, they are beautiful! But how?" Beth knelt down on the floor and gently allowed the mama cat sniff her fingers. "Can you hand me that dish with the leftover chicken?"
Daryl got the dish and squatted down beside Beth. "Found 'em in a deserted farmhouse 'bout two hours out. The daddy cat was dead, s'how I found 'em. Gave mama some rabbit I'd got and she took me ta the babies. Figured they might come in handy around here, mousin' and such. Keepin' my eyes out for any more I can find. Been lookin' for dogs, too."
Beth watched the cat as she hungrily ate the chicken she was offered. The kittens were now mewing loudly, looking for their own supper. Beth picked each one up and snuggled them for a minute before looking at Daryl with tears in her eyes.
Daryl drew back in confusion. "What? Why ya cryin'? I thought ya's happy with the cats."
Beth nodded frantically. "I love them! Daryl, you are the best man in the world." She threw herself at Daryl nearly knocking him over.
"I dunno 'bout that." He pressed a kiss to Beth's temple and hugged her tight. "Happy Valentine's Day, Lil B."
It wasn't long before Hershel and Carol were home, the cats were snug in their new home and Beth was dishing up her Valentine's supper. It might not be ideal, this new world they were learning, but they were warm and fed, and they were together.