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Mixtape

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"What's this?"

Carl looked up from his place on the floor in front of his parents' closet. The contents were scattered around him: old clothing, books, and boxes of trinkets long hidden away. A plastic caboodle, lavender and covered in stickers, sat in front of the oldest Grimes child. Carl poked at it as though it were liable to bite him. He flipped the large, clunky latch, opening it and reaching in.

Michonne glanced up, grinning. "I haven't seen that in years," she rushed towards him on light feet, bending over to look over his shoulder.

"What is this?" Carl repeated, sifting through a trove of folded paper notes, silver pins, and a stack of cassettes.

"These are from high school," Michonne sat at once, pulling the caboodle towards her. She fished out the paper on top unfolding it carefully. She smiled at the handwriting, the lettering still familiar to her a decade and a half later.

"Why'd you keep them?" Carl, still less than a decade old, did not yet empathize with nostalgia. "Who gave you all of these?"

"Dad did," Michonne handed over the note, satisfied that Rick had not included details their son had no business being privy to.

Hey baby!

LA has the best music. The radio out here...you're going to love it. I haven't heard Ace of Base once this week. I think it must be a miracle. A couple of guys on the team make mixtapes. It's kind of a pain, but I thought I'd make you one so you know all the best jams before you get out here.

There's 18 and up clubs too. If you're up for it, we should go. We didn't get to dance as much as I wanted at prom. Actually, there's a bunch of stuff we didn't get to do at prom that I wanted, but don't worry- we've got time.

Let me know which of these songs you like best. I think you're going to love the Aaliyah one. It reminds me of you.

Love you, Chonne. See you soon, babe.

Rick

Carl squinted, his nose wrinkling. He looked so much like his father in the moment that Michonne could not help but laugh.

"Is this a love note?" he asked, sticking his tongue out.

Michonne took the letter back. "The first of many," she nodded. Rick had a habit of penning her these little keepsakes, leaving them in nooks and crannies by the dozens. "It was right when we started dating. Your dad had to go to school before me, so we wrote each other notes."

"Why didn't you just call? Or email?" Carl looked perplexed.

"It was harder back then," Michonne settled on the simple explanation.

"How long was dad gone for?"

"About a month," Michonne answered, thumbing through the tapes.

"That's it?" Carl again looked confused.

"We weren't used to it then," Michonne laughed.

Carl leaned into the box, sifting through the stacks of paper. "Does dad still write you these?" he asked suddenly.

"Sure does." Michonne's top drawer was brimming with them, cards, notes, postcards from places all over the country. She kept each one, hidden away. Sometimes she read them on particularly long road trips when she was missing her husband badly. Distance got easier with technology, but it never compared to Rick being beside her.

"It's like the books he sends us," Carl mused. "The ones from when he travels."

"Exactly," Michonne said. The bookshelf in the living room was sagging with the weight of nearly a hundred children's books, each secured from a different city, and some from abroad. He wrote them a little note in the inside covers.

"And these…" Carl poked at the tapes. "These are like the CDs?"

Michonne bit back a laugh. "They're tapes," she explained. "Before CDs were around, this is what we used."

"Did Dad read to you?" Carl ventured. When the kids were very little, Rick sent recordings for each book. Now, he called. Michonne had those CDs saved too, stacked on top of the shelves.

"No," Michonne opened the top one, grinning at the track list on the back that Rick had written out painstakingly in neat, symmetrical handwriting. "It's music."

She stood up, reaching for the top shelves. The boombox was covered in dust, but powered up when Michonne plugged it in. She slid the tape in, aware of Carl at her waist, waiting eagerly.

Rick's voice, younger, more eager, his accent more pronounced, piped in through the speakers, crackling slightly. "Hey Chonne! Miss you baby. I'll send you more of these if I get a chance. Love you."

"He loved you already?" Carl asked. "I thought you were kids."

"Your mom is easy to love," Rick's voice startled them both. He was in the doorway, Andre at his side, Judith under one arm, looking amused.

"I didn't know you wrote love notes," Carl teased his father at once, even as he scampered towards him eagerly. Rick hugged him, setting Judith down.

"In five years, you're going to be asking me how I did it," Rick fired right back. Andre and Carl sniggered despite this.

"Love notes?" Dre sounded shocked. He and Carl pulled the exact same face.

"They're sappy," Carl confirmed. They both burst into peals of laughter.

"Alright comedians," Rick smacked them both lightly on the top of their heads. "Pizza's on the counter. Take your sister."

They scampered off at once, shouting as they disappeared down the hallway and towards the kitchen. Michonne laughed.

"Spring cleaning got a little out of control, I see," Rick looked at their wreck of a closet, grinning lopsidedly.

"Carl had a million questions," Michonne picked her caboodle up, setting it on the bed to repack it. "We better hope he never finds some of the other notes you've written me," she tossed her husband a sly look.

Rick chuckled. "Those are just for you," he wrapped his arms around her, kissing her.

From the boombox, Aaliyah continued her ballad, crooning softly. "I love this song," Michonne said, hugging Rick.

He began to rock her in time, his hands sliding down to her waist. "Got good memories of this song," he remarked.

Michonne felt her body begin to flush, a familiar sensation. "This mixtape got played a lot while we-" she cut herself off, giggling.

Rick held her closer. "Maybe we should bring that back," he suggested. "Songs to smash to."

"Rick," she laughed harder, shaking her head. "I think the kids would notice."

"We'll play them quietly," he said. He laughed along with her. "It's a good thing Carl didn't find my stash," Rick said. "There's some honeymoon pictures in there."

"Rick-" Michonne's eyes widened.

Her husband only continued to chuckle. "I'm just kidding, Chonne. They're in the safe."

She sighed, relieved, leaning back against his shoulder. The song switched, transitioning into Babyface. "You were good at these," she complimented. "Never got the DJs voice in them or anything."

"Patience was key," Rick snorted.

"You've got that," Michonne smoothed at his hair, leaning in to kiss him soundly. On a cosmic cue, a crash echoed from the kitchen.

"Carl!" Dre yelled, shouting over Judith's sudden wailing.

Both Rick and Michonne sighed. "I got it," Rick told her. "You can finish up in here."

They untangled themselves from around one another. Michonne turned back to the closet as Rick headed for the kitchen, he paused at the door, grinning at her over his shoulder.

"Leave that tape out," he instructed. "I got plans for that later."

With a wink, he left, leaving Michonne laughing in his wake.