For two full weeks Daryl had been waiting to hear the words Carol just spoke to him, "it's time... I think." He had almost given up, convinced the baby was never coming out. People kept telling him not to worry, the first one is always late. And late Carol was. One more night and she would have been 15 days overdue. But she wasn't going to make one more night because she was there, standing near his side of the bed, duffle bag in hand telling him their baby was coming.
Daryl had dreamed of the moment for months, planning over and over in his mind how he would calmly get her to the truck and drive quickly but carefully to the hospital. The scene in his mind was nothing like reality as he frantically jumped out of bed and scrambled to find clothes, cursing when he put his shirt on backwards and had to turn it around. All this while Carol calmly and patiently watched.
"Oh God," she cried, clutching her stomach and leaning over as a contraction hit.
"Fuck, shit, goddammit, what can I do?" Daryl said in panic, reaching for her hand and placing his other hand on her back, rubbing small circles.
"It's almost over," Carol said, through clenched teeth. Eventually she exhaled slowly and stood up straight. "Okay, let's go."
Daryl pulled himself together and picked up the duffle she had dropped during the contraction. He flung it over his shoulder and took her arm, holding her as steady as he could while Carol slowly waddled down the hallway. They had to stop for one more contraction before making it to the truck. Daryl got her in and buckled, then ran around to the driver's side.
Finally they were off. After several months on the farm and numerous trips to town Daryl knew the area he now called home quite well. Strangely enough, they had never really had a serious conversation about money or marriage or the long term, but Daryl knew it had to happen someday. Carol continued to pay him regularly as she had during the summer, but Daryl never spent anything. He had no need to. It was all just adding up in the bank account he'd opened in town. Daryl felt guilty for taking the money, until the night he decided what he would use it for. He wanted their child, or children perhaps, to have every opportunity they could afford and that meant college. Daryl decided as long as she continued to pay him, until they had that talk one day, he would save for their children's future.
The first contraction that hit on the way to the hospital scared the shit out of him. Daryl wanted to help her, but didn't know if he should pull over or keep driving. "Just go. I'm okay," Carol told him, as Daryl started to pull over. He didn't believe her, but he knew there was never any use in arguing with her, particularly since her ankles had swollen and the waddling started. She wasn't overly moody. Most of the time she was happy to be pregnant and simply glowed. But occasionally she would snap at him, or whine about something silly. The first time it happened he laughed, which only made her more angry, which made him laugh harder. Finally Carol cracked a smile and he knew he was safe.
"Distract me," Carol grunted, taking deep breaths. "Talk about something… Oh I know, tell me why… you… want… a… girl… so… bad…" she spoke slowly as she inhaled and exhaled. "You've made it pretty… obvious… that you prefer a… baby…. girl… why?"
Daryl knew she was right, he had made it perfectly clear he wanted a daughter. He was actually quite surprised she hadn't asked about it long before then. The truth was painful and embarrassing, but this was Carol and he knew she would understand. Yet Daryl still found himself choosing his words carefully. "This might not make any sense," he started. "I know I told you I'm ready to be a dad and I promise you I am… but I'm fuckin' terrified." Carol slipped her hand into his. "What if I turn into my dad? What if it's like genetic or something?"
"That's never going to happen," Carol interrupted.
"Part of me agrees with you. But I still can't shake the feeling that I might turn out like him." Carol gently squeezed his hand. "There's one thing that helps though," Daryl added. "I have convinced myself that everything will be fine as long as we have a girl." Daryl felt her eyes on him as he watched the road ahead. "My dad beat me and Merle… boys. So if we don't have a boy… I should be fine." As soon as the words left his mouth he knew how ridiculous they sounded. Would the sex of the child really make a difference? It sounded crazy, but Daryl truly believed it would. "I just know… I would never hurt a girl."
"Well I know you would never hurt our child, male or female, but…" Carol flashed a smile at him. "I hope it's a girl too if it gives you even a little peace of mind."
"Are you scared?" Daryl asked her.
"A little. But I'm more excited to meet our baby. And to see my feet again," she said with a cute giggle.
"I love you," Daryl said sincerely.
"Love you… oh fuck…" Carol groaned as another contraction arrived. "They are getting worse," she moaned, taking deep breaths.
"Almost there," Daryl replied, speeding up. He was worried they waited too long. The contractions were getting stronger and much closer together.
"Um Daryl," Carol said, her voice shaky. "I think my water just broke."
Daryl hit the gas even harder and drove as fast as he dared right to the emergency room entrance. He bolted inside looking for a wheelchair. "Can I help you?" the triage nurse asked, likely seeing the panicked look on his face.
"My wife, her water just broke…" Daryl said breathless. "I need a wheelchair." He didn't realize until the nurse took off for a wheelchair what he'd just said. He had never referred to Carol as his wife before – it just came out. He blushed, glad that Carol hadn't heard him.
"Your husband here looks like he needs a wheelchair as much as you do," the nurse said, as she wheeled Carol inside. Daryl noticed that she made no attempt to correct the nurse, just gave him a look and an encouraging smile.
In no time they were in the birthing suite with 2 nurses helping Carol get changed into a gown and into bed. As soon as she was settled a nurse took a peek. "Oh wow, page the Doctor STAT," she said to the second nurse. "The baby is crowning. It's coming fast…"
Daryl started to panic as the nurse took off. "What does that mean?" he asked frantically. "Is crowning bad? Is she gonna be okay? Is the baby gonna be okay?"
"Daryl," Carol said, reaching out a hand. "Come here. It's fine. Crowning just means the baby's head is showing and it's ready to come out."
"Oh," he mumbled feeling foolish. He took Carol's hand and talked her through the next contraction. They were coming so much quicker, it seemed like she was in constant pain. Daryl hated seeing her hurting.
"I need to push," Carol whined. "I really need to push."
"Not yet Sweetie," the nurse said, patting her leg soothingly. "The doctor will be here soon and you're almost ready."
"But I want it out," Carol hissed, her eyes flashing with anger. Daryl tried really, really hard, but the snort still escaped. "Did you just laugh at me?" Carol asked, her laser eyes boring into him.
"I'm sorry," he shrugged. "But you have no idea how funny you look when you're mad."
"I hate you right now," she said weakly.
"No you don't," Daryl said, kissing her sweaty forehead.
The doctor arrived and the next 20 minutes were a complete blur. The only thing Daryl remembered was a lot of grunting, Carol almost breaking his fingers as she squeezed his hand, and the doctor all of a sudden holding a baby. "Congratulations mommy and daddy, you have a beautiful little girl." That was the moment Daryl heard his daughter's first cries. He looked at Carol and they both started to cry as the nurse wrapped the baby and placed her on Carol's chest.
Daryl couldn't speak. All he could do was stare at the gooey little bundle in Carol's arms. She was perfect – his beautiful little angel. The second she was in her mother's arms the baby quieted. Daryl reached out a shaky hand and touched her tiny fingers. They were so little. Perfect little porcelain doll fingers.
"We need to take her for a few minutes," the nurse said gently. Carol nodded, but looked sad the second the nurse lifted the baby off her.
Daryl felt dizzy watching them furiously work, clamping and cutting the cord, taking the baby to the scales, clearing out her nose and mouth and cleaning her body. They put a tiny diaper on and a little gown, swaddled her up in a blanket and brought her back to Carol.
"She's probably hungry," the nurse said. "Breast or bottle?" They had decided to bottle feed because Carol didn't want breastfeeding to interrupt her work on the farm. Daryl told her he would do what needed to be done if she wanted to breastfeed, but he left it up to her and she chose bottle feeding.
"Bottle," they said in unison. The nurse returned with a tiny bottle of formula. Carol looked at him and lifted the baby in his direction.
Daryl froze. He was suddenly terrified to hold his baby for the first time. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Carol nodded, "I have to deliver the placenta soon. You feed her."
Daryl took the baby. She was so light, much lighter than he was expecting. He decided to sit down, just to be safe and the nurse brought him the bottle. Daryl was amazed when he put it up to the baby's mouth and she immediately latched on, sucking hungrily. "She has my appetite," he said, looking over at Carol. Part way through the nurse showed him how to burp her. Daryl couldn't believe how comfortable he felt holding a tiny baby in a matter of minutes. It had to be because it was his child. Somehow it was easy because it was his.
While Daryl fed their daughter Carol finished the birthing process and finally the three of them were alone. Daryl stood and carried the sleeping bundle over to her mama. He placed her back into Carol's arms and they stared at her together. "We never decided on a name," Carol said softly.
"I did," Daryl replied. "I mean, if you like it," he added.
Carol looked up at him with a smile, "what is it?"
"Sophia," he said, looking at the baby and thinking it suited her perfectly.
"It's beautiful," Carol said, tears welling up in her eyes. "Hi Sophia," she cooed softly to their perfect little girl. "Why did you pick it?" Carol asked him.
"It was Cal's mother's name," Daryl replied, not tearing his eyes from Sophia.
"I didn't even know that," Carol said with a tiny frown.
"He told me about his family a few weeks ago," Daryl explained. "She died when he was born. I just thought… You know he's been more of a dad to me than my own father… It just seemed right to, uh, thank him I guess, by naming the baby after his Mama."
"You're a pretty special guy, you know that?" Carol said, pulling him in for a kiss.
"Oh man, get a room would ya?" an obnoxious voice said, interrupting their tender moment. Daryl couldn't help but smile as his brother walked in.
"How did you know?" Carol asked, surprised to see him there.
"Theresa called me a few hours ago, left immediately," Merle shrugged.
"But how did she…" Carol mumbled looking at Daryl for explanation.
Merle answered, "she said she's seen enough women in labour to know you were having a baby tonight." He moved closer. "Now where is my niece or nephew?"
"Niece," Daryl said. "Sophia."
"Sophia," Merle repeated as Carol handed him the baby. "You are a stunner aren't you?" he cooed to her. Daryl had never heard him use that tone of voice before. "Hi beautiful, I'm your Uncle Merle. I'm gonna teach you all kinds of stuff… How to beat up boys, ride a motorcycle, hunt deer…"
Carol looked over at Daryl and they shared a smile. His whole family was together in one room and Daryl was happy. He had the most beautiful woman in the world smiling at him. He had a brother who never ceased to surprise him. And he had an angel from God who had already stolen his heart.
Merle held Sophia for a long time, before finally giving her back to Carol. "I'm gonna stick around for a few days, help out on the farm while you guys get settled. But I am not going near any of those equine beasts," he warned. "I'll shovel cow shit before I'll touch a horse again."
"Thank you," Carol said. "You can be a pretty sweet guy sometimes."
"Yeah, well don't get used to it," he said, pecking her cheek. "I'm really just here for the food. I already requested fried chicken when Theresa called." Merle looked at Daryl, "hallway, now." Daryl gave Carol a shrug and followed Merle into the hall. "Here," he said, shoving something into Daryl's hand. "It was mom's. Bout time you man up and make it official don't ya think?" Daryl opened his hand and saw his mom's engagement ring there. He knew it had been passed down through several generations. There was no way their old man would spend money on such a gorgeous ring. "Can't have my niece growing up a bastard, now can I?"
The entire evening had been incredibly emotional and Daryl couldn't help choking up yet again. Merle had a good heart and Daryl knew he loved him. He had a lot of faults, but when he did something like this it made you forget all about them. "Thank you," Daryl said, hugging his big brother.
"Okay, go," Merle gave him a shove. "I'm going to see what leftovers I can find before bed."
"Don't touch the cheesecake," Daryl called after him. He watched Merle walking down the hall and shook his head when he saw him stop to flirt with the nurses at the desk. He opened his hand and stared at the ring. Guess now is as good a time as any, he thought, closing his hand and walking back into the room.
"What was that about?" Carol asked curiously.
Daryl didn't speak, until he had walked to the side of the bed, took her hand and dropped to his knee. Carol gasped. He opened his hand and showed her the ring. "It was my moms and now I want my wife to wear it." Daryl was nervous. He wanted to say all the right words and not fuck it up because he knew it was a moment she would remember forever. "I love you Carol. You've taught me so much and you make me a better man. I want to give Sophia a real family. I want to give her what I never had." The words were coming easier than he expected they would and Carol was crying. He hoped they were good tears. "Will you marry me?"
Daryl held out the ring and waited for her reply. Carol looked down at Sophia and smiled. "What do you think Soph? Do you want your mommy to marry your daddy?" She kissed the sleeping baby and looked at Daryl. "Of course I'll marry you," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. Carol held out her left hand and Daryl pushed the ring on her finger. It was a bit too small to go all the way down. "Give me a couple weeks," Carol laughed. "Once the swelling goes down it'll fit." She pulled her hand in to admire the ring, sitting just past her knuckle. "It's beautiful… I love it."
"Merle brought it," Daryl said, standing up. He had to be honest with her. "That's what he wanted me for in the hallway." He blushed. "I would have asked you… on my own… later…"
"Hey, stop," Carol reached for him. "I think that makes it even sweeter." She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
"You need some rest," Daryl said. "Go to sleep. You did an amazing job today." He kissed her gently. "I love you."
"I love you too," Carol sighed sleepily. She closed her eyes and was asleep almost instantly.
Daryl had no idea how long he stood there staring at the two most beautiful women in the world. He couldn't believe they belonged to him. Daryl thought back to how it all began….
I went to work for her that summer
A teenage kid so far from home
She was a lonely widow woman
Hell-bent to make it on her own
We were a thousand miles from nowhere
Wheat fields as far as I could see
Both needing something from each other
Not knowing yet what that might be
But Daryl knew now. All they needed… all they had ever needed… was each other.
~ The End ~