"Georgie?" Beth poked her head into the bedroom and saw him sitting at his desk, reading the letter. He had read it at least six times since it had arrived yesterday afternoon; as if he wanted to make sure that he didn't miss a single word typed on the page.
He didn't say anything – didn't even look at her – and Beth stepped into the room. His desk was next to the end of his bed and Beth went to sit down on the corner of it. He had already made it – one of his daily chores he had to see to – and she watched him as he read.
Her son was nine-years-old now – nine already – and he looked like his dad did; back before the meth had completely taken over and ravaged his body on the inside and out. Beth would think that her son looking like that man would bother her but it didn't. It really didn't. Without Patrick, she wouldn't have George and there had been a time – a decade ago when she was younger and so much dumber – when she had honestly loved that man.
So many things had changed since then though. She and Daryl were married now and though they had no children of their own, Daryl was George's dad in all ways that mattered. Blood wasn't necessary in making people family. She had learned that a thousand times since her life truly began almost six years ago. Daryl was George's dad and George was Daryl's son and no one could even think anything different.
There were three other Dixon Trailer Parks in the state and Daryl made a point to visit them all at least once a month. He had trailer park supervisors in place at each of them but he still liked to see them with his own eye and make sure they were keeping up to his name. As for his first – the original – Daryl had bought a bit more land and had added four more trailers as well as a permanent playground and with Ms. Mackey and Kristy taking charge, there was also a communal vegetable garden that they all helped in.
When Daryl and Beth got married three years earlier, Beth and George moved from her trailer into Daryl's and Merle moved into Beth's. Having been denied residence in the park because of his drug use years before, Albert now lived in one of the newly added trailers with Amy. They and Daryl and Beth had a standing bowling date at least twice a month. Much to Rosita's surprise – and only slightest disappointment – Mr. King wasn't in the witness protection program, she learned, when his grandson was sent to live with him. Mr. King's son was having a Hell of a time with the boy and since Mr. King was retired military, his son thought he could help.
"What the Hell is with all of these kids these days, always actin' up?" Daryl asked with a frown when Mr. King told him about it over one of their checkers games.
Kevin King wasn't a bad kid, they all learned. He just needed structure and was acting out because he didn't have it because both his mom and dad worked all of the time and Mr. King did not. Rosita and Merle both tried to get the kid to tell them what their grandpa's name was but Mr. King had already warned Kevin that they would try and Kevin was sworn to secrecy. He loved the game.
The park still had their barbecues and pool parties when the weather permitted it and birthday parties for the kids were parties where everyone was invited. Knocking on one another's doors for one thing or another or checking to see if anyone needed anything from Aldi or Wal-Mart. Daryl still chose who lived there carefully and he didn't put up with any nonsense from any of his tenants and in Orson, or in the other three parts of the state, Dixon Trailer Park was still one of the nicest places there was to live.
"Are you okay?" Beth asked once George had finished reading the letter and folded it, returning it to the envelope and then slipping it into his spiral notebook. She had asked him the same thing yesterday once they both read the letter for the first time and he had nodded then but she hadn't completely believed him.
He nodded now. "I'm glad Mr. Grimes found him," George said quietly and finally, he looked at her.
Beth gave him the smallest smile and leaned forward, putting a hand on his cheek. "Me, too," she agreed because even though she may have hated Patrick, that was years ago. She was now completely indifferent towards him. So much time had passed and it honestly felt like another life. But he was still George's father. Not his dad. That was Daryl. But Patrick was George's father in that there wouldn't be George without him.
When Daryl and Beth told George that they were getting married, George had been so excited and had asked if this meant that Daryl would really be his dad now. Until then, George had started calling Daryl "dad" but knew that it had to be made official.
"Do you remember your real dad?" Beth had asked because just as she hoped, George had forgotten a lot of their earlier life in Birmingham but sometimes, he would also surprise her with something he did remember. Like the little boy in the house next door that George sometimes played with when they were both at the playground. His name had been Lionel and their homes had been very much the same.
Theresa – still George's teacher – was having him work on his penmanship and compositions and George had written one about his first friend, Lionel. Beth had been stunned when she read it, having had no idea that George remembered him at all.
At Beth's question, George had nodded and Daryl had cleared his throat.
"Well, he's the one on your birth certificate. When you're born, your mama and dad both have their names put down so everyone knows that you belong to 'em," he explained as best as he could.
George frowned at that. "But you're my dad."
"He is," Beth replied to that instantly and she could see the slight moisture now in Daryl's eyes though he would do anything he could to hide it.
"I am," Daryl agreed, having recovered. "And 'm always gonna be. But the government likes their documents and things bein' official and they consider the guy on your birth certificate to be your dad. 's the way it is. 's bullshit but it is."
Beth hadn't even scolded him for swearing. She put her arm around George's shoulders. "As long as you always know and always remember, George, that Daryl is your dad, that's all that matters."
But after that, Beth began to wonder.
She had to wonder if Patrick was still George's dad. She had no idea if he was even still alive and if he wasn't… well… as awful as Beth felt for thinking such a thing… if Patrick wasn't alive, it wouldn't matter what George's birth certificate had listed.
Annette and Rick Grimes came to Orson and Beth met with the private investigator and explained to him what she needed. She then hired him to find Patrick.
Like it had been with her, it hadn't been an easy task and Rick had other cases as well but he worked on finding Patrick, who, somehow, had gotten himself out to California where he had fallen even deeper into his drug hole. It took Rick three years to finally present Beth with what she asked for. Pictures and proof of life – though the way Patrick looked and how he was living, that was relative.
And when the letter and pictures came, Beth, George and Daryl had all read it together and neither had wanted to show George the pictures but he had insisted.
George had been looking at them since. He didn't remember the man in the pictures. When he remembered Birmingham, there was a man there who brought him Happy Meals but then other times, would hit mama and make her cry, but that man was always so fuzzy in his mind.
"Do you think he remembers me?" George now asked Beth, turning in his desk chair to face her.
Beth wanted to tell him that of course his father remembered him but that may very well be a lie and it wouldn't be the kind of lie that would help anyone like some lies could be.
She gave him that same minute smile, hoping it would bring him some kind of comfort. "I don't know," she answered and he paused a moment and then nodded; as if that was the answer he was expecting. "I love you so much, George," she then told him – almost blurting it out – but she had to tell him that very thing in that exact moment.
George looked at her and smiled. "I love you, too, mom."
"Come here," she smiled and opened her arms and George stood up from his chair, going to her, and they hugged one another tightly. She kissed his head. "Your breakfast is getting cold," she then said.
They left his bedroom, heading down the hallway to the kitchen and living room. Daryl's trailer was exactly laid out like their old one was and once Beth and Daryl were married and she and George moved in, it made Beth so happy that their furniture all seemed to fit and blend in perfectly. She took it to be a good omen for their marriage.
Beth had fixed George fried eggs and bacon for breakfast and as he went to the table, Beth went to pour himself a cup of milk. Dog was eating his kibble from his bowl but when George sat down, the German Shepherd abandoned his food in hopes of getting some of George's.
Beth sat the cup of milk down in front of George as he dug in and she then went to get herself a cup of coffee. As always, it was a quiet morning in the trailer park. Daryl had been worried when he had expanded the park and added more trailers but he did what he always did and picked the residents carefully and the new additions fit in with the others with no issue. Beth had learned though that Daryl loved to worry about things.
"Dad's coming home tonight, right?" George asked as if he could read his mom's thoughts.
And if he actually could, Beth wouldn't necessarily be surprised.
"He is. Not until late though and no, you can't wait up for him," she said and George smiled because Beth could definitely read her son's mind.
After breakfast, George helped her clean up and he then went to go brush his teeth. She made sure he had all of his school things together and waited as he put on his shoes and then walked with him out onto the front porch, Dog walking out with them and going down the steps to walk himself. When Daryl was gone, Dog began walking himself around the park as if he was keeping an eye on things for him.
Beth and George both waved as they saw the police car turn onto the road and Officer Shane Walsh was behind the wheel, giving them a wave as he passed. Beth smiled as the police car drove to Kristy's trailer and park in front of it. And then, a moment later, Cassie came out in her own police uniform, Kristy following behind her. Cassie had graduated from the police academy just the week before – the trailer park had had such a party for her – and Shane was going to be her training partner. She was young – just twenty-one – but everyone was so happy that she seemed to find something that she loved (because there was a time when they all thought she would stay with her boyfriend and get pregnant way too young).
"Mom!" Cassie whined.
"Don't even try. It's your first day. I'm taking your picture," Kristy said while gesturing for Shane to get out of the car.
Beth laughed and then looked to George. She gave him a kiss on the head. "Have an excellent day at school. Be good for Mrs. Leesman and learn a lot."
"You have a good day, too," George smiled at her and then, with his bookbag on his back, he went down the steps and began cutting across the large field of grass to head towards the Leesman school trailer.
Beth saw that Coco was leaving her own trailer for the Leesman trailer and Kevin King was already heading that way, too. With more paperwork filed with the state, Theresa Leesman's school had only grown; so much so that one of the extra trailers was officially her school; a one-room school with enough room to teach anyone who wanted to go.
From across the field, Rosita was on her porch, watching Coco walk to school and when she and Beth saw one another, both waved.
"How are you feeling?" Beth called out to her.
"Morning sickness sucks!" Rosita shouted back and Beth laughed.
"Do you have crackers?"
"And ginger ale! I'm sick of crackers!"
Beth laughed again. She was working at Aldi today. Even if Rosita didn't want them, Beth would be sure to pick up another box of crackers. It may have been ten years since being pregnant with George, but Beth remembered it still and she would have loved if someone had been there to buy her crackers.
"Do you need me to come by tonight?" Daryl asked over the speaker phone.
"It's too late for you to come by and I'm about to go to bed," Ms. Mackey answered him. "And don't rush over tomorrow morning either."
"So, 's not important or it is? Will you take Merle if I send him over instead of me?"
From the passenger seat, Merle snorted and blew his cigarette smoke out the window.
"Send Merle," Ms. Mackey agreed. "One Dixon is as fine as the next, I suppose."
"'m not sure how, woman, but you just insulted us both," Merle spoke up. "What do you need done anyway? Daryl was jus' over there, fixin' your freezer."
"I need the piano moved closer to my window. Bridget was telling me that when Beth is over, playing it, more and more birds come and seem to sit in the trees, listening. I want to make sure they can hear the music as well as they can."
Daryl smiled a little to himself and Merle snorted again.
"So have Gary come over and move it since it's for his crazy woman's birds," Merle replied.
"One of us will be over tomorrow morning, Mrs. Mackey," Daryl promised her before the two could continue going back and forth.
"You drive safe," Ms. Mackey said before hanging up and Daryl ended the call.
He wouldn't normally have a cell phone but the state had provided him one after he took their offer of opening more trailer parks and he did admit that it did come in handy. Now, anyone living in any of his trailer parks could reach him whenever they needed something – which was a blessing and a pain in the ass, naturally, but he dealt with it.
Merle didn't come with him to every trailer park whenever Daryl made a trip to one but this time had been different. Merle had asked him if he could tag along – he needed to get out of Orson for a while – and in Merle talk, without actually saying it, Daryl knew that that meant that Merle had run into someone he used to know and Merle didn't want to be around him. He was still clean but Daryl knew that his older brother worked hard every day to stay that way. Of course Merle could come with him.
Hopefully, the two days away had helped Merle because Daryl couldn't stay away from home for more than two days. He always missed his home and the first trailer park and he ached for Beth and George and being home with them again.
Beth told him – more than once – that if he had to stay away for longer, he could. She and George would be perfectly safe and Daryl knew that but that wasn't why he didn't like staying away. He just loved behind home too much and he just loved being his wife and son. He didn't see anything wrong with that.
Together for five years now and married for three, Daryl couldn't imagine himself not wanting to hurry home if Beth – with George – was the one waiting at home for him.
Beth and him had had a talk – more than once – about maybe having another baby but Daryl had to be honest. He loved George so much – no matter what anyone said about him being his son or not – and he just thought George was the best kid they could have. True? Probably not but Daryl liked their family of three. There was something else, too.
Things that had happened in his life – things that had drawn him to Beth and George in the first place – were in his past and he had left them there for the most part. But, deep down, the idea of having his own kid with Beth scared the shit out of him because even if he had never seen it himself, maybe there was some of his old man buried deep somewhere and having his own kid, it would rear its ugly head.
No. He loved George as much as if George had his own flesh and blood and he and Beth were all Daryl needed. Beth asked – not as much as she used to – and his answer never changed.
"Do you want another baby?" Daryl asked her because if Beth did, they'd have to figure something out.
"I know it would be completely different with you but honestly…" she took a deep breath. "I would be too scared. Those years with George in Birmingham… no," she shook her head. "I love it being just the three of us."
Beth had things too that were in her past, too, but hers were fresher and still could be in the forefront of her mind if she wasn't careful. Daryl worried that he wasn't helping her – not like she helped him get over his own shit and move on with his life – but he knew that Beth was a thousand times stronger than she ever liked to give herself credit for. Anyone who did what she did, walking all of that way, knowing she had to walk away, was as strong as a person could be. But still, Daryl wanted to help her and not have her think that she had to do this all on her own. He was her husband and they both had their pasts and they didn't have to deal with anything on their own anymore.
"Disgustin'," Merle muttered but he did so with a grin.
Daryl looked ahead and began to smile, too.
It was late – late enough where she should be in bed and Daryl would be sure to tell her that – but Beth was still awake, sitting on the steps of their front porch just as she always was when she knew that Daryl was coming home. He loved pulling into the trailer park and always seeing Beth there; always right there.
He parked the truck next to their trailer and as Merle got out, Beth came down the steps to meet Daryl halfway. Without a word, she came to him and standing on her toes, she slipped her arms around his shoulders. Daryl's own arms went around her waist and hugged her tight.
"Missed you," he murmured in her ear.
"I always miss you when you're away," Beth whispered back and his arms squeezed around her.
"Lucky for me then that I always come home."
She laughed a little, pulling her head back to look at him. "Don't you mean that I'm the lucky one that you always come home?"
Daryl was still smiling a little and he lifted a hand to her face, his thumb swiping across her cheek. He leaned in and gave her the softest kiss. "Nah, Beth. 'm the lucky one."
(I wanted to do something a little different with Beth and Daryl not having another child and Daryl not adopting George. I always do those things in my stories and I wanted something else for this one.)