Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 54: Slices of Life
~Author’s Note: I want to thank everyone for being so patient over this long wait for this chapter. This one is a lot of fluff and innocence, getting Beth and Daryl in a comfortable place. It really is mostly a light chapter where the last few have been so heavy. I hope you enjoy.~
Eyes on the road, Dixon.
Not that it mattered. The old country highway never saw much traffic to begin with. Now it was deserted, the faded blacktop curving and winding through dense woods hemming in on each side and meandering up and over rolling hills and dips. He’d driven these roads so many times in his life before that he didn’t even need to see to steer...knew where he was goin’, but he paid attention anyway, feeling an intense responsibility to safeguard her...the girl sitting across the ripped up bench seat pressed against the door. He couldn’t say he wasn’t enjoying the unseasonably warm day,arm slung over the rolled down window soaking up the warmth, but Beth was radiant in its glory. Wind whipped blonde locks blown every which way...in the cab, sucked out the window, all around her face like a whirlwind of spun gold, pale fingers gripping around the window sill,face turned up to the sun. Daryl knew she wasn’t sitting far away from him in the old beater truck because she didn’t want to be by him but because she needed the light...the warmth...the sun...she needed it like air.
But he could see out of the corner of his eye when she reached across the distance seeking his hand. Daryl gladly gave up his own hold on the sun to take the wheel and grasps her delicate fingers. What a difference...remembering the last car ride. There’d been no sun...no moon either. Not just darkness, but a ferocious storm...ominous. He’d held Beth...beaten, sick, and broken...in his arms as gently as he could...what he thought would be their last embrace, sure she was going to die and take his soul...his heart...the best part of him with her...the sky split with lightening, the earth quaking with thunder. Now an open road, his girl, an old truck that was good enough to get them where they needed to go and back again, life was good...amazing where life led them. And there was something comforting about this drive. They weren’t runnin’ scared, weren’t desperately tryin’ to find somewhere safe just for a little while; they weren’t lost and hoping for a miracle. They had their home, or what they were both working so very hard to make theirs, just out for the day like normal people, knowing they would go back...knowing that’s where they were gonna lay their heads every night as long as they could.
The last few days had been the same...sunny warmth...false summer shining down on them, heralding the end of fall like it so often did in Georgia. The last few days had been an awakening...
It wasn’t the weight of the world Daryl was bearing anymore, it was Beth on top of him where they’d crashed and fallen asleep on the lumpy couch that had once been overstuffed in its day...a day that had come and gone long before it came into the Dixon homestead. It was a weight he didn’t even feel until it was gone...a constant comfort sorely missed. Wide awake the moment she left him, Daryl didn’t make a move ‘cause Beth wasn’t looking for him to be awake...the way she was sitting still and silent on the edge of the couch, could feel her watching him, making sure he was still asleep. It was easy to pretend, just keeping his eyes closed imagining Beth still sleepy, hair a messy halo where it pulled free from her ponytail falling around her face...could picture her rubbing the sand from her eyes, getting her first good look around since...
Sleeping with Beth filled a void in Daryl he never knew was there...something he never knew was missing until he experienced it, but waking up with her was still awkward. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do or say yet when she cuddled close, and sayin’ and doing nothin’ didn’t feel like enough. And it wasn’t like they were out in the open or on the move where they had somewhere to be or something to do. It was even more nerve-wrackingthis morning, not knowing what Beth was gonna think of everything in the grim light of day. Hearing Beth’s socked feet softly pad away across the floor, Daryl rolled over on his stomach, peeled his eyelids back to watch her, nostrils invaded by the musty smell of the couch.
The sun wasn’t grey or grim peeking in through the windows but bright and yellow and intense. And what Beth saw...the way she saw it...experienced it with a sense of wonder and awe, there was nothing grim about that either, a smile just for herself fixed on her face, but Daryl saw too. He would’ve sighed in relief if there wasn’t a chance she would hear, but the relief was there, a relief that built to joy, eyes following Beth on her journey. It wasn’t about what she saw, it was about what she didn’t see.
She didn’t see the half-dozen or so ashtrays littered every few steps overflowing like a graveyard of cigarette butts.
She didn’t see cheap pin-ups in plastic frames nailed to the dingy, smoke stained walls.
She didn’t see the busted up console TV older than him supporting a pyramid of empty beer cans.
She saw possibilities.
Ashtrays became little glass bowls that might hold trinkets he picked up for her along the way.
Frames could hold pictures of him she gathered at the garage and fought so hard to keep.
The TV...maybe that would one day display a menagerie of tiny glass animals he knew women sometimes liked to collect...at least his mom did. He wanted her to have precious and delicate things...wanted her to live in a world where the fragile and beautiful survived.
Daryl started to see this place through Beth’s eyes...with her infinite hope and optimism. He could see life...their life...a beautiful, full life.
There was no disappointment in Beth...even if he couldn’t see her face...as she explored, reaching out, picking things up, trailing her fingers through the line of dust settled on furniture dancing in the morning sun when disrupted that when cleaned would reveal their true potential. It was all so different...even in the way he was able to see it, not looking at it as scavengers...not what they could take from it but what they could make of it.
And then there was a closed door at the end of the open space that served as living room and dining room, a door that had been open then closed again when he swept the house looking for threats...walkers...but not looking for anything else. Not knowing what she would find there...what condition it would be in...
“That’s my room...”
It was just a matter-of-fact statement more or less to let Beth know he was awake, but he startled her. He should’ve thought better...Beth not just retracting her hand from the doorknob but going all self-conscious, turning back to him and apologizing...
Rasping voice not yet cleared of sleep must’ve made him sound possessive, even challenging her right to go wherever she wanted in this place that was their home, maybe making her feel like she didn’t belong...like she had no right when she had every right.
“No...” On his feet instantly, he crossed the room with giant strides, at her side before she could utter anymore nonsense...an unnecessary apology to begin with...words that hurt his heart, Beth caught between him and the door. “I mean, that was my room. It’s our room now...if that’s what you want...”
Daryl surprised himself in that he didn’t turn all shy at his offer and all that her acceptance would come to entail. Turning the knob and pushing the cheap panel door open, he let Beth further into his world. He held his breath for half a heart beat, waiting to see the worst, but apparently when he’d last left, he’d pulled the covers up nice and smooth, black sheets hanging out from under the unzipped camouflage sleeping bag he used as a comforter. Nothing had changed...just as he left it. The bed was still there crammed up against the wall in the little closet of a bedroom, one window near the foot, a gnarled, knotty wood chest of drawers against the bumpy beige plaster wall, and a rickety industrial nightstand with a bare-bulbed lamp beside the bed. Nothing matched, not even close.
“We can clean out my old man’s...the master bedroom...more space...bigger bed...” Daryl apologized for the sparse accommodations without actually apologizing.
“It’s like a secret alcove...cozy...” Beth observed, perching at the edge of the bed, testing it out.
Whether she heard him or not, he was gonna offer again.
“If it’s too little, we can...”
“Would you have been happy with me at the prison...slept with me in a cell?” She answered his offer with a question.
Assessing her with keen eyes from where he stood leaned up against the doorjamb just a few steps away, was he supposed to answer, or was she just trying to make a point? It was a complicated question riddled with so many ifs, but if they had ever been something at the prison, he would’ve.
Guess he got his answer too, Beth not payin’ him any attention anymore. And taking a look around himself, it wasn’t all that small...but he couldn’t keep his eyes off her long...seeing her interest now turned to a broken-spined paperback spread upside down on the night table right where he’d left it the last time he’d been reading it.
“The Great Gatsby...?” Beth kinda smiled and raised an eyebrow at him...yeah, that probably wasn’t nothin’ she expected to see on the Daryl Dixon reading list. Maybe there was even a time before she knew him better when she doubted if he could even read.
“Brought it home from school one time...never turned it back in. TV was busted ‘n all...got bored...” Feeling like he had to justify it. “‘It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning...So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past...’”
There he went with spouting off irrelevant stuff that got locked up in his mind for whatever reason...nervous...he was nervous, like Beth finding a book he’d been reading a lifetime ago was the worst thing she could ever discover about him.
“Hmmm...? Oh, is that from the story?” She stopped flipping through the pages to gaze up at him. “So, what is it about?”
“Yeah...” It was a pretty memorable line from the book, wasn’t it...the very poignant ending? Always imagined Beth being a good student...would’ve been able to recall something like that. “It’s about a guy who...”
It was about a boy who loved a girl, but he would never have been good enough in the world as it was, so he set out to become a man who was worthy of the woman he loved. So close to her, but still so far away, every night standing on end of his pier as the man he made himself, stretching out his arms...trying to span the distance and capture the green light at the end of her dock across the bay. The green light...green...Greene...was this some strange play on destiny, fate...
“...wait, didn’t you have to read this in school? It was required for us.” Thinking on how much things must’ve changed since back in the Stone Age when he graduated.
“The Seniors read it, I think...” She wasn’t sad, just remembering things how they used to be, and Daryl realized the second before she said it... “I never made it to Senior year.”
Finally bridging the distance, Daryl sat down on his bed beside her, learning one more thing about her...unraveling just a little bit more of the mystery of Beth. She never got the chance to graduate from high school. He didn’t know what to say...just knew she probably didn’t wanna be pitied; maybe it didn’t matter to her at all so there was nothing to be sorry for.
“You should read it some time since you’ll be a lady of leisure soon. It’s pretty good.” Half teasing, half hoping he could make it a reality...give Beth a calm life where she didn’t have to fight so hard.
“Hmmph...” Beth kinda giggled at the notion before the real glint of amusement caught in her eye. “Does this mean there’s a graduation picture of you somewhere, cap and gown and tassel and everything?”
“Nope!” Too quick to answer...it wasn’t the answer to the question, because that picture did exist somewhere...proud of graduating, he’d kept it buried among his things just because...but he wasn’t gonna be sharing it with Beth. “That shit ain’t never seeing the light of day.” At least not yet.
Daryl was right at home with his head under the hood. It wasn’t much to look at, the rusted heap of metal he found out back of the house, vines and ivy trying to make their claim on it. But it started up just fine after it complained and choked at the his first few attempts turning the ignition...just a little miss and rattle after hacking all the greedy green tentacles away with a dull machete that was aching to be sharpened. Time for that later though. Pulling the truck around front where he could get a good look at it...make sure it wasn’t a rolling death trap ‘cause they needed something more than the bike when they had to make a run for supplies. Grease and oil on his hands, gumming up under his fingernails and sinking deep into the cracks and lines and scars felt so much different than blood and gore...normal but new, not quite real yet, but he wanted it to be. Normal...was this what normal was?
The front screen door clacked closed, Beth emerging on the porch a captivating vision. Seeing her made him stop and take pause...she always would. She was a sight that stole his breath...his senses to think about anything except her.Laundry basket on her hip, no doubt headed to where he’d strung up a clothes line for her between two cedar trees and helped her hang the washed linens to dry, now swaying gently in the warm wind, hoping the sunshine and autumn air would infuse them with freshness...she was so natural, like this was her element, maybe not even realizing he was observing her so closely; he was supposed to be working after all. But she was lovely beyond words. Wearing an ancient blue and green plaid flannel shirt of his tied up at the waist, just a little bit of the smooth dip of her tummy peeking out from between the button-down and her jeans. Messy hair pulled up, a black bandanna wrapped around her head, attempting to contain what her ponytail failed to but wisps were still able to escape, Beth’s delicate fingers coming up to catch the stray strands and brush them back behind her ear. She caught him then...watching her...smiled all demurely, casting her gaze down, Daryl feeling like an innocent seduction was taking place. Yep...had to look away himself. Couldn’t get mesmerized by the slight sway of her hips when she started to head his direction. Trying to keep his cool, dropping the hood on the truck...that was when her arms wrapped themselvesaround his chest, Beth melting up against him, all her tempting curves and small peaks and valleys pressed to him.
“You get it fixed?” Beth breathed into his back, Daryl swearing he could feel the warmth of her words through his shirt.
“Nah...don’t need much fixin’, just a little maintenance...a little TLC like most everything ‘round here.”
Speaking of that TLC, Daryl knew that no matter how many times Beth washed the yellowed, smoke-stained curtains or beat the fraying, dust-infested rugs or scrubbed the musty bed sheets in steaming water that must’ve scorched her hands...sheets for a bed they hadn’t even slept in yet, still keeping to the couch...or fluffed the flat, lumpy pillows, they would never be fresh and clean. They could and would make this place theirs...what they deserved, but no matter how hard they tried, no matter how good she was at cleaning, some things would never be good enough.
Beth giggled when he twisted around, grabbed her by the waist and set her up on top the rusty hood, her laughter and joy giving him warmth and light. Trying...he was trying to get back to that place he finally started accepting before...he wanted it again...the simple intimacy he’d been scared out of upon their arrival here, losing his senses and almost losing everything...her. Didn’t know how to ask her for it back though, and she hadn’t been pushing. She saw his mind was all wrapped up around something, maybe didn’t realize it had everything to do with her, the glances they exchanged, sleeping with each other but Daryl avoiding the bed ‘cause he wasn’t ready for that reality...well, he was ready, just nervous and afraid of what it would eventually lead to not matter how ready he was or what he wanted. All a mess inside. Missing her kiss the most of all, hoping he could find the balance of loving her...being happy with her and not being blinded by what he was feeling so he could still protect her. His palms rested on each side of Beth’s slight but shapely hips, the peeling paint in stark contrast...reminding him that there was something softer...more beautiful that he longed to lay his hands upon...her. He wanted to touch her, smooth his rough hands over her silken skin...shivered when she touched him, lacing her fingers through his sweat-dampened hair...needed a good wash but proof of a hard afternoon’s work, and Beth didn’t seem to mind. Didn’t seem to notice he was shivering neither...maybe it was just him who felt it inside.
She pressed her lips to the top of his head...comforting, affectionate, but not at all what he needed...not at all what he craved. Lifting his face to her, Beth positively shining, caught by the sun...she had a kiss waitin’ for him, lips warm, soft, supple, tongue eager, darting in his mouth, retreating, beckoning him to take too. But all too soon, Beth pulled back, pressing her fingers to his lips that were nowhere near done kissing, looking up to her once again. A mischief twinkled in her icy blues, Beth kept him wanting...making him suffer the distance in between no doubt until she knew he was ready to give her more, leaning back on the hood propped up on her elbows.
“So, you wanna go on a run with me?” He wasn’t really asking ‘cause there was only one answer he was gonna accept from her. Wasn’t about to leave her behind.
That sure in the hell got her attention though, Beth shooting straight up. Didn’t really know what he expected from her response. They just got home. They just barely started to settle in...not even settled at that. Didn’t even have a bed with clean sheets that he was willing to put Beth in. They’d been on the run for so long, but clearly there was a big difference between a run and running...at least to Beth.
“A run...?” He could practically hear her smiling, but it wasn’t near as good as when he nodded his reply and her lips spread wide across her youthful cheeks.
“Mmm-hmm...” It was just a run...no reason to go gettin’ all excited over it, but Daryl found such joy in her happiness over something so simple. “It’s just a run...” Trying to temper her expectations.
“Nobody ever took me on a run before.”
If Daryl had a choice...someone he could trust to leave her with, he probably wouldn’t take her either, but that had nothin’ to do with her not being strong enough; she’d proved herself. It had to do with keeping her outta any sort of danger. But he didn’t have that choice and needed to get used to doing things in life like this together, with her by his side.
“About seven miles out, there’s a little spot in the road...pharmacy, grocery store, a hardware store. Thought we might check it out tomorrow. The drugs and food were probably hit pretty hard, but tools, nails, maybe some lumber...I can’t see all that being gone, and we need those things around here. Worth taking a look at least.” He went on rambling, explaining himself, but there were ulterior motives beneath his explanation too...something for her.
“You wanna take me shopping?” Beth’s smile still hadn’t faded as she teased with him.
“Pfft...it ain’t shopping. It’s a run. Probably the reason no one ever took you along before, calling it shopping...” Teasing right back.
But Daryl thought on how isolating it must’ve been for her at the prison...claustrophobic...never leaving those gates, just relying on someone else for whatever was brought back for her. And despite what he retorted, that was exactly what Daryl was doing...taking Beth shopping. The small hardware store had a home-goods section he’d passed on occasion. There was no way in hell he was gonna tell her that he thought what they had wasn’t good enough ‘cause she’d deny it just outta her nature, but if he had a chance to take her somewhere to get things he needed, and she could have a look around and saw things she wanted, there was no harm done. Had a good excuse to be there anyway. They deserved some better things if they could find ‘em, some curtains to brighten the place up, some sheets...hell, maybe even a few cans of paint to make everything seem fresh and new.
And he was just killin’ two birds with one stone...if he even needed an excuse to make himself feel better about what he wanted...
Beth might’ve been humming something...some song he didn’t know the lyrics to for a few seconds, maybe longer...maybe not at all, just the illusion of a melody playing over the primal growl of the engine and the whistle of the wind whipping ‘round the cab and through their hair. But the thing he knew was real...without a doubt...was when Beth squeezed his hand, smiling over at him. Real.
These beautiful slices of life...Daryl never knew life could taste so sweet...
“Shopping...” Beth’s wide eyes, soft, sparkling like a thousand diamonds...playing with him again.
“Stop...if you say shoppin’ one more time, I’m gonna turn this car around and head right back home.” Teasing her...living a life where teasing and laughing was possible.
But the moment caught him...Daryl silently acknowledging the magnitudeof his own words and how sayin’ home spilled so naturally from his lips. How good it felt...to have a home again, and this time it was all his...theirs.
...I say, Can you believe it?...
As we're lyin' on the couch...
The moment, I can see it...
How silly of her...glad she was just thinking the song to herself...
Yes, yes, I can see it now...
Do you remember, we were sittin', there by the water?...
You put your arm around me for the first time...
...Wondering if Daryl would Pfft at her if he heard the lyrics to the Taylor Swift tune...
You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter...
You are the best thing, that's ever been mine...
Maybe she did accidentally hum a bit, not that he noticed. But she had music in her heart.
Happy days had passed, and they were all their own, settling into their quite, domestic life although Daryl still seemed to be working through the awkwardness of normal. Normal would come easier for him as he experienced it, and she was trying really hard not to go too fast. If they went too fast, she would probably be overwhelmed too. There was no rush...they just needed to do what was right for them, both such wounded creatures finding safety and security in each other...healing...learning to live when for so long they had just been trying not to die.
But he didn’t hesitate when she stretched out her hand...willingly giving and lacing his fingers between hers...his protective embrace was always there.
“Shopping...” Beth pronounced, biting back the laughter, turning to him, Daryl glancing at her quick once, then back to the road, then again to her for a longer gaze.
“Stop...” There was a gruff playfulness in his lit as he pretended to be serious but couldn’t for anything in the world. “If you say shoppin’ one more time, I’m gonna turn this car around and head right back home.”
There was something different in his voice...something different and beautiful, a profound realization when he lingered on that word...home.
Not just relinquishing his hand, but having to pry her fingers from between their thick captors, Beth scooted closer across the bench seat right up next to him. Nudging at Daryl, snuggling her head at his shoulder, he finally got it, stifflystretching his arm behind her...rigid, barely resting on her when the whole point was that she wanted to feel him. But after a few seconds of that strained arrangement, Daryl gave up whatever reason he was fighting, just allowing his arm to drape around her...relaxed. Beth felt the tension seep out of his hard muscles, and looking up at him, contentment spread across his face.
Do you remember, we were sittin', there by the water?...
You put your arm around me for the first time...
You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter...
You are the best thing, that's ever been mine...
Flash forward, and we're takin' on the world together...
Humming again...this time out loud for sure, feeling the music in her vibrating against Daryl where her cheek rested...
Humming and thinking the lyrics to herself until the words became hers...
“You’re the best thing I ever claimed as mine.” Silly, sappy words...
But Daryl heard...and they meant something to him, drawing her closer, squeezing her arm affectionately.
Daryl let himself be claimed, and there was no one she would rather take on the world with than this man that was all hers.
“Looks like the place has been pretty cleared out of the batteries, propane, lamp oil, fire starters, but that ain’t what we’re lookin’ for anyway...”
Daryl was a man on a mission, sweeping past her where she stood stationary in the home-goods department.
“You good here? Looks like there’s a bunch of stuff we can use...nails, screws, wire, some tools...I just wanna have a quick look out back at the lumber yard, see if there’s anything left worth taking for...” He talked as he walked but stopped when he realized she wasn’t answering him. “Beth, you good here?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Was he checking to make sure she wasn’t going to break? She hadn’t felt like that in a long time, it was just... “I’m just looking...”
So much was untouched...almost pristine. Not even dusty...these things that people didn’t need to survive.
“I’m gonna go look out back at the lumber, see if they having anything we can use...build some pens, maybe catch some chickens somewhere, a pig, maybe even a horse.”
That made Beth smile, turning her attention to him and only him, not sure if he said it because it was straight out of her journal he was still carrying in his back pants pocket or not...
After the farm, we were always moving. But something happened. Something good. Finally. We found a prison. Daddy thinks that we can make it into a home. He says we can grow crops in the field, find pigs and chickens, stop running, stop scavenging...
“I’d like that...” Maybe the prison was never meant to be that place for them...but this was.
He hesitated...maybe just to be near her, but he made a point of looking at what she already had stowed in her red plastic hand basket.
“Seeds?” He mused out loud, reaching in and letting his fingers fan out the small paper packets of tomatoes and cucumbers, beans and squash, corn and lettuce...seeds that would be their future. “You think they’re still good...viable...you think they’ll grow?”
“They’ll grow.” Beth promised without having a doubt. She had faith.
Nodding back at her before heading off... “You see anything you’d like for the house, take it. Don’t see nobody waitin’ in line for it.” He threw back over his shoulder like it was an afterthought, but it wasn’t...
Beth realized what Daryl was doing for her today. Sure he was gathering supplies to make their life easier and safer, but he brought her here so she could make their home theirs. The prison was never a prison...never a cage to her, but nonetheless, once they were settled, she never left. She made her cell reflect herself as much as she could with what she was given, and for that she was grateful. The grey walls had been brightened by the drawings the children of the prison made for her. Beth even remembered that many of the things she cherished that had been brought back from the runs that weren’t useful or necessary for survival were picked up by Daryl. Funny how he was the one who had always been so focused on surviving, but in his own way, he tried to make everyone else happy and comfortable. She would never take that kindness for granted, but even her clothes hadn’t been of her choosing, just picked up by Maggie doing her best in knowing what Beth liked...but still...
Beth held the packaged curtains in her hands, staring at them for a long time...they looked like they might have been put on the shelves yesterday as untouched as they were. Cream colored country lace...yes...those were the ones. Not stark white but light enough to brighten up the living room and let the sun filter in. Then spotting the yellow and white gingham...those would be for the kitchen, sunny all on their own. The kitchen had no curtains yet; it needed love and cheer. Mama always said that the kitchen was the heart of the home.
The prison was a home...the closest thing she had to a home since they lost the farm, but this was their chance at a real home...a life together. Daryl gave her that chance. They fought for this chance. And what he was doing for her today...he got it.
Specially Select 600 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set.
Stopping at the aisle end cap, Beth contemplated the luxury that seemed sinfully expensive.
Looking at the price tag made her cringe at the expense, imaging that not many people that frequented the hardware story in this little town...it didn’t even have one stoplight...would be able to afford them. But she grabbed a light blue set anyway, unzipped the package, allowed her fingers to trail over the silky brushed cotton. Closing her eyes, still feeling the cool fabric slick under her fingertips...an image almost as sinful as the outrageous expense of these simple bed linens crept into her mind. Daryl...asleep...sprawled out on a bed they hadn’t slept in yet...hadn’t claimed as their own...naked, all his tight coiled muscle, enticing dips and bulges visible, the sky blue Egyptian cotton sheet draped low below his waist, barely concealing...
Warm and flushed...probably blushing...Beth kept the sheets in hand and took another set too because they deserved it, determined though to find something more practical like flannel sheets that would keep them warm and cozy in the coming winter. Something practical would make her feel better about her extravagance.
All clear...Daryl whistled the all clear from the other end of the small grocery store before she saw him striding back to her. All clear...her heart could stop racing, hoping at some point in her life she could be calm like Daryl. He actually allowed her to clear her own section of aisles, but that was only after he rattled the front window panes in their frames with brutal bangs from the butt of his crossbow and made them wait longer than it would take anything of the living or undead variety to trip and stumble its way up to the front.
“Nothing in the stock room, absolutely nothin’...no food or walkers. Looks like there’s plenty out here though...food, not walkers.”
He was right. There was nothing to complain about. There was plenty of food left...choices, and even if there wasn’t, Daryl could hunt and she would eventually grow a garden.
“Here, push the cart.” Beth bit back her smile, testing the domesticity of their situation, waiting for Daryl’s reaction, watching his eyes dart from her to the cart and back again.
“Ain’t no way in hell.” Daryl resisted his domestication. “You want me to carry your purse too?”
Amused by his instinctual rebuke, Beth giggled and Daryl grinned at her, flashing just a hint of his pearly whites. He was playing too.
Watching him stride away, he eventually corralled a stray cart of his own, Beth taking in the odd sight of Daryl, a cart, and his crossbow balanced in the child seat.
Torn between taking everything she saw...instinct...and only taking what they needed for now just incase someone else came through and needed it more than they did...human, in trying to decide, Beth was left contemplating what was in front of her. The shelves weren’t fully stocked, but they were clean shelves, and there was a lot of almost everything left...more than enough. More than probably any other grocery store left standing in the apocalypse. Well organized...tidy...a variety of not justcastoffs which anyone at this juncturewould have been lucky to have, but desirable food. The state of everything left Beth feeling a queer sense of unease...an eerie anxiety knotting in her tummy. Best not to think on it, Beth just grabbed what she could, wanting to be done with this outing that before she couldn’t contain her excitement over.
“Beth.” No other word was needed...no come here, no nothing...just the sharp tenor of Daryl articulating her name and Beth was at his side.
“Take what you need. Leave what you can.” Beth’s voice quavered reading the neat handwritten sign.
He knew what it said...could read with his own damned eyes, but he needed her to see it too, read it to him...make sure he saw what he saw.
Instinct was burning and fighting and clawing, trying to get him to run before they were forced to fight, but all he could do was stand there and stare at the mason jars filled with canned vegetables, jams, even meats all aligned in military straight rows. These weren’t store bought food...someone grew it on their own, wrote that sign, and left ‘em here all inviting and welcoming...and they were left recently. Not a speck of dust to be found.
“Maybe...maybe they’re good people...” Her meek little utterance didn’t bolster any confidence in Daryl.
“We ain’t gonna hang around here to find out...” Knowing you couldn’t trust in anyone but yourself anymore.
Beth knew that too, and her voice spoke that truth. If it looked like good intentions, best to assume it was a trap, and Daryl wasn’t about to get them caught up like animals...not again...not after Terminus. Letting instinct win, Daryl swung around, assessing everything, this time looking for any nook and cranny where someone who laid a trap might be hiding...watching...laying in wait for just the right opportunity...crossbow aimed at invisible phantoms that still haunted him...evils he knew were dead.
“Take what you got. We gotta go...” Trying to remain calm to keep Beth calm. Clam...he was calm. Instinct was calm. Instinct washed over him.
“Daryl...Daryl...” His name sounded very far away. “Daryl...”
His name on her lips felt more real when she touched his arm, that part of his world become clear again...
“Hmmm...?” One hand on the steering wheel, the other gripped tight around the stock of his bow resting on the seat beside him where before he’d held her hand.
“This isn’t the way home...” He could hear it...the fear of losing something they’d fought so hard to find.
She was right. It wasn’t the way home, but it would get ‘em there.
“We’re heading down to the old logging road. That’ll take us back, and we can loop around and head home.” Daryl kept glancing uneasily in the rearview mirror looking for any indication that someone could be following them. “Don’t wanna lead anyone back to where we’re laying our heads. If they saw us come and leaving in the opposite direction, we might get lucky and they’ll think we were just passing through.”
He hoped...there was always hope.
And then sometimes there were just bad decisions...or your luck ran out...or the world stopped being on your side.
The dusty gravel road dead-ended with a crudely built timber and sheet-metal gate hemmed in on each side by a wall or sturdy log poles. They must’ve heard ‘em coming a mile away, the old truck bumping and grumping down the barely passable path. Armed men on stands behind the wall...others coming outta the woods to surround ‘em...weapons weren’t raised at them, not yet, but there were too many. Daryl could try to back up, turn around, plow ‘em over...but it wouldn’t make a difference with the barrage of bullets that would rain down on them. They’d both be dead.
“Good people...maybe they’re...” Fear captured Beth beside him...her words falling away...
Please don’t break on me now, Beth...
Glancing over, she’d freed her pistol from her waistband and drew it to her lap, finger getting close to the trigger but not on it.
“It ain’t gonna do no good...” Daryl warned, not wanting to be the first to pull and aim a gun...not with this many.
They were gonna have to find another way outta this cluster fuck.