What Happens When The Stars Go Out
They slip through the back door to the bar. Daryl seems unsure of himself, but she laughs and waves him forward.
“It's just me, Wilson, and Marla here. Come in, it's okay.” She says.
The building smells of old wood and books, with a hint of spilled beer. It is comforting in some ways. Daryl can hear music playing in the main room, although much quieter than the band from the previous night.
“Ali?” A man's voice calls out from a small nearby room.
“Yeah Wilson, it's me.”
She leans against the doorway to the small makeshift office. Wilson gives her a questioning glance up from his paperwork.
“Our good samaritan is here.” She says wryly.
“Well. Offer him the staff booth. Beers on the house.” He says, pushing his glasses back up and turning back to the computer. She backs out of the doorway and into the hall, looking up at Daryl with a look that makes his ears and face feel hot.
“Your booth is open.” Ali says. “C’mon.”
He blinks at her, confused, but she turns and leads him through the dark hall into the main room. She gestures to the booth he occupied the previous night, the one the staff uses for breaks, but they seat patrons there during shows.
Daryl takes a seat, and watches the way she moves effortlessly between tables, readying the bar for the evening. She is still reserved, but much less so, and she doesn't seem afraid anymore. Grabbing two beers, she joins him at the booth. He observes the way she arranges her phone, cigarettes, lighter, and beer just so.
“He let you drink on your shift?” He asks.
“Well, no. This is my pre-work ritual. At this very booth too. There isn't a show tonight, so it's gonna be slow.”
He nods and takes a long drink from the cold glass bottle.
“What are you doing here Daryl?” She asks, narrowing her eyes.
He looks at her a moment, then down at his hands. Before he can answer, the red headed waitress, Marla, pushes in the booth beside Ali.
“Well, well, ain't this cute.” She says, taking Ali's cigarette from her trembling fingers. She takes a long drag and replaces it, looking expectantly between Ali and Daryl.
“This is Daryl. Wilson said he was… around last night, after work. Ready to step in.” Ali mutters.
He looks at her, noticing the nervous way she arranges and rearranges her things on the table..
“Uh huh…” Marla’s face falls, and she doesn't press further. “Yeah I know who he is. Got to know his brother last night too. He's a real piece of work.” She rolls her eyes, and purses her lips with disdain.
“My brother's a dick.” He says, eyes glued to the sweating beer in front of him.
Ali clears her throat to break the tension. “We gotta open the doors, it's about that time.”
Marla slides out and saunters over to the door, letting in the few patrons who had been waiting to be let in.
“You gonna hang out a while?” Ali asks.
He nods, and smiles just slightly. And she feels something she hasn't felt in a very long time.
She fetches beer, she pours shots, she wipes spills, and he watches.
After a while, Marla catches her attention and she joins her behind the bar. The speak with hushed voices, occasionally covering their mouths with the black notepads they use to write down longer orders.
“Look honey, Donnie is in jail, where he belongs.” Marla’s drawls in her heavy southern accent. “Wilson called the law on him for puttin’ his hands on you last night. That was a violation of his probation and the protection order you got against him.”
Ali looks at the sticky floor, suddenly interested in the beer she sloshed recently.
“Look at that man in that booth over there. He ain't here ‘cause he likes the atmosphere, that's for damn sure.”
Daryl sits, oblivious to their conversation. He smokes and reads an ancient copy of Fahrenheit 451. Ali stares at him a moment, really seeing him for the first time. His hands are strong, and scarred, and he smokes with the skill of someone who had come of age doing so. She finds herself wondering what he's thinking. But his face is unreadable. He guards his emotions well.
“You at least gotta let him fuck you.” Marla blurts out.
“Jesus Marla!” Ali hisses, frantically looking for any indication he, or anyone has heard them.
“What? He ain't no selfish lover, I can tell just by lookin’ at him. You deserve to be fucked by someone who's gonna take care of you for once.”
“Go on. Get outta here. It's slow as fuck.”
“Are you sure?” Ali questions.
“On one condition, you'll take him and at least give yourself a chance to get to know someone other than that shitstain Donnie.”
Ali nods, stashing her notepad under the register. She glides out from behind the bar and, taking a deep breath in attempt to quell her pounding heart, she approaches him.
Sliding in the booth across from him, he looks up from his book at her.
“Alright Daryl. Can you get me out of Roswell for a while?” She says, folding her hands on the table in front of her, and leaning in a bit closer to him.
He closes his book, stubs out his cigarette, and finishes his beer in one swallow.
“Where you wanna go?” He asks.
“Anywhere.” Her voice is barely above a whisper, and he finds himself glancing around. As though her words were an illicit request, only meant for him.
“C’mon.” He stands and crams the old paperback in his back pocket, before leading her out the front door.
They approach his old pickup, and he opens her door for her, holding it until she's inside, then closing it gently.
She smiles as he walks around the front to his own door.
He starts the truck and confidently pulls out of the lot. She doesn't ask where they're going. But she steals glances at him as he drives, imagining she is his, and he is taking her somewhere special to him. Somewhere they can be alone.
“Ain't got any music in here.” He says, pulling her from her thoughts.
His elbow rests on the open window, and his hand causally taps the top of the door. She smiles, and he aches when he sees it.
“We don't need it. I like the quiet.” She breathes.
They drive for fifteen minutes or so, before pulling into a gravel lot. He gets out and opens her door, giving her a hand down out of the truck. His hand lingers in hers a moment too long, before he remembers it has no place there, and he tucks it in his pocket.
Leading her through a small break in the trees, they come upon a stone courtyard with a large fire pit in the middle, and the Chattahoochee River just beyond it. He leads her down to the river, where a couple of benches sit, almost out of place, on the bank.
She takes a seat on a bench a bit closer to the edge, and he sits down beside her. Looking out at the water, the moon reflecting off of the gentle ripples, the river sparkles and dances before her eyes. Crickets chirp and frogs call out into the darkness.
“My mind… is chaos. But this...” She has never had someone know exactly what she needs, and deliver. Words elude her.
“It's been a while since I been here. Guess I just needed a reason to come back.”
“Are you from around here?” She asks.
“I'm from the mountains further north. Closer to where Georgia meets North Carolina.” He pauses a moment, then continues. “What about you?”
“I wouldn'tve pegged you for a city girl.” He breathes a short laugh.
“Yeah, ‘cause I'm not. I moved around a lot as a kid. Somehow I ended up in Roswell.”
“Where'd you meet him?” His face falls, and she doesn't ask him to clarify.
Looking down, picking at her nails, she knows who he's talking about.
“Atlanta. We've been off and on a while.”
“What’re you now?” He asks, cautiously.
“Off.” She turns to look at him. The glow from the moon on the water reflects her skin, making it look almost silvery against her coal black hair. She reaches up to tuck a loose strand behind her ear, and she looks down with a nervous laugh. Ali is quiet a moment, before looking back up at him with a watery smile.
“Think it'll stay that way?”
She nods, imagining he is hers, and in her mind, he leans over and kisses her in the way she needs to be kissed.
They sit quietly a while, before the conversation seems to flow naturally. They sit and talk until she is cold and her teeth chatter. They sit until they are so uncomfortable in the cool night air they are forced to leave. He hands her the warm flannel shirt he wears, and they walk side by side back to the truck.
It is late. But she doesn't care. She's got nowhere to be.
He drives home, and they are quiet and contemplative. Daryl is a careful driver, and the ease in which the ancient truck glides through the night impresses her. She mentally scolds herself for feeling impressed. She scolds herself for feeling any kind of way about him.
“I live in the apartment complex behind the bar.” She says quietly. “In the D building.”
“Alright.” He nods, lighting a cigarette, and passing it to her.
This is the closest she's been to being on a date for years. And even though she feels wrong, like she's hurting Donnie in some way, she loves the attention and subtle affection Daryl gives her. He looks at her when she talks. He cares what she has to say.
She stops herself.
“He's just being a good person. He saw a girl in trouble, and now he's just following through to make sure I'm okay. That's it.” She thinks.
He pulls into the complex, and into a spot in front of her building.
“Daryl, thank you. I think I just needed to get out a while, to clear my head.”
“Anytime.” He says.
She remembers his shirt, and as she slips her arms out of it, he stops her.
“Keep it.” He says, and she nods, smiling nervously at the ground.
“You gonna be around tomorrow?” She asks.
She gets out of the truck, offering a sad smile. “Well, I hope to see you around.” Closing the door, she looks back through the window.
“Oh, and Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite novels. ‘So few want to be rebels anymore,’ you know.” She turns to walk up the path to her building, before looking back and raising a hand. “Drive safe.” She says, and with that, she is gone.
He opens the door to his trailer, to find his brother, Merle, passed out in the chair, in front of a staticky television. Daryl shuts it off and heads for the bathroom. He stares into the mirror and his heart pounds with anxiety and arousal.
She doesn't know how beautiful she is.
She doesn't know how perfect and worthy she is.
She doesn't know that he wishes she were his.
He turns the shower on, and for the first time in a long while, he grabs the soap and begins to stroke himself. Placing one hand on the wall for support, he imagines what it would be like to kiss her entire body, to take care of her the way she was meant to be worshiped. He comes, thinking about running his hands over her, thinking about her free from bruises, thinking about her crying out underneath him as brings her to orgasm.
His ejaculate runs down the drain, and reality sinks back in. He feels nothing but shame and anger. She isn't his. She belongs to some prick who doesn't see what he has. A monster who hurts her instead of giving her the love and care she needs.
He cleans up, and shuts off the shower.
Pulling some boxers on, he gets into bed. Part angry, and part exhausted from his unexpected release, he spirals into guilt over his masturbation.
But he is unaware that, twenty minutes away, in a small apartment in Roswell, the beautiful woman from his thoughts does the same. He doesn't know, she is thinking about him. She cries out in orgasm, alone in the darkness, wishing she felt the weight of him on top of her. Wishing she could smell his skin and kiss his lips. Wishing he were the one to share her bed and their bodies.
But the clutches of her abuser are too deep in her mind, and she is ashamed for wanting another man.
For wanting Daryl.