What Happens When The Stars Go Out
Time moves faster, because she wishes it would slow.
Hot and humid August days bring stormy September nights. They spend those nights together, feeling cared for and content in each other's company.
At the end of her shifts, Daryl is there to meet her. He gives her the gift of his time, and she is more than willing to receive it. She cooks for him and he is grateful for hot meals that weren't microwaved, or canned. On her nights off, they go to his place, and she helps him fix the small trailer up.
Their relationship is strange. It is both beautiful and heartbreaking. She smiles, she laughs, she isn't afraid. And, on the nights they sit huddled together on the futon, with her in his arms, he feels a kind of intimacy he never thought he could be afforded.
She intertwines their fingers, and he strokes her hair. He is gentle and affectionate when he touches her, and she absorbs his quiet energy, calming the stormy weather of her mind.
Their relationship is careful. Cautious. Yet the most intimate thing either of them has experienced.
But, in the back of his mind, he wonders how long it will last.
Daryl surprises her one night.
He nervously presents her with tickets to see a local metal band, at a small venue in Atlanta. She sits across him at the staff booth, feet aching, exposed skin glistening with sweat. Lighting a cigarette, she looks down at the tickets he slides across the table to her. She smiles and asks how he knew she'd be off.
"Marla." He answers with a sort of half smile.
"Alright then Daryl. Take me out." She slides her hand across the table, making contact with his. She slides her fingertips under his, and they share a sweet, simple moment.
She craves the uncomplicated feeling of being with him.
When the night arrives, he knocks on her door. It is something he has done many other nights, but this one, is different..
He is so taken with her when she opens the door, he forgets to speak. Her wavy hair has a more uniform curl to it, and her lovely face is bright, and fresh. She wears a black tank top, with a worn pair of jeans, and combat boots. Ali notices the way he looks at her, and her stomach knots with desire. She leans against the doorframe and crosses her arms.
"Well? Are we going, or not?" She smirks at him, earning herself an eye roll in return.
"You're beautiful." He says quietly, unable to look at her until after the words leave his lips.
She reaches out to touch his arm, so gently, quieting the nerves that fire electricity all through his body. Grabbing her bag from the floor, she takes her place beside him, and locks the door behind her. She links her arm in his, and they take the short walk to his truck.
Daryl opens her door and holds his hand out to help her up.
"This is a serious date, huh?" She breathes a laugh, and takes his hand.
"The most serious one you've ever been on." He responds as she steps up into the truck.
She can still feel the warmth from his hand, as he walks around the front to his door. Ali briefly rubs her palm, wondering if she'll feel it hot to the touch.
The night threatens a storm, and electricity fills the air.
Ali watches Daryl carefully as he drives. She watches his hands, and the way he smokes while effortlessly directing the wheel. She finds herself wondering what his hands would feel like exploring her body, warmth spreading from her center through her.
Diverting her mind from her awakened libido, she reaches her hand over to take his, and he glances at her briefly.
"Y'okay?" He asks.
She just nods, hoping he won't notice her flushed face.
The venue is small, hot, loud, and crowded.
People move, and push, and shove in a pulsing rhythm to the opening band. Daryl buys them beers and they take their place off to the side of the room.
She steals glances at him, watching the way he takes in the music, the crowd, the heat. They lock eyes a few times and she smiles nervously, her stomach flipping inside her. He makes her feel as though she's riding down the biggest drop, on the tallest roller coaster, excited and scared and elated. He makes her feel as though she's the only woman in the universe.
He makes her feel, bold.
When the song playing reaches its peak, she takes his hand and pulls him aside. In the darkness, to a nearby wall.
He looks at her, confused, and she stares up at him with wide eyes. The lights from the band's setup flash all around them, illuminating her skin, her hair. Her. He reaches a gentle hand up to cup her face and she closes the gap between them, pressing her lips to his.
Softly, slowly, carefully.
His senses come alive and the room fades into the background. They are the only ones there. He brushes soft, loose curls out of her face, and focuses on the taste of her. She parts her lips, deepening the kiss, and he is high on the feeling.
Ali pulls him against her and their bodies connect, sending shockwaves of electricity and light and euphoria. A kiss had never felt so perfect. So needed.
Daryl gently breaks the kiss and looks down at her, at a complete loss for words. This is the first time she has kissed him. The first time she so openly displayed her affection.
"Let's get out of here," she says. "go back to my place."
She squeezes his hand, and all he can do is nod.
As she leads him through the chaos to the door, she stops, and stiffens. He follows her gaze to a small group of people nearby, and a man catches her eye. The man subtly shakes his head, looking shocked, and somewhat angry. He stands there with his arm around a blonde woman. She takes no notice of his staring. No one else in their group seems to notice either.
But Daryl does.
"You alright?" Daryl asks, leaning close to her to be heard.
She nods weakly, and they push on to the door.
"You know them?" He asks, once outside.
"Unfortunately. Come on." Ali answers, picking up her pace.
They walk quickly back to the truck, and she barely breathes until she is inside, closed off from the world. Closed off from the prying eyes of Donnie's best friend, Gerry, and his girlfriend Lydia. She retreats so far into herself, she barely notices Daryl climbing in the truck beside her. Or the silent drive home.
She snaps back into focus, as he's turning the key to kill the engine outside of her apartment. Looking over at him, she gives him a watery smile.
He stares at her a moment, before turning his gaze forward, looking out the windshield lost in thought.
"We ain't gotta do anything physical." He says, quietly, embarrassed and wondering if she just didn't want to be seen with him.
"It isn't that." Wringing her hands, she looks down, unable to look at him. "I'm just… those people I saw, they know Donnie and..."
"Are you serious right now?" He asks, finally turning to her. "The man beats you up, and you can't stay at your own apartment when he's on a bender because you're scared. He's in jail because of the things he's done to you, and you're still worried about hurtin' him. You ain't gotta be with me, but you shouldn't be with him neither."
Ali says nothing, just continues wringing her hands and fighting the intense sadness growing inside her. This was typical. Find a good thing… No, find the best thing to happen to her in a long time, then self destruct. Drive him away. Deprive herself of any happiness. Or pleasure.
"Fuck." He says to himself, shaking his head and lighting a cigarette.
Anger boils up inside her as the sky opens up. She opens the truck door and jumps out, slamming it behind her.
"Ali!" He yells after her, opening his door and beginning to step out.
She whirls around with her middle finger raised. Her hair beginning to soak through in the torrential downpour. The rain hides the streaks of tears pouring down her face.
"Fuck you Daryl!" She yells, turning and darting up the steps to her apartment, before disappearing inside.
He returns to his place in the drivers seat, watching lights flip on through her sheer curtains.
Briefly contemplating getting out, he decides against it, and sits a moment longer.
He thinks about the way she kissed him at the show. He wanted her so badly, in every way, and in that short moment, he felt wanted too. But her abuser keeps her on a short leash, even though he's not around. He keeps her from finding love and protection, and comfort with anyone else.
By making her believe she's doing something wrong, just living.
He punches the dash so hard it leaves a dent and he splits his knuckles. Shaking his hand out, embarrassed by his own private loss of control, he starts the engine and leaves her behind.
Ali sits on her kitchen floor dripping small puddles of rain water onto the linoleum.
She stares off into the silence, hiccuping from the tears that have since subsided. A war rages in her heart, and storm clouds swirl in her mind.
Standing up, she hurries into her room and peels off her wet jeans, shirt and underwear. She opens her drawers, pulling out a loose t-shirt and another pair of jeans. But a slip of paper on the dresser gives her pause. The note, the sweet and thoughtful gesture, left for her the first night they spent together. He had listened to her stories, he had held her close to keep her from crumbling, and she had welcomed him into her heart.
She takes a shuddering breath in, and pulls on the dry clothes.
With purpose, she rushes out to her car, setting the GPS on her phone to help her find him. She'd only been to his place a handful of times, but it was easy to get to. Right now nothing is more important than getting to him.
With her mind resolved, she hits the gas, and lets the storm consume her.
The gravel driveway comes into view, and her heart pounds harder than it ever has as she parks alongside his truck. Thunder cracks and the rain is relentless, but she takes the keys from the ignition, and quietly moves up the steps to the small trailer. She knocks on the door once, then twice, and finally she hears movement heading in her direction.
The door swings open quickly, and he is there. Anger paints his beautiful features, and she wants to cower, and hide, but she knows she need not do that with him. He is not the one who hurts her, he is not the one who breaks her.
He pulls her pieces back together, and she is here to finally let him do just that.
"Hi." She says simply, through chattering teeth and shivers.
He moves aside, and she goes to him, without hesitation.
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