The sky was the kind of blue that you could only find on a beautiful spring day in Georgia. Deep denim blue, like a worn pair of jeans. Beth ran through the tall grass, hands out brushing the fuzzy tops. She flipped her blonde hair and laughed over her shoulder at Daryl as he followed behind. Something didn’t feel right though, slowing down, she glanced back again. Daryl wasn’t smiling, he wasn’t chasing after her pretending she was too fast for him to catch. He wasn’t trying to outwit her and circle around so he could wrap his arms around her and tumble them both down into the grass, his hands in her hair, her lips on his neck. No. In fact, his head was down watching his boots and his shoulders sagged as he made his way through the grass, ripping the fuzzy, golden heads off and letting them fall.
She stopped, turned away from him and bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. She knew what was coming. Her knees hit the dirt. And she smelled the sharp tang of the broken stems as she sank down into the grass and closed her eyes. She was wishing with everything in her that when she opened them this would all be a bad dream.
His footsteps came to her before he did. His shadow followed the soft rustle of grass against his jeans, falling over her where she knelt.
“Beth.” His voice was soft and filled with sadness. She never wanted to hear him say her name that way. It sounded too much like goodbye. And Beth Greene didn’t say goodbye.
“Don’t.” One word. The only one that made sense right now. She felt her chest tighten and tears ached at the back of her throat as he knelt beside her. She could get up and run, refuse to listen to whatever weak excuse he had to offer. But she couldn’t make her legs move like they needed to.
“Come on Beth, please..” His voice cracked and she felt hot tears on her cheeks. Her hands lay limp in her lap. She tried to force herself not to look at his hands, palms flat against his jeans, fingers gripping his thighs. Her hands belonged in his, they fit like a key in a lock, a piece of a puzzle, only his, only hers.
“ ‘S gotta be this way, Beth.” He wasn’t very convincing and that’s what gave her the courage to try and fight it. She reached out and grabbed his hand and yanked his arm so he would look at her.
“Why Daryl? Why's it gotta be this way?” She sounded like little girl pleading with him. And wasn’t that the problem? “You said you loved me.” The pleading turned into quiet sobs and she gave up fighting it.
“I do love ya. I love ya more than I ever loved anythin’ in my whole life, Beth. But it ain’t right.” He scrubbed at his eyes with the hand she wasn’t holding and she heard the rush of breath that was forced from his lungs as he tried to keep hold of his emotions. It wasn’t working though. His eyes glistened with tears he was trying not to let fall.
“It ain’t right to break my heart. Not if you love me.” She whispered this as she moved his hand back to his thigh and tucked her own under her knees.
“Yer sixteen years old! Fuck, Beth, I’m almost ten years older.. and ya got yer whole life ahead of ya…” Lame excuse. She’d heard it before, he’d used it more than once. Was it valid? Probably. To some degree. But try telling her heart that.
“It doesn’t matter!” She said it even though she knew it was an outright lie. It did matter. It mattered to him. It mattered a lot.
“What would yer daddy say? And Shawn-”
“Shawn’s your friend. And my daddy’s too busy watching my momma die.” She startled when he grabbed her upper arm. His grip was so tight it hurt.
“Don’t ya say that!” He didn’t try to hide his tears any longer. He looked her full in the face with those beautiful blue eyes that, for the first time in all her sixteen years, had made her believe that there was still good in her broken world.
“Go away. Leave me be.” She jerked her arm out of his grasp and wrapped her fingers around the ache left there. “Just go if that’s what you want.” She scooted away from him, brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “Go on, leave. LEAVE!” Her knees were wet with tears and her nose was running and although she didn’t look back she could feel him leaving, walking away. That was the first time she heard Daryl Dixon cry.
Sometime later when the sun had crossed the sky and headed for bed, she heard the grass rustle and for a minute there was a quickening in her heart. But the sound of her brother’s voice and a sharp pain in her chest cut that short.
“Beth? Come on home, it’s gonna be okay. You’ll see. Daryl’s a good guy, it's jus’, it can’t be like that, can’t be you and him…” Wait, what? Beth looked up at her brother's tanned face, at his white t-shirt stained with the day’s dust and she stood and faced him.
“You, you made him go, you…” Her hands were small against his chest, but she was stronger than anyone gave her credit for. Except Daryl. He knew she was strong. Never let her forget it. Always kept reminding her. So when she pushed Shawn he stumbled, didn’t quite fall, but almost. And then she was on him, yanking at his hair and scratching whatever skin she could get her hands on.
“Dammit, Beth.. stop!” He fought her enough to get her off of him, but he didn’t hurt her. Not physically. His baby sister was his responsibility to protect.
“You made him leave! I hate you! How could you? He’s, I love him and you sent him away! Let go of me!” She scratched and even bit him until he let her go and she ran away. When her legs refused to go any further she curled up in the grass that was still warm from the sun and closed her eyes. Wishing didn’t change anything. Daryl was gone.
Leaving had been the easy part. He knew that having feelings for sixteen-year-old Beth Greene wasn’t okay, not at all. But he didn’t regret loving her. That love was innocent, it had been from the first time he met her when he and Shawn became friends in the 10th grade.
But it had been changing over the years and it had changed tremendously those last few months. Shawn spent some time working out of town and Hershel was dealing with Annette and her cancer so Daryl had taken on the responsibility of the farm, helping Maggie and Beth keep things going. No one had asked him to do it, he just did. Because these people had done so much for him.
Beth needed an outlet for her sadness, watching her momma battle cancer was tearing her apart. She was right by Daryl’s side helping with everything. He was medicine for her soul as much as she was for his. That innocent love that he felt started to grow and she felt it too and although she had been ready to grab it and hold on tight, he knew that it couldn’t be. Leaving was the easy part, living was a completely different story.
He’d left and taken Merle with him. They’d headed to northern Colorado and worked on an oil rig for a while. They met a guy from California and ended up going out there. Daryl got in at a motorcycle shop and found out he was really good with bikes. Merle, of course, got into some trouble and it turned out that he had violated his parole by leaving Georgia, something he conveniently forgot to tell his little brother. He got shipped back to Reidsville to do time in Georgia State Prison, but Daryl stayed in California. He didn’t dwell on the fact that the little beach town reminded him of Beth or that the ocean was sometimes the color of her eyes. He took classes at a trade school and moved forward with his career.
He’d cut off all contact with Shawn when he left. He didn’t want to know what was going on with the family or hear anything about Beth. It was just better that way. At least that’s what he told himself. He told himself a lot of things that were absolute bullshit.
But Beth never left his head or heart. One night after drinking too much he ended up in a tattoo shop and walked out with Beth’s name tattooed on the inside of his bicep. A tiny little script tattoo. Not a reminder, he didn’t need that. So many things reminded him of her and those memories never stopped hurting. He took it as his penance. Afterall he had hurt her too.
It’s been nine years since Daryl Dixon crossed the Georgia state line and if he’s being honest with himself he knew when he left it wasn’t gonna be forever, even though that’s what he told himself.
He’s back. Merle’s getting out of prison and they have loose ends to tie up with their father’s property and it’s not a motel he checks into when he gets there. It’s an apartment. His apartment, with a lease. He even has a job lined up. Because it was bullshit to think he’d go the rest of his life just carrying her around in his heart.
What he didn’t know is while he was out there not really living she was back here fighting just to stay alive.
Daryl runs into Rick at the little grocery store in town and Rick smiles when he sees him. Oddly enough they'd become friends. Although in the beginning, Rick spent a lot of time busting Merle or helping the Deputy Sheriff at the time bust, Merle. Daryl respects Rick, always has.
“Hey man, you're back,” Rick shakes his hand and he can see the difference that nine years have made. Just like him, Rick has a few lines on his face and some grey in his 5 o'clock shadow.
“Merle’s gettin’ out and we got to take care of my dad’s property.” Daryl glances at the items in Rick’s cart and notices diapers. But Rick’s saying something and Daryl turns his attention back to him.
“So you aren’t here for Shawn’s funeral?” Daryl just stares at him, all the breath gone from his lungs, pushed out by the shock of what Rick said.
“I didn’ know, didn’ hear..” Of course, he didn't because he cut off all ties he had with this place.
“He was in a car accident, hit and killed by a drunk driver. It's been pretty tough on the Greene family, losing Annette and then Beth-”
“Beth? What the hell, what happened ta Beth, where..” He feels like the ground’s been pulled out from underneath him. Rick must have seen something on his face because he has his hand on Daryl's arm, holding on to him.
“She tried to kill herself, not long after Annette passed, a couple months before the end of her senior year. Daryl, you haven't talked to anyone since you left?” Rick asks him. Shaking his head, he tries to steady his heartbeat.
“When, when did Annette die?” But he already knows, he's pretty sure he already knows where this is all going.
“A couple months after you left.”
Fuck. That summer. He left her and then her momma died and she wasn’t okay. That guilt has always been there, but he felt like it was just because he wished he could've stayed, could've loved her like he wanted. This guilt is a whole different kind of monster. If he'd stayed, if he’d been there when her momma passed, maybe.
“When's the funeral?” He’s here now and it's probably too late cause he’s sure she must hate him, but he’s gonna try. Exactly what he isn't sure yet. He just knows he came back and it has more to do with her than anything else.
Maggie’s waiting for her at the airport and Beth has no idea how her sister managed to get them to let her through security without a ticket to meet her at the gate, but she’s there and Beth drops her carry on to fall into the circle of her sister’s arms.
“Bethy..” Maggie is holding on so tight Beth can barely breathe, but it’s okay. It’s good.
“Mags.. I’m so glad I’m home. I’m never leaving again.” They’re both crying and holding on as if one or the other will disappear if they let go.
Life has a way of going on, even when it seems impossible. Beth eventually picked herself up and made her way back to the farmhouse that night. And life did go on, in the only way it could. But it hasn't been easy and sometimes it felt like it was downright mean. It's been a fight since she walked up the steps that night after Daryl left.
Annette Greene battled cancer for a couple of years before cancer came out the victor. She left this world surrounded by her family in the farmhouse where she’d lived with the man she loved and the children that meant everything to her. It was a soft, summer night. Crickets and frogs made music outside the windows, candles flickered on the bedside tables. Annette told them she was going to sleep and that they were going be okay without her. Beth crawled up on the bed beside her momma. She didn’t protest, never said a word, just laid there with her head on her momma’s chest until all the breath and heartbeats were gone. It was Maggie that coaxed her off of the bed and out into the barn before the coroner came to take Annette’s body away.
Beth spent the rest of the summer anywhere but in the house. She rode her horse Nellie or sat by the pond watching the ducks. She walked miles through the woods surrounding the property and read books in the loft of the barn. And only when the sun was good and gone did she make her way into the house, to her bedroom, and into bed. Only to do the same thing the next day.
She barely spoke, hardly ate, and had Maggie and Shawn up in arms at what to do with their little sister. Hershel took to drinking again and like Beth, he escaped as much as he possibly could. Maggie moved back home permanently and she and Shawn made sure the farm continued to function.
One day, as summer was dwindling away into what seemed to be an early autumn, Beth just came back. That’s how it felt at least. She’d been gone, somewhere even she didn’t know, and then she was back. She was still sad. But she finally cried for her momma and she’d let Maggie take her to the tree that her momma had been laid to rest underneath. And then she cried some more.
Slowly but surely life started to fall into place. Hershel was still struggling, but he started working again, taking care of the things that needed to be done. He did it side by side with Shawn and Maggie. And if anyone noticed that Beth avoided Shawn at all costs, they didn’t say a word about it. Somehow she’d gotten it into her head that when Shawn made Daryl leave, he made her momma leave too. Which was ridiculous because Annette was Shawn’s momma too and why on earth would he ever want her to go away? Beth didn’t have an answer to that and she couldn’t fathom why her momma would leave her. But this was what her broken heart whispered to her. And she believed it.
There were warning signs. But nobody saw them. They were trying to rebuild a life. Nobody talked about momma and not a word was said about Daryl. All they knew was Beth was back, a little different, but that was good enough for them. They should’ve looked closer, should’ve taken a good, hard, look. Beth was back, but she was broken and they didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.
Beth jumps out of the car and she’s halfway up the porch steps when her Daddy comes out the screen door in time to catch his youngest daughter in his arms.
“I’m sorry daddy, I’m sorry I left and didn’t come back. I’m home. I’m staying, I’m..” She muffles her sobs in his chest and he smells like home and the guilt she’s been carrying all these years doubles.
“It’s okay Bethy. It’s okay. We’re gonna get through this. Together this time.” Beth feels Maggie's arms around her too and it helps. But it’s not enough to make up for it everything. For what she did to Shawn, for the ache of losing Daryl and then her momma, for the thin pink scar on her wrist that she hides with pretty beads. And for trying to run away from all of it. She wasn’t fast enough or maybe it just isn’t possible. But she isn’t running anymore. Daryl said she was strong, kept reminding her that she was. She forgot that for a long time. It’s time to remember.
The day she broke the mirror in the bathroom seems like a story someone told her, a story that lacks a lot of the details. Now she's standing on the threshold of that tiny room and it’s like looking into another person's memory.
She’d put her suitcase on the bed intending to unpack, but the door to this part of her life was open just a bit and it called to her and so she went.
The mirror was a big circle, like a sun and it broke into hundreds of pieces when she hit it with her fist.
Now there’s a small, square mirror framed in black hanging on the wall.
There was blood everywhere, even on the walls.
But the soft blue paint isn’t stained, shows no trace of what happened then.
Even as the glass had drawn a red line across her wrist she knew she didn’t really want to die. She just wanted to feel something else, something bigger. Something that would fill up the emptiness, make the sadness go away. But not her. Never her.
It comes back to her now how she whispered that over and over to Maggie as the paramedics lifted her onto the gurney.
‘I don’t wanna die, Mags, I’m sorry, I don’t wanna die.’
And she hadn’t died. She’d lived and she’d left as soon as they let their hold on her go. Her family had orbited around her like little planets and she’d tried to be the sun, but she couldn’t anymore and she just needed to leave. The doctors reassured her family that this was another step, a big step in healing. So with a suitcase and her guitar, she rode the train to Atlanta and never looked back.
Beth spent four years at GSU and two years with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She shared an apartment with other musicians and had a job and managed to leave her little hometown and make a life for herself after everything that had happened. But leaving and living isn’t synonymous. She realized she had, had a life. It was in another place and time and she wanted it back. Just about that time she got the call from Maggie that Shawn had been killed. She had no choice, but to go home.
A couple of hours later Maggie knocks on the door and then as if no time at all has passed she opens it up, walks in and flops down on Beth’s bed amidst the clothes and toiletries Beth’s been unpacking.
“Still don’t wait until you’re invited I see.” Beth teases her sister throwing a bag of cotton balls at her. Maggie just smirks and throws the bag back in Beth’s direction.
“Dinner’s ready. You gonna come down and eat?” Maggie’s searching her face and she knows there’s more her sister wants to say.
“Yeah, I’ll be down. Just putting a few things away.” Beth carries a stack of clothing to the dresser she grew up taking clothing out of every day, so many memories. It hurts a little but it’s also comforting.
“Is it hard, being here Beth? Be honest.” She hears Maggie’s voice behind her but she doesn’t turn, just contemplates what her sister said. Is it hard? It is. She came home for her brother's funeral. She should have been here. Before. Should have talked to him, told him that she forgave him. Tucking the small pile of clothing into a drawer, she goes back to her bed.
Nodding her head she stares at the floor. “I should’ve been here sooner. This is my home. Now I just feel like I’m too late.” Beth shudders as Maggie's arms slide around her waist from behind and with her sister’s chin on her shoulder they cry for their brother and for all the lost time.
With the keys to his new place in hand, Daryl takes the few things he picked up at the store up the stairs to the bright white door with the number ‘10’ on it. This is home now. Another one. He’s had a few over the years and he wants to make this one his last one. No more running away. All of his belongings are in a trailer hitched to his truck. Rick said he’d come by this evening and help him with his furniture. Which isn’t much, a bed, a couch, a couple of tables and chairs and a bookshelf.
The air inside the apartment is stale. It smells like old wood. But then the little row of brownstones are old. There used to be more of them throughout town, but these are the only ones that weren’t demolished before a buyer got ahold of them and fixed them up. Two rows of five apartments connected by their backyard fences. The minute he saw the pictures on the website he thought of Beth, even heard her voice, ‘This is the most adorable place Daryl, you have to get it!’ She’d liked old things. Hell, she’d liked him! But twenty-five doesn't seem old at all. Not compared to thirty-four, which if he’s being honest with himself really isn’t all that old either. He puts a few things in the fridge and goes out to grab a couple of boxes from his truck.
There’s a girl on the sidewalk, blonde hair in a ponytail, blue jeans with rips in the knees and at first he can’t move, he’s stuck in some kind of time warp, he just stands there staring until the sound of sandals slapping on the concrete jars him from a memory. Another girl comes running up and the two of them scream and giggle and take off down the sidewalk.
“Ain’t her,” he mumbles under his breath. Of course, it’s not Beth. That girl couldn’t have been more than sixteen. His Beth is gonna be twenty-five in a couple of months. And it’s then that he realizes it’s May. Summer is coming. He left in May right before summer set in. Nine summers have come and gone. And she’s not his anymore.
Dinner is simple, just sandwiches. Hershel apologizes over and over, but Beth shakes her head.
“Daddy this is fine. It’s fine. I’m not very hungry anyway.” She gives him a smile that she hopes convinces him further that this is enough.
“I think these sandwiches are a lot better than my cooking anyhow.” His chuckle is so familiar. It’s like his smell. It’s home and it makes her eyes tear up which of course he notices. “Ah Bethy, don’t cry honey.”
“It’s just, I’m home. I know.. well, I should have come sooner, but..” she is struggling to come up with something, an excuse, a reason, something to justify being gone for all those years. She doesn’t have anything.
“You just stop that. You did what you had to and your brother knew that.” Hershel is giving her a look, but she sees the love in his blue eyes, blue like hers. The skin around them has a few more folds and wrinkles then it did the last time she saw him.
“I just wish I coulda..” Beth starts. But she stops when she sees her daddy shaking his head.
“I won’t pretend to know what happened between you and your brother, I think it had something to do with Daryl Dixon, but Shawn knew..” he continues on for a minute, it doesn't matter though, Hershel lost her at Daryl’s name. It’s the first time anyone has said it out loud since that summer. She never spoke it unless it was in her sleep and she did dream about him, she still does.
“We should try to get ahold of that boy. He’d want to be here. I know he would. He and Shawn were thick as thieves,” Hershel chuckles again at some lost memory, “and you were always right there in the middle of ‘em Beth. They sure loved you, always took you with ‘em, bought you candy, and spoiled you rotten.” Beth feels the tears on her cheeks and looks desperately at Maggie before she jumps up, knocking over the chair she was sitting in.
“I.. I’m gonna go upstairs, I’m tired.” Her words are breathless because she’s trying so hard not to cry. She would’ve been fine, could have gotten through dinner talking about Shawn, telling stories about him, but the minute Daryl Dixon’s name was mentioned everything fell apart. Her feet on the stairs don’t drown out the voices in her head.
‘They sure loved you..’
‘I love ya more than I ever loved anythin’ in my whole life, Beth! ‘
‘It ain’t right to break my heart. Not if you love me, Daryl!’
Closing her bedroom door, she leans against it, slides down until she’s sitting on the floor with her knees tucked up under her chin. She takes a shaky breath and whispers,
The last time she said his name was nine years ago out in the field on a night just like tonight.
Sometime later she crawled into bed and she remembers Maggie knocking on her door, peeking in on her and then leaving.
There’s a tapping sound and she can’t figure out what it is. Maggie already came and left. She twists in her sheets mumbling to Maggie to come in or go away. But her sister doesn’t answer and the tapping continues.
A light like the sun shines through her window and Daryl’s standing right here in her room. He’s wearing the t-shirt and jeans he had on that night in the field, scuffed up motorcycles boots with knotted up laces and his unruly hair. She feels a smile stretch across her face, but he doesn’t return it. He’s got his head down and she can see that his face is wet. Is he crying? She tries to get out of bed, struggles with the sheets, but she’s stuck there, can’t get out. Then she realizes she’s just in another dream. They come all the time.
‘Daryl?! I’m here, I’m stuck, I..’ she watches as he raises his head and his sad blue eyes focus on her.
‘I went away cause it wasn’t right. I went away and Shawn’s dead, he’s gone. He was my best friend.’
Her body feels cold, frozen in place by the overwhelming guilt. This is new. He never says anything to her, just holds out his hand and she can never reach it. She watches as he looks at her sadly and then turns away.
‘No Daryl, wait.. don’t go! Don’t leave me! I’m sorry, I’m..”
Maggie’s voice is foggy, far away like it's coming through a tunnel and she feels hands on her tugging at the sheets she got herself tangled in. Her chest aches from crying and when she finally opens her eyes Maggie is there pulling her against her telling her it's just a bad dream. Just another bad dream.
“Another one?” Beth whispers.
“Don’t you remember, you use to have them all the time. You’d wake me up crying for Daryl.”
She remembers the dreams. But the crying? No. She doesn’t remember that at all.
Rick and Daryl sit on the porch drinking a beer. They unloaded the trailer. Daryl is officially moved in. Rick teased him about not having much in the way of furniture or anything else for that matter and then invited him to check out the pile of stuff his new wife Michonne’s been hoarding in his garage.
“Says she hates to get rid of it, someone might be able it use it. Well, you're someone!” Rick says. “Hey, I’m sorry about Shawn. I remember you two were pretty close, you were close with the whole family. Can I ask why you didn’t keep in touch?”
Daryl puts out the cigarette he was smoking and fiddles with his beer bottle. He’s taken off guard by Rick’s question and it makes him uncomfortable because he can’t tell the truth, can he? Just spit it out, I was in love with sixteen-year-old Beth Greene and just had to get the fuck outta here? No, he’s not doing that. This is just between him and Beth now.
“I jus’ thought gettin’ Merle as far away from here as possible was best. Didn’ tell me he had an outstandin’ warrant though. By then I was living another life and figured Shawn was too.” Daryl shrugs and tries not to think about the life that Beth has been living all this time.
“Well, it’s good to have you back. You need to come by, see Carl and meet Judith. Michonne too and her son Andre.” Rick is smiling and Daryl almost laughs.
“Damn! Ya got yerself a buncha kids.”
“Yeah. I guess I do. It’s good though. Michonne came around right when I needed her.” This hits Daryl right in the chest. And he drops his eyes to the ground. Remembers something Merle was always harping on him about. ‘Damn kid ya acting like Atlas, like ya gotta carry the weight o’ the world on them skinny ass shoulders a’ yers.’ Maybe there’s a bit of truth to it, but Merle was a dumbass so he never paid any mind to the shit his older brother used to say. He knows for a fact he should have been here when Beth needed him, but he wasn’t. That’s guilt he deserves to shoulder.
“I’m gonna hit the sack. I gotta check in with work in the morning and go out ta the property.” Daryl reaches for Rick’s empty bottle.
“Yeah man. Thanks for the beer.” Rick stands up and shakes Daryl’s hand.
“No problem. Thanks for yer help. I’ll come by and see Carl and yer new little ass-kicker, meet yer girl too.” This is something Daryl is actually looking forward too. “Funeral’s on Saturday? At the farm right?”
“Yeah. I think you coming is gonna be a good thing. I bet they missed you while you were gone.” Rick says.
“M’ hmm..” He isn’t sure about that. His heart is aching for all that they lost, the family that gave him more than his own flesh and blood ever had. He can only hope him coming home might give them some comfort. He can’t see how, but he can hope.
There aren’t any curtains on the windows in his apartment and his bedroom window faces east so he’s up with the sun which isn’t uncommon. He’s an early riser by nature anyway. Even with hardly anything in the room, he likes the look of it. Two tall windows letting in the sun that make the hardwood floors glow. His closet door is open and his clothes are all hung up and his crossbow is leaning against the wall and it feels like it could be home. His thoughts drift to Beth and he wonders if she would like it here, in this little room, waking up with the sun on her face, waking up next to him.
“Fuckin’ stupid,” he mumbles to himself. He doesn’t have any right to imagine those things, imagine her here in his life after all this time. After what happened that night. And that hurts. But hurt, he reminds himself is good. He deserves to hurt.
Coffee and a granola bar is his breakfast. He snatches up a big yellow envelope off the table and heads out to his truck. First stop is a drop-off point for the trailer he rented to bring his meager belongs all the way across the country. It’s one town over and the bike garage he’ll be working at is located there too. After he takes care of business there he heads out to his dad’s property. This is the trip he’s been dreading almost as much as the impending funeral.
The property is located on a dirt road off the main highway, which isn’t much of a highway, that winds through the woods. Daryl realizes that as much as he once hated this place it’s really pretty out here. He pulls up in front of the worn out single-wide trailer and the memories of why he hated this place come rushing back, forcing their way into his brain and his gut.
When the house they’d lived in had burned down with his mama inside it, his dad had gotten ahold of this piece of property. It had belonged to his mama, her daddy before that. Daryl hadn’t found out until after his dad died that his mama had tried to keep the property a secret. She’d actually written up papers willing it to Daryl when he came of age, but Will Dixon was all over that in a hot second and took over ownership and moved a piece of shit single wide trailer out here for him and a nine-year-old Daryl to live in. If living is what you call what they were doing. It was a nightmare and Daryl had the scars as a reminder.
Shaking himself he pushes the memories to the back of his mind where he likes them to stay and gets out of the truck. He’d paid a guy to keep the grass and weeds at bay and to put any mail inside the trailer. The guy had obviously done his job. Everything was tidy on the outside. But the place was still a run down pile of shit that Daryl would love to demolish with his own two hands. Climbing the rickety staircase to the front door he steps inside.
He’d expected it to be harder, being here in this awful space that he’d done his best to put behind him. But it seems that whatever he felt out there in the truck was it, the worst of it anyway. Now he just feels a sense of loss for all of it, his right to a happy childhood, losing his mama and being the victim of a monster who was supposed to protect him. The monster is gone though and he’s a man now and he’s hoping he can put all this shit to rest.
There is a small stack of aged envelopes on an old metal table and Daryl picks them up and flips through them. There isn’t anything of interest until one letter catches his eye. It’s addressed to him and the return address is the farm. The postmark is four years old. Daryl’s heart is pounding and the letter seems to vibrate in his hand as he heads back outside to his truck. A bottle of whiskey in the glove compartment is his coping mechanism for times like these. Some people may say that’s a problem, but it’s his problem and it’s better than turning to crystal meth like Merle did. He takes a couple of long swallows and opens the envelope.
I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for a while now. I don’t know if you have any contact with anyone back here, I would guess not because I think if you’d known what’s going on you’d have come back.
Well, momma died. I’m sure you knew that was coming. The cancer was just too much for her. It was hard, but she’s not suffering anymore. Beth didn’t take it so well. In fact, that whole summer after you left she wasn’t in a good place. I didn’t put two and two together until after we almost lost Beth too. She cut her wrist. I found her. But she didn’t want to die. I think she was just so sad that she didn’t know what to do and we didn’t see her sadness or we just didn’t look close enough. Shawn told me everything that was going on and why you left. Honestly, I knew you loved my little sister even before that. All a person had to do was watch you, the way you looked at her and protected her. Even from yourself. I respect your decision to leave. Beth was too young for what you both were feeling. You did the right thing, no the honorable thing, by letting her grow up and figure out who she was.
Beth isn’t that little girl anymore Daryl, and I don’t think she’s ever gonna stop loving you and I won’t pretend to understand anything about love, but maybe people are meant for each other. Maybe this is some kinda destiny. I don’t know. All I do know is that my beautiful baby sister ran away from everything, but she can’t run away from her heart. She’s had dreams about you since you left, still has them cause I visit her in Atlanta a couple times a month and it’s like she’s sixteen again, tossing and turning in her bed whispering your name and begging you not to go.
I wasn’t gonna do this. I wasn’t gonna but in and maybe it's stupid and maybe you've moved on and have a whole new life, but I remember your face when you’d watch her and I bet you don’t even need a reminder. She’s here though. And maybe you’re both running in the wrong direction if that’s what you're doing. I’m sorry for butting in. Shawn knows I’m doing it and he said I was crazy, but he never told me not to so if you love our baby sister please think about coming home.
Here’s my cell # in case you want to call 770-571-2029
Daryl’s hand is shaking and the edge of the paper is crumpled in his fist. Four years. Would he have come back if he’d read this letter four years ago? They were giving him their blessing. They were giving him everything he ever fucking wanted. He takes up the bottle of whiskey again and almost drains it before he’s choking on the tears he’s been holding back. Raising his arm, he flings the bottle at the trailer and it smashes against the metal siding, glass glittering in the sun as it scatters. The letter is still there in his hand, he drags a hand across his wet face and pulls out his cell phone. He’s gonna try.
Beth spends the day helping her daddy with chores on the farm. She watches the way he works, how his body moves slower now and how he calls to her for help with things he used to do all on his own. Things daddies did because they were bigger and stronger and superheroes in their little girl's eyes. He tells her he’s gonna hire a farm hand or two to permanently help out now.
“I used to hire temporary help during the busy months, but now, well now I think I’m gonna need more.” They’ve been mucking out the stalls. The horses are all new to Beth. Her old mare Nellie died a couple years back and Hershel has always loved horses so he keeps a few and still manages to ride a little.
“Daddy, I’m back and Maggie is in town. We can help too.” Beth came back for this. The farm and her family and the life that does matter even if some of the people who used to share it are gone.
“You girls have to have your own lives. Besides, I did not pay for a college education for you just to have you working back here young lady. Maggie told you about that school they got over in Peachtree, musical prodigies and some not so musically inclined looking for a gifted teacher.” He’s spreading hay in one of the stalls and it smells sweet and brings back so many memories.
“Uh huh, I’m gonna apply. But I can work here too.” She’s distracted by the smell of the past and the ladder that leads to the loft. “I’m gonna work on the loft.” She calls over her shoulder as she climbs the rungs and she hears him chuckle.
“You always did like hiding up there.”
She feels a warm blush spread across her face. It’s true she was always in the loft reading or daydreaming, sometimes even sleeping on a warm summer night. But that’s not what’s pulling her up there. It’s another memory, one she hasn’t revisited in years. Soft sunlight is coming through the open hay door. Two new bales are waiting to be spread over the floor and she takes the small knife from her back pocket and pops the strings holding them intact. Using just her hands she separates and spreads it out, dust molecules sparkling in the sunlight, the sweet, musty, smell taking her back...
Daryl had followed her up here, said he wanted to see what all the fuss was, why she hung out in a barn that smelled like horses and shit. She’d laughed and spread a quilt over the hay in a patch of sunlight.
“Lay here, right here in the sun Daryl and close your eyes.” He’d eyed her suspiciously, but he’d done it. Stretched out, head resting on his folded arms, feet crossed at the ankles. It had taken her breath away. She had curled up beside him, against him and rested her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, hearing his breath catch. She was sure he was gonna push her away, put distance between them like he always did when it came down to moments like this. And those moments came like clockwork now.
But he’d surprised her by rolling her over onto her back and going with her, half his body resting on top of hers, his eyes catching her’s and not letting go. With one finger he tucked her hair behind her ear and traced her bottom lip.
“Beth.” He’d whispered her name like a prayer and before she could respond his lips were on hers, soft and warm and it wasn’t fireworks she saw, no nothing like that. It was blue skies and fluffy white clouds and a field that went on forever and she’d sighed, slipped her hands in his hair and opened her mouth against his, felt his hand slide to the small of her back and hold her, the other cupped her face and he pulled away and looked at her, just looked. She counted the beats of her heart and his cause they were beating in unison and when she got to twenty he rested his forehead against hers.
“I love ya Beth, I shouldn’t love ya like this, but I do, I love ya.” It was her breath that caught then and she didn’t know if it was possible for a person to feel so much all at once and not have any idea what to do with that.
“You can, you can Daryl because I love you too. I love you, I do.” And then she was giggling and crying and Daryl just looked at her completely confused so she did the only thing she could think of, she kissed him again.
In this loft on a day in late spring all those years ago, Daryl Dixon had given her her first kiss and told her he loved her and everything else in her world might have been falling apart, but right then, in that moment this one thing was right, it was perfect and her heart was his.
“Bethy I’m going up to the house, you okay up there?” Her daddy’s voice broke her from her musing and she wipes away the tears that silently made tracks down her cheeks.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just about done here.” She looks around for the quilt, knowing it won’t be here anymore. Sinking to her knees in the newly spread hay she covers her face with her hands and cries for that girl in the hay that had held so much hope for what could have been. And she cries for him. Because she misses him. Still.
Daryl knew it was her the minute he heard the southern drawl in her hello. Maggie Greene.
“Maggie, it’s uh, it’s Daryl,” he stammers. When he gets no response his anxiety kicks into high gear. “Hello?”
“Yeah I uh, I got yer letter. Can ya meet me somewhere?”
He’s sitting in a bar and grill that specializes in pizza being eyed by a young Asian man when Maggie walks in. She hasn’t changed much, just looks a little older, a little more mature, but when she sees him she smiles like she’s seeing her best friend and she comes running over to him and throws her arms around him.
“Daryl.. you’re here! I can’t believe it. We were just saying we needed to call, let you know..” Her face darkens and she steps back and looks at him.
“Ya I know, saw Rick. Didn’t know til I got here though..” He fidgets uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. “M’ sorry for yer loss Maggie.”
“Thanks, Daryl.” Her hand is on his arm. Well, she isn’t here to kick his ass so that’s good. “Let’s sit.”
The Asian man who has been watching him since he came in walks over to their table.
“Maggie?” He has a hand on the small of Maggie's back and she leans into him.
“Hey, Glenn. This Is Daryl. Daryl this is my fiance Glenn.” Glenn holds out his hand and shakes Daryl’s. He smiles and Daryl notes that the guy has a kind face.
“Yeah I recognized him from the pictures,” Glenn says. Pictures? Daryl must have given Maggie a funny look because she quickly explains.
“For the funeral. Glenn made a DVD. We included pictures of you, I hope that’s okay. Shawn would have wanted that and daddy insisted.” Maggie smiles again and Daryl sees a little of Beth in that smile. He makes a noise in the back of his throat and nods.
“What can I get you to drink Daryl?” Glenn asks. Daryl is still buzzed from the whiskey he drank way too much of, but he thinks that he’s probably gonna need something else to get through this.
“Beer, Guinness if ya got it.”
“Sure. Maggie the usual?” She nods and gives him a smile. Then he takes off leaving them alone.
“So the letter..” Maggie begins.
“Ya, not everything made it ta the P.O. box and I never got all the mail anyway. M’ sorry. I…” This is harder than he thought it was gonna be because he’s feeling things here that he isn’t prepared for. It’s not just about Beth either. It’s everything the Greenes were to him and he suddenly feels like he betrayed them all by leaving. He left his best friend. He left Hershel and Annette, fuck he never even said goodbye to Annette. And now Maggie is sitting here looking at him and smiling at him and he doesn’t deserve this. “I wish I woulda got it.”
“She’s okay Daryl. And I want to thank you for what you did. It had to be hard just leaving like that.” Glenn sits their drinks on the table and Daryl is struggling with everything. She’s sitting there so calm and nothing seems to matter, and suddenly Daryl can’t just sit there and nod.
“How can ya thank me?! Fuck, her world fell apart and she, she tried, if I’da stayed and just stopped what was happenin’ between us, maybe things’d be different, maybe..” Maybe he could have what? Been her friend. He doesn’t know what he could have done all he knows is that she was hurting so bad she tried to end it and he knows for a fact he was part of the reason. And living with that is killing him. Maggie’s eyes are hard, but there are tears there, glistening making her look anything, but angry.
“It ain’t your fault Daryl. You don’t know if anything would have changed by staying and I ain’t gonna let you blame yourself! You did what you felt was right. That counts for something.” But does it? Does it really count for what happened?
“She was hurtin’..” he ducks his head and rests it on his arms that are folded on the table and he tries to slow his breathing because he doesn’t want to start bawling here in the middle of Maggie’s finances restaurant.
“I should have seen that. We should have, daddy, Shawn... I should have seen that something wasn’t right and I should have done something. I knew by then what happened with you and I knew she was hurting for all kinds of reasons, but she started acting mostly like herself so I just ignored the other.” Maggie wipes the tears from her cheeks and takes a drink of whatever crazy cocktail Glenn brought her and she looks pointedly at Daryl.
“It’s over, it happened. It was a long time ago Daryl. She’s not sixteen anymore. She’s a beautiful young woman and the boy that ran away with her heart all those years ago is sitting right across from me. She’s here, at the farm. You gonna give it back to her Dixon? You’re the only one who can.”
Saturday morning comes even though Beth isn’t ready. She’s safe and comfortable in her bed where her momma read her countless fairy tales and her daddy tucked her in and it’s safe here. But being grown-up means that not everything is safe anymore, or at least you are burdened with the knowledge that your cocoon of childhood was really just one big lie. Stretching she pushes back the sheets and peeks out the window. It’s a beautiful day and her big brother would have loved a day like today. He would have been up doing what needed to be done. So she will too, she’ll do her best. For him, for his memory and for the plain and simple fact that she wishes she’d forgiven him and that things had been different. But then in hindsight, isn’t that always what a person whose heart is broken again thinks?
She takes a soft, yellow, gauzy sundress from the closet. It’s so perfect it makes her heart hurt. Beth and yellow are almost synonymous. It was and still is her signature color. Shawn used to call her Buttercup when she was a baby, her momma told her he said she reminded him of the little flowers. Whether or not that had anything to do with it becoming her favorite color is something she’ll never know, but she’d like to think that Shawn was part of the reason. When she bought the dress last summer at a little vintage shop in Atlanta, it was Daryl that she had been thinking of, he’s always teased her about her sundresses and ‘them damn cowboy boots’ she always wore. And when he’d teased her enough she slipped on her white converse and laughed when he shook his head at those too. The dress reminded her of Shawn and it reminded her of Daryl and the memories were sweet.
A soft knock and a creak alerted her to the fact that Maggie was coming in.
“Hey Mags..” Beth turned to her sister holding the dress up in front of her. Maggie didn’t say anything she just stared wide-eyed at her little sister. “Is it okay? I thought..” Beth started.
“It’s beautiful Beth, it’s you. Wanna see mine?” Maggie had an olive green dress draped over her arm and when she held it up it was almost the exact same style as Beth’s, only green. Maggie’s color.
“It’s perfect Mags! And we are so sisters!” They dressed in silence and Maggie helped Beth with the ponytail and braid she had stopped wearing years ago, but chose to wear today because Shawn would have pulled on that ponytail if he was here. Beth didn’t tell Maggie that Daryl loved the braid, the way it felt in his fingers, the little bumps a perfect pattern. And when they hid out in the loft his fingers searched out that braid like a devout Catholic did their rosary.
They finished getting ready and only cried and hugged a few times.
“Bethy we have to let him go today, but we have each other and we’re here together and we ain’t going anywhere. I’ll marry Glenn and have nieces and nephews for you and you’ll be the music teacher that every parent wants their little genius to be taught by and we’ll take care of daddy and we’ll live as happily ever after as we can.” She held out her pinky to Beth.
“But what about my boy, do I get one too?” Beth was only kind of kidding around, part of her was serious and she wants to see what Maggie said.
“Well, there is a boy, I guess he’s not such a boy anymore. He holds your heart and I don’t know, but I don’t think he can stay away forever.” Maggie's gaze softens as she watches her sister.
“Your fairy tales are almost as good as mommas were,” Beth whispers. She doesn’t want to think about what those words mean.
“Maggie! Hey, Maggie you up there?” Glenn’s voice drifts in through the open door and Maggie hugs Beth one more time and disappears down the hallway.
“I’m coming Rhee, keep your pants on!” Maggie calls out.
“Margaret Greene!” Beth giggles hearing her daddy's stern voice.
“Sorry, daddy. I didn’t know you were in here.”
One more thing and Beth will be ready. She digs in the back of the top drawer on her dresser and pulls out a necklace. It’s a double heart charm on a thin black leather cord. Daryl had given her the charm on her thirteenth birthday and she had teased him.
‘These our hearts Daryl, mine and yours?’ He’d turned four shades of red and bit his lip.
‘Jesus Daryl, ya gotta know little girls can find hidden meanings in literally anything!’ Shawn just slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes.
‘I ain’t little Shawn!’ Beth punched him in the arm.
‘Lady in the store said it would be good, I’unno.’ He looked so upset Beth had taken pity on him.
‘It’s nice Daryl, I really like it. Thank you.’ That had even gotten the tiniest of smirks out of him. She, however, continued to imagine that this was definitely her’s and Daryl’s hearts, together forever.
Giving herself one last once over she headed downstairs.
Daryl put on the third dress shirt he’d pulled from his closet and buttoned it up looking at his reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of his bedroom door. He felt uncomfortable and itchy and wondered why in the hell people felt the need to get dressed up for these things. Ripping the dark plaid shirt off he tosses it on the bed and wanders back to the closet. He knows before he even looks at it, which shirt is in his hand. Pulling it out he sucks in a breath and slips it off the hanger. It’s denim, but it’s soft. Small brass snaps run up the front of it instead of those annoying little plastic buttons that his fingers can barely even get a hold of. It had been a Christmas present from Beth. A gift that was just from her and not a family gift.
Christmas Eve dinner was done and the gift exchange had been chaos in a good way like it always was at the Greene farm. Daryl had slipped out to have a smoke before Annette made them all sing Christmas carols. She did it every year. He flat out refused the first few years, but eventually, he did it for her. She never tried to be his mama, but she always made him feel like he was something special. Now she was sick and he also had a nagging feeling in his gut that he knew had to be guilt. Because he was falling in love with Beth. The kind of love that wasn’t supposed to happen. Not between them. She’d just turned sixteen and he was twenty-four and those numbers and what they meant to him and to the world circled around in his brain constantly. Unless she was anywhere near him. Then he forgot all the reasons why loving her the way he did was a bad idea. He was thinking about that when she came out on the porch bundled up in a dark green sweater, carrying a package wrapped in silver foil paper.
“Daryl, I, well I got you something. It’s just from me.” She’d held the package out to him and she’d looked up at him shyly. He put out his cigarette and took it from her.
“Didn’t have ta do that, “ he mumbled. His gift to her had been bolts. He and Hershel had come to an agreement when Beth was adamant about getting a crossbow. She could have one only if Daryl taught her how to use it and use it safely. So that was the other part of his gift, he’d teach her to shoot her bow. She’d opened the bolts first and sat there confused until Hershel walked out with the crossbow. To say she’d been excited would be an understatement. She’d hugged them both and brushed her lips across his cheek with a breathless, ‘Thank you Daryl’, and he’d felt like his face was on fire and had slowly but surely worked his way out here, to the porch, by himself. Well until she found him. She seemed to always find him.
“Go on, open it.” She sat on the steps and patted the space beside her and he’d sat and peeled back the silver foil paper to find a soft denim shirt. A dress shirt, but not a dress shirt. He’d eyed her and she was smiling brighter than the lit up Christmas tree in the living room.
“It’s for church. I know you hate those itchy old shirts mama insists you guys wear. Collars so tight it looks like you can barely breathe!” She giggles at this and he grunts. What she doesn’t know is he can barely breathe because she’s up there with the choir and she sings and she smiles and it makes him feel things he’s never felt before. He doesn’t believe in God, but he would swear on a bible that Beth Greene is an angel when she sings.
The shirt was soft and the color of her eyes And he knew without even trying it on that it would feel so much better than those other shirts. But.
“What about yer mama?” This didn’t look like a church-going shirt. Beth smiled at him and nodded.
“She approved. I made sure. Do you like it?” She looked up at him, her eyes filled with something, was it hope? Did it matter that much to her? He smiled and nodded.
“I like it. Like it a lot. S’ nice. Thanks.” Then before he could stop her she grabbed his hand and pulled him up off the stairs and across the yard and around the corner of the barn. She didn’t say a word, just pushed herself up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek again. But it was a kiss, a real kiss and not just the brush of soft lips against his rough cheek.
“Merry Christmas Daryl.” And then she was gone. He’d stood there in the cold, wishing she hadn’t left, wishing she hadn’t kissed him, wishing he’d turned his head just enough to kiss her back, wishing so much his head hurt and he almost didn’t hear Shawn yelling at him from the front porch.
He’s gonna wear the denim shirt. Because it feels right.
Driving out to the farm he’s thinking a lot about the last few months before he left. How everything became so much more. And how at first it was the best feeling in the world until that guilt began to creep in. He could love her, he could. That love wasn’t centered on anything physical with Beth. That love had come as easily as the Greene family’s acceptance of him. That love was innocent. He loved them all. So much time was spent when it was just the two of them. Maybe that was how it began.
He watched her try and stay busy, try and push thoughts of her momma right out of her head. And when she couldn't, when she raged and cried until she was curled up on the floor, more often than not it was him who consoled her, his arms she folded herself into, his heart she confided in. And he held her and listened to her.
‘I got ya, girl.’
He was strong for her and reminded her how strong she was, how strong she could be.
‘Yer gonna need to be strong Beth, gonna have to. I know ya got it in ya. Ya don’t know it, but ya do.’ He brushed her hair back from her face and smiled at her, which made her laugh even though she was crying.
‘Maybe you’re gonna have to keep on reminding me sometimes Daryl.’
‘Nah, ya got this girl.” She’d slipped her hand in his, that had been happening a lot lately. Hugs and hand holding and smiles that made his heart feel like it was fit to burst.
Beth Greene was making herself a place in his heart where she shouldn’t belong. Because those were the rules. But he was having a hard time denying her and then it happened. He kissed her for the first time. It wasn’t the last time either. The world they were supposed to belong in went away and all that existed was that place where it was just them. For a little while. When he wasn’t with her, he drank too much and beat himself up for doing what he was doing. Knowing how soft Beth’s skin was, kissing her like she was air and he was suffocating, loving her more than he ever loved anything else in his whole fucked up world, was wrong. He was a fucked up piece of shit for this, all of it. And he’d convince himself he wasn’t ever going back there. He’d leave. Until the next day when he was back there and she was smiling up at him with her beautiful big blue eyes or choking on tears cause her momma had lost all the hair, she’d grown back and asking him why any God would ever do this to person as good as her momma. And it was his arms around her and his lips in her hair that soothed her.
‘I love you, Daryl.’
‘It ain’t right Beth, it just ain’t.’
‘I don’t care. I still love you, always and forever.’
And he’d bite his lip and hold her closer so she couldn’t see his face and he’d tell her he loved her too because he did. He truly did.
The farm was beautiful. Something about the way the sun shone down on it all. It was like it was being singled out by the universe just for today. The leaves on the trees were so green, almost as if a lightning storm had just filled the air with nitrogen. And the air was full of dragonflies and butterflies and even on a day that was so sad, there was magic at work. He drove down the dirt road and parked out by the barn. Pulling a silver flask from his glove box he drank deeply of the burning liquid that would settle his soul and maybe make this easier.
When the glare of the sun through his windshield started leaving a thin sheen of perspiration on his face and neck he pushed open the door and climbed out. Cars are parked all over, but there aren’t any people hanging around by the barn so he lets his feet take him on a path that he knows even if it’s been years since he walked it. He heads around the back of the barn and pulls out his cigarettes, another vice to calm his frazzled nerves. He half expects her to come running around the side of the barn laughing and teasing him, a plucked daisy in her hand.
‘You love me, you love me, Daryl. Come on, catch me if you can!’
And ghost Beth ran into the barn, boots making a dull thunk as she climbed the rungs of the ladder to the loft. He follows that memory into the barn and up into the loft. He knew where it was going, knew it was gonna hurt and he wanted it too, he wanted to feel it again. This was the moment when he knew it was too much, they were gonna go too far if he didn’t run as fast as he could, away from her, away from this. Because he was a man and she was just a girl. A girl he loved more than the world.
The loft was bathed in sunlight, but it always was when she was up here. It was like she brought the sun with her.
‘See!’ She held out the sad looking flower, bereft of all its petals. ‘Flowers don’t lie, you're mine.’ Her face shone, her eyes sparkled and he was on his knees in front of her, helpless. He pushed her back into the hay and buried his face in her hair in the crook of her neck. She sighed, his name tumbled from her lips, his favorite word, but only when she said it. Small slender arms found their way around his neck and his hands slid up from her waist to her ribcage and he felt the swell of her breasts against his thumbs. He growled out of frustration and her mouth found his, he kissed her hard, so hard it must’ve hurt, had to have. At some point she kicked off her boots and wound her legs around him and it felt so good, she was rocking against him and he was hard, he knew he was. Because it wouldn’t feel this good otherwise. But it couldn’t feel this good! He pushed himself up and off of her, completely horrified with what he had done.
‘Beth, I.. Fuck! No.. no.’
He didn’t remember climbing down the ladder or where he went when he left the barn. He just remembers she didn’t call out to him, didn’t say his name. He couldn’t do this, wouldn’t do this. He must have driven home, must have undressed and gone to bed because he woke up there the next morning to his phone buzzing in the pocket of his jeans that were lying on the floor by his mattress.
It was a text from Beth, ‘I’m sorry.’
He sits in the loft, legs hanging over the edge and scrubs at his face. It fucking hurts like hell. He may not be able to pinpoint how it all began between them, but he knew the exact moment that he decided it couldn’t go on. Her body had done things to him that a woman’s body was supposed to do, not a girl, not a sixteen-year-old girl. And she was sorry? He went back that day and told her he loved her, she meant everything to him, but this, this couldn’t be, it just couldn’t. Two weeks later he left her heartbroken in that field.
Nine years had come and gone and Beth was out there, somewhere and he was gonna see her again. His girl. Fuck it all. She had been and was always gonna be his girl.
There are so many people. Most she knows, quite a few she doesn’t. She smiles and thanks them for coming. Rick and Michonne. Aaron and Erik. Rosita, a bartender from Glenn’s place. Smiles, hugs, tears. Following Maggie’s lead, holding Glenn’s hand, and leaning up against her daddy when things get too rough, she’s getting through this. The services are being held out by the big willow tree, the one her momma is buried under. Through her tears, the sunlight is fractured into hundreds of tiny suns and she holds tight to Maggie’s hand as they make their way to their seats. Family in the front. That’s what the pastor had said earlier when they went over the details before the guests started arriving. Voices are murmuring and everyone is settling, but the seat beside her is still empty. Where is her daddy? This is his spot.
“Maggie, where’s daddy?” She leans over and whispers in her sister’s ear and Maggie looks at her with tears in her eyes. Her sister’s beautiful, she always has been. And Beth has missed her so much. There’s a soft breeze and it tangles their curls together for a second.
“He’s coming Beth, I’m sure..” she’s looking over Beth’s shoulder and her voice dies out and her face changes subtly.
“Maggie..” But Maggie just raises her hands to her face and Beth shifts in her seat, just a little, just enough. And he’s there, being guided by her daddy, to the front with the family. In his denim shirt with the top button undone, hair in his eyes, shoulders hunched over like he’s hurting like she remembers and all of a sudden she can’t breathe and it’s just him, just Daryl. He takes the seat beside her, occupies what little bit of space is left in her world, cause it’s closing in fast, until he takes her hand and says so low only she can hear,
“I got ya, girl.”
Around them, everyone is saying their goodbyes. Telling stories and talking about Shawn in the past tense and that’s what they need to do, that’s how they cope with the way this loss is theirs.
Beth doesn’t say goodbye and Shawn isn’t gone, he’s just not here. Daryl knows her, even after all this time. She smiles and nods, pretends to hear the things they’re saying, pretends that all of it matters. But it doesn’t and he see’s it flash across her face, the moment she can’t do it anymore and then it’s just a soft swish of her dress and the flash of her ponytail in the sun before she goes seeking solace in the one place he knows she’ll find some semblance of it.
And he does the only thing he can. He follows her.
She’s sitting there on a quilt, not the quilt from that day, but close enough. She must’ve brought it up here. He’s sure she’s been up here since she came back. Probably a lot. Her boots are tossed to the side and her bare feet are tucked up underneath her. He fumbles with his laces and kicks off his own boots and stands at the edge of the blanket, waiting, for permission, an invite, anything that lets him know she wants him here. When she slides over making a space for him he sucks in a shaky breath and lowers himself down beside her.
“I didn’t get to tell him I was sorry, sorry for being such a child and not talking to him. I wish I could’ve told him that I forgave him.” Her voice, he wants to lay his head in her lap and sob because he was so afraid he’d never hear it again.
“He knows.” Daryl is sure Shawn knows and never for a minute held anything against his little sister.
“I’m sorry for what you lost Daryl, with him. He was your best friend.” She sniffles and it’s a sharp pain in his chest.
“M’ brother. And he knew that too. Ain’t yer fault.” His fault, all his and the rules, the damn rules.
“Why’d you leave, for real?”
“I’unno.” He shrugs. How can he explain it when he gets it, but doesn’t understand it himself. Not where it counts. Not in his heart.
Did she hear him crying when he walked away?
“Ya had to grow up without me Beth. Had ta do it on yer own. I was always coming back here. Couldn’t stay away... Just didn’ know..” He bites his nail and looks over at her. He’s gonna look all he can just in case this is all he gets.
“I was coming home, already had plans made, and then, Shawn always had to have the last damn word.” She chokes on his name, soft sobs, and tears which she tries in vain to brush away. “So here I am.”
They look at one another and when they speak it’s a jumble of words because they’re both talking at the same time.
“l was coming back for you.”
“I was hoping you’d come home.”
Then she’s laughing, breathless and he scoots a little closer until their hips are touching and she’s not laughing anymore. He reaches up and lets his fingers find the braid, it’s longer than it was before, but just as soft and he runs his fingers down it until his hand is cupping her head and he’s leaning in terrified she’s gonna turn away. Resting his forehead against hers he whispers,
“M’ so sorry girl.. so sorry. I brought yer heart back. Maybe I was selfish, but I couldn’t let it go, not then.” His voice is husky in his ears and he knows here any second he’s gonna be bawling. He does his best to swallow back those tears.
“Oh, Daryl,” Her fingers are on his face now, gently feeling the scruff and fine lines that time has given him. “I don’t want it back. It was always yours,” she whispers this and he feels it on his lips, prelude to a kiss.
She does kiss him. Kisses him like it’s the first time all over again. Which he’s thinking it kind of is, maybe. And then he’s not thinking anymore. They have a quilt and hay and warm sunlight and a second chance.
Also, he does bawl, like a goddamn baby.
And that’s just the beginning.