Afternoon at Hershel’s
Daryl Dixon stood at the back door to the Greene home, shifting uncomfortably before raising his fist to knock on the door.
“Come on in.” Patricia called from inside.
Daryl hesitated before turning the doorknob. He stepped cautiously across the threshold and stood just inside the door, closing it softly behind, prepared to flee if necessary. Everything about this house reminded him of what he could never have, and all those who saw him and his family as little more than white trash. He had never been welcome in places like this. It wasn’t no mansion, but it was large, warm and comfortable. And houses like this usually belonged to people who looked down on people like him.
“Step in here where I can see you. I got my hands full or I’d come to the door.”
Daryl took a deep breath then walked silently into the kitchen. Patricia was kneading the largest lump of bread dough he had ever seen, and her hands and apron where dusted with flour. “What can I do for you?” she asked, never missing a beat as she worked the dough.
“One of the horses is colicky. Maggie send me up to find Hershel.” Truth be told, Nervous Nellie was the colicky one, and while he harbored no great love for the horse since she’s unseated him in the middle of the woods a couple weeks back, he couldn’t abide an animal in pain. When Maggie had asked for help walking her he’d been quick to go, but walking wasn’t helping. It was time for Hershel to take a look.
“You’ll find Hershel upstairs. Second room on the right. He’s with Beth.”
Daryl hesitated, looking down at his feet.
“You ain’t the first person to track horse manure through this house. Just stay on the hardwood and off the carpets. And the bow can stay down here. No need to frighten the girl any more than necessary.”
Daryl reluctantly leaned his crossbow against the wall in the hallway, then slipped upstairs and down the hall. The door to Beth’s room was slightly ajar, and he knocked gently on the door frame.
“Yes.” Hershel’s voice was low.
Daryl slowly pushed the door open. “Maggie needs your help. Down at the stables. Colic.”
Hershel gestured for him to enter. He was seated beside Beth’s bed, holding the hand of his sleeping daughter. She looked frail, surrounded by pillows and blankets like an invalid. Her left wrist swathed in bandages. Daryl entered the room as silently as he had come up the steps.
“How long has the horse been hurting?” Hershel asked.
“An hour. Maybe more. Not sure.” Daryl answered. “We been walkin’ her.”
Hershel sighed and carefully released his daughter’s hand, laying it on top of the crisp, clean cover. He rose to his feet to face Daryl. “Will you stay with Beth?” It was a question that sounded more like an order.
“I told Maggie…”
“I will help Maggie. I don’t want my daughter to wake up and think I’ve abandoned her.”
Daryl almost said no but the look on Hershel’s face made him stay. Granted the old man had been adamant that they leave his farm when he still had secrets to keep. He still wanted them all gone, but he had become more tolerant as he’d come to know them. And his expression now was genuinely kind.
“Okay,” Daryl said reluctantly. Hershel stepped out, pulling the door closed behind him. Daryl listened until he heard the creak of the steps as the older man descended, then he silently opened the door and left it ajar several inches. He didn’t want no one getting any ideas about his behavior while alone with this girl in her bedroom. He’d had the crap beat out of him on more than one occasion for doing far less. He didn’t belong here and he knew it. He couldn’t believe Hershel had even made the request. He began to prowl the room, not to look at its contents, but to avoid looking at the girl. Daryl peered out the window. The stable was in view from this vantage point and he waited for Hershel to return, hoping the girl would not waken before he did.
Once, he glanced at her, at the white bandages wrapping her wrist. Suicide was something he would never understand. Yeah, life could treat you like shit, but you fought through it. Turning back to the window, he watched the stable and waited. He had learned years ago to stand for long periods of time motionless, and silent, waiting for prey to come within range of his bow. It was part of what made him a good hunter. That and senses attuned to the woods and its creatures. He knew she was awake and looking at him long before she said a word, but he did not turn and acknowledge her.
“Hello,” she finally said, breaking the silence.
When he turned to face her every nerve was on edge. Part of him was scared he was going to get caught by someone, another part of him saying he hadn’t done anything wrong. But a lifetime of being told he was worth less than this slip of a girl had him strung as tight as his bow string.
“Your sister needed him in the stable.” Unconsciously, he had backed into the corner of the room farthest from her bed and stood with his back to the wall.
“What was wrong?” she asked
“Nervous Nelly was colicky.” He felt a twinge in his side where he’d fallen on one of his own arrows after the stupid horse had thrown him. His newest scar tissue still tender and tight.
“Not surprised,” Beth said sounding much too sarcastic for someone her age. “Why are you here?”
“Your daddy asked me to stay til he came back.”
“Afraid to leave me alone,” she said. “I guess I deserve that.”
He grunted. She must have seen the disgust in his face. He understood she’d lost her momma and her brother. Everybody he knew had lost someone or something since the walkers came. That didn’t make her special. They’d all been hurt by something. Losing Sophia had wounded them all. No one else was trying to kill themselves. By his standards she’d led a privileged life and she was willing to throw everything away. He figured she had a whole lotta living to do before she earned the right to decide whether or not she wanted to end her life
“You don’t like me,” she said softly.
He looked away from her open, direct gaze. Shrugging his shoulders
“You don’t like what I done. Cuttin’ myself,” she said. “Neither do I. It was stupid. I know that now. But you can’t tell me you’ve never done something stupid.”
Done my share, he thought. Not answering her question but turning to look out the window one more time. “Don’t dislike ya,” he said. And he had to admit he honestly meant that. He barely knew the girl, how could he dislike her? “Just don’t understand. You got a lot more than most folks. Nice house. Family that loves you. They care what happens to ya.”
She shifted into a sitting position and carefully arranged the blankets around her legs. “I was scared. It was so sad about my mama and brother. All those other people. That little girl.”
Daryl flinched when she mentioned Sophia, that wound was still too raw, and might never heal.
“None of them asked for what happened to them,” she finished resolutely.
There was a long moment of silence. Daryl was half afraid she was going to start cryin’, in which case he would be headed out the door.
Smoothing an imaginary wrinkle from her covers she finally folded her hands in her lap and looked at him. “I was wrong. I know now, that what I want more than anything else in the world is to live. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to approve of what I do. Just don’t look at me like I’m a brainless little girl looking for attention. Cause I know that’s what you’re thinkin’.”
“Naw,” he mumbled. And much to his surprise he realized he meant it.
“Anyway”. She said, squaring her shoulders and holding her chin up. “There’s no need for you to stay. I’ll be fine. There’s no sharp things in here I can hurt myself with. Maggie made sure of that.”
Daryl shook his head and resolutely refused to leave the room. “I promised your daddy I’d stay until he came back.”
She seemed to consider this for a moment. Then she smiled. “Daddy trusts you.”
Daryl hadn’t thought of that, and found that Hershel’s approval was a thing that pleased him more than he thought it would.
Beth shrugged her thin shoulders. “Well, if you’re gonna stay, there’s a deck of cards on that table near the window. Could you bring it to me? I like to play solitaire.”
- - - -
An hour later Hershel paused outside his daughter’s door listening to the voices coming from within. One was low and coarse, and was accompanied by his youngest daughter’s laughter. Hershel couldn’t help but smile. He hadn’t heard his baby girl laugh in a long, long time.
“That’s the dumbest card game I ever heard of,” she said, then giggled. “Can we play again?”