“Who are you?!”
“Do you have a gun?”
“Stop touching my cat, what are you- just stay right where you are.”
“I know the sheriff y’know, you’re not just gonna get away with this.”
“Get away with WHAT?”
“Breaking into my house!”
“I didn’t break in, I have a key!”
“Your sister gave it to me.”
“Why would my sister give you a key to my apartment?”
“To feed your cat while you’re in the hospital but apparently you’ve still got your fuckin’ appendix so fuck if I know.”
“I. don’t. know. Call her yourself and figure it out. I’mma feed this cat, that’s what she paid me to do.”
“Don’t doing anything to her!”
“Would you settle down about the damn cat? Not gonna injure it, I’m here to feed it and scoop its shit, why would I hurt it?”
“Because you’re . . . you’re! Scary-looking.”
He looks honestly wounded at that, but after a moment he gets up from her couch where her traitorous white-and-striped tabby Fermata had been sprawled across his leg while he’d scratched her chin.
Beth hadn’t been exaggerating, he did look pretty rough around the edges to be a cat-sitter. Add that to the fact that she had no need of a cat-sitter and hadn’t actually talked to her sister in a week to give her any notion otherwise and the whole thing seemed . . . unsavory. Even though this stranger with his shaggy hair, ratty flannel over an equally ratty t-shirt, and muddy-looking boots was currently carefully rinsing out Fermata’s bowl in Beth’s sink crowded with dishes from breakfast and dinner the night before.
Beth stands there in her living room, purse dangling from one hand and her cell clutched in the other while she watches, feeling a little awkward in her own apartment as the guy goes about his task.
“You callin’ her yet?”
“Your sister. Find out what the mixup is?”
“Oh-” Beth hits ‘dial’ on her phone without really looking and brings it up to her ear while it rings, but then angles it away after a moment.
“Cans are in the pantry on the top shelf,” she directs him when she can tell he’s looking around for the cat food.
“Ever clean this out? This mac and cheese expired last month.”
Beth frowns and pulls the phone away again. “It can’t expire, it’s dry pasta and powdered cheese. And what are you doing looking-”
“‘S in the front,” he shrugs. “Not my fault you’re not organized,” he adds in a mutter as Beth is adding,
“Can opener’s in the drawer right- no the one below that - excuse me, why don’t you just- what?” Beth pulls the phone back to her ear.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“It’s Rick. You called me. You alright?”
“What? I called-” Beth pulls the phone away to look at the screen.
“Ow! Motherfuck-” the supposed cat sitter lifts his bleeding finger, sliced on the edge of the opened can of cat food, up to his mouth.
“Beth?” Rick asks again, “are you at home? Who was that?”
“This, this guy, I got home and he, oh man that’s a lot of blood-”
“Beth, Beth answer me, are you alright?”
“What? I’m- no, don’t!” she glares at the guy when he grabs a crocheted potholder and wraps it around his finger.
She’s vaguely aware of Rick’s voice coming from her phone now wedged between her jaw and shoulder as she snatches several paper towels and shoves them at him instead, gesturing for him to give her the potholder. Rick’s voice fades when, as if in slow motion, Beth watches her phone plummet into the sink and into a cereal bowl filled with murky, sugary water.
“Shit,” she winces and picks it out, wiping the potholder across the screen without thinking, then dropping it again quickly when she remembers it’s soaked in a stranger’s blood. “Hey there should be a bag of rice in there, can you-?”
“You’re kidding right?”
Beth turns to the guy who’s actually looking a little pale, the paper towels fisted in his hand and held above his head. She rolls her eyes. “Oh come on it can’t be that bad.”
“Oh really? It can’t be? Why, cause it’s not your finger you sliced open on somebody’s jankass can opener?”
“My can opener is FINE,” she snaps, going to the pantry herself and rummaging around for a moment before she whirls and glares at him. “What’s your name anyway?”
“Daryl,” he mutters.
She turns back around, finds the rice and then yanks open a cabinet door to pull out a bowl and dump the rice in.
“That doesn’t work.”
Beth sighs and grips the edge of the countertop. “How would you know.”
“My brother has dropped, puked on, and pissed on more phones than years you’ve been alive, girl.”
Beth’s lip curls in disgust. “Well I’m trying it anyway,” she mutters, and dumps the phone in the rice, scooping some over until it’s completely submerged.
“Suit yourself. Gonna be buyin’ a new one tomorrow,” he mumbles.
“I have insurance on it,” she adds, turning around and leaning against the counter, glaring. She sighs. “Can I use your phone to call my sister and sort this out then?”
“Don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a phone?”
“I got a phone, I don’t have a cellphone.”
“Of course you don’t,” Beth mutters, then yells to the ceiling, “of course you don’t!”
She stands with her hands on her hips, squared off with Daryl Dixon, bleeding, in her kitchen.
“I’m sorry about your hand,” she announces eventually.
Daryl glares at her for a moment, and he’s just softening into a mildly suspicious squint when Beth’s door is thrown open and Rick barges in.
“Beth? Are you alright?”
Rick, hand halfway to his holstered revolver, eyes Daryl intensely. “Beth, you called me and said there was some guy in your apartment-” Daryl tsks derisively- “and talkin’ about blood. What’s goin’ on?”
“It appears we’re still tryna figure that out,” Daryl cuts in, glaring at Beth.
“What explanation could you possibly have for having my key when me and Maggie have never even met you?” Beth asks, feeling a little frantic all over again.
“Who’s Maggie?” Daryl asks, peeking at his bloodied thumb and wincing.
“EXACTLY,” Beth snaps. She huffs over to Rick and folds her arms. The both of them watch Daryl, who now leans against the countertop and glares back defiantly.
“Alright, listen up,” Daryl starts. “This lady who comes to the garage all the time is yappin’ on her phone about gettin’ a cat sitter for her sister while she has surgery, she’s all stressed out about it while I’m changin’ her oil, on and on and on. So I finish up, I tell her, ‘hey, I’m okay with animals, where’s this cat needs to get fed?’ And she tells me, it’s her sister’s cat but she’s goin’ out of town or she would do it herself, so she gives me,” he counts off each item on the fingers of his uninjured hand, “the address to this building, tells me come here, ask for the landlord, give her name, she’ll call ahead and make sure I can get in after I’m done with work. So I came, the old lady gave me the key, I tried to feed the cat, now I’m bleedin’ and ya’ll are pissed at me.”
He huffs and leans back against the counter with finality, as if daring Beth or Rick to refute any part of his story.
Fermata, Beth’s traitorous white and black splotched cat, saunters past Beth and over to Daryl to rub against his shins.
“See somebody knows what’s up,” Daryl mutters, gingerly taking the cat’s bowl and setting it down by his feet. Fermata settles happily to eat.
Rick pinches the bridge of his nose. “Alright, Beth, why don’t you go talk to your landlady and see what she says. Daryl, was it? The cat’s fed, you’ve done your duty, can I give you a lift to get some stitches for that hand?”
“Naw, I think we both are gonna stay right here while she goes and figures this out. I bled for this fuck up, least I’m gonna do is stick around to find out why.”
Rick shrugs uneasily and waves Beth off, “Go on, I’ll stay here.”
“Yeah, Officer Friendly’ll babysit the scary cat sitter,” Daryl pipes up. Beth and Rick both roll their eyes.
Beth makes it as far as the doorway leading out to her building’s hallway when she stops in her tracks, thinks for a minute, then turns on her heel, and goes back into her own apartment.
“What’s the woman look like who gave you the key?”
“Short, bottle red-head. Smokes a lot.”
Rick frowns and looks to Beth. “Yeah that’s not Maggie,” Beth explains.
“Who is Maggie?” Daryl asks again.
“That’s Mandy, right? The red-head? She’s my neighbor’s sister.”
“How’d I get a key to this apartment then?” Daryl asks.
“Because my landlady is about ninety five years old, and she never bothered to learn the difference between Maggie and Mandy’s names. She gave you the wrong key. I just happen to have a cat too.”
Daryl, Beth, and Rick all sit with that explanation for a few moments. Daryl and Beth eventually meet each other’s eyes and Beth half-smiles apologetically. He just barely shrugs in acknowledgement. Rick squints between them both suspiciously.
On the floor, Fermata the cat happily finishes her meal.