Daryl had never really been one for Halloween. He’d never really celebrated any holiday. Blame it on a shitty childhood where his parents would rather blow what little paychecks they got on booze and drugs rather than doing anything nice or fun for their kids. Blame it on an older brother who teased him mercilessly as a child whenever he would ask about dressing up and going trick or treating (it never made sense to Daryl why Merle wouldn’t want to go out and get free candy, but he quickly learned to stop asking his older brother to take him through the neighborhoods in town on October thirty-first). Either way, any holiday spirit he might have had was beaten out of him. Sometimes literally.
Now that he was grown, Daryl found he didn’t have much patience for holidays at all. He didn’t have anyone to share them with, what with Merle in the slammer yet again, and his dead-beat parents both, well, dead. He had a few…very few friends, that didn’t mind putting up with his stubborn redneck ass, but they both had a family, or at the very least a woman, who insisted on doing things together…but together seldom included him tagging along.
Not that he would want to.
So here it was, Halloween night. He hadn’t gone and bought candy for any kids who might come by trick or treating – one of the perils of living in an actual neighborhood rather than the shack in the woods where he’d grown up. He supposed he could have just turned off the lights and ignored the doorbell, but he didn’t much feel like sitting in the dark. Instead, he shoved his wallet into his back pocket, his arms into his leather vest, and headed to his favorite watering hole.
Admittedly, he hadn’t been to Joe’s in close to a month. Call it being anti-social, call it being financially responsible, call it having mercy on his liver. Either way, the minute he walked in, it was like he’d never left. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the cheap plastic orange and black bunting and (hopefully) fake spiderwebs, he would have thought it was just another evening at Joe’s. All the regulars were there, all sitting on their same stools, spread out enough to be able to ignore each other, but close enough together that they didn’t have to yell too loudly when they wanted to bitch about one thing or another.
Except someone was in his seat. Someone who definitely didn’t belong there.
For one thing, the clientele that usually filled Joe’s Bar were not that young. Or blonde. Or female. They certainly didn’t drink anything but beer or rot gut whiskey – certainly not whatever bright red concoction, complete with a fruity garnish, this girl was drinking.
A part of him had a fleeting thought wondering how Joe even knew how to make something so girly-looking. Did he always have fruit behind the bar? Daryl was mildly concerned about the girl getting sick from it, but decided it was more Joe’s problem than his.
He took in his options that were nearest his actual spot: the stool next to Tiny (who was anything but, nor was his body odor), the stool next to Axle (a man who could talk the ears off a deaf guy), or one of the stools right next to the mystery girl who was currently occupying his.
Mystery girl it is.
Daryl plopped himself down, determinedly not making eye contact with the stool thief, and signaled to Joe that he’d like a drink. How the bartender always knew what he wanted without him actually saying anything always baffled Daryl. Maybe it was just that he was in the mood to drink, so anything in front of him would do. Tonight, he was apparently in a cold, long-necked beer kind of mood.
Daryl’s eyes slid sideways to look at Mystery Girl, who was apparently really in the Halloween Spirit. That, or she was into some other kind of spirits, in which case, she was definitely in the right kind of place. Still didn’t explain why she picked this hole-in-the-wall…or his seat. Upon further inspection, even if it was out of the corner of his eye, he saw glints of glitter on her cheeks shimmering even in the dim lighting of the dingy bar. More importantly, or rather, more noticeably, two black, ping pong sized balls were bouncing over her head, swaying with the movement as she turned to face him more fully.
“The hell are you supposed to be?” he basically grunted at her before taking another hit off his beer bottle.
The girl grinned wide enough that Daryl could see it without even facing her, could practically hear it over the worn-down jukebox spewing out the same old classic country it always did. She sat up taller, making those damn glittery balls bounce around her head again, pulling his attention toward her. “I’m a ladybug.” And sure enough, she was. Tiny black dots swam on her red dress, the apparent antennae made a hell of a lot more sense, and Daryl couldn’t help but appreciate the black nylons gracing her long, skinny legs. “It’s…it’s kind of a nickname. It’s the best I could do on short notice.”
“Uh-huh,” he mumbled before taking another sip, not really caring but too taken in by her legs and her smile and those distracting balls dancing above her to flat out ignore her.
“See, I just moved back into town a couple weeks ago. A couple of my friends from high school heard I was back and invited me to join them to go bar hopping with them tonight, said to meet them at the bar on Main.” She glanced around, as if her friends were going to magically appear just because she’d mentioned them. “Anyway, it was either spend money on a costume or spend it actually going out, so…” she gestured to her outfit, antennae and all, “here I am.” Another look around the establishment. “I wish I knew where they were.”
He struggled with himself as he watched her look more and more upset. He knew he shouldn’t get involved. The girl’s friends stood her up. How is that his problem? Still, he almost felt bad. Here she was all dressed up and got stuck talking to his grumpy ass. After mentally kicking his own ass and sighing in resignation to his god damned conscience, he leaned over and asked, “North or South?”
Her head snapped to look at him, and he found himself caught between apologizing for causing the confused expression on her face and laughing at the antennae balls that clacked clumsily above her. “I beg your pardon?”
“What part of Main? North or South?”
Her mouth hung open as she struggled to come up with an answer. “Oh my gosh,” she eventually realized, “I didn’t even ask. I live on this end of town, so I just assumed…” she trailed off. “God, I feel so stupid. I’ve lived here all my life, how could I forget…”
Not wanting to hear her berate herself any longer (and ignoring any reason why that bothered him in the least), he interrupted her, “Can’t ya call ‘em?”
She looked up at him, surprise mixed with gratitude shining in her eyes, almost glassy with the beginnings of tears. Her soft hand landed on his bicep, “You’re a genius.”
Normally he would have balked at some stranger touching him. Hell, even people he knew for years knew not to lay a finger on him unless they wanted a fight. But this girl, her touch was so genuine, so innocent, and she didn’t know about his past, she didn’t mean anything by it. So, he let it slide. What was he gonna do, yell at her for paying him a compliment?
He watched, half-interested, as she dug through her purse for her phone, but determinedly watched whatever was on the TV above the bar as she placed her call. And another call. And another.
“Dammit!” she exclaimed, almost making him jump in surprise. “No one’s answering.” The blonde turned to look at him. “Why won’t they answer?”
Daryl knew it was a rhetorical question, but more than that, he knew she didn’t need to hear his snarky gut reaction of a response, ‘How the fuck should I know?’ Instead, he knocked back the rest of the bottle, motioned to Joe for another, and after a second, pointed at the remnants of her fruity concoction for a refill for her. Anyone else, he’d just keep to himself, but apparently, he was involved now. Swell.
“Maybe they just can’t hear their phone. The place up town is a little more…active than this,” he tried explaining, nodding his thanks to Joe for the fresh drinks as she shoved her phone back into her purse.
Daryl took a deep swallow of his beer. That niggling voice in the back of his head scolded him, Told you not to get involved. Dumb college bitch is probably gonna start crying now.
He really, really hoped that voice was wrong, at least about her crying. He was pretty damn sure he wasn’t equipped to deal with that. Ever.
Although, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be her shoulder to cry on.
Where the hell did that come from? Who asked you?
What the hell was in this beer?
Quick – change the subject. “The hell you carrying in a purse that big?” He didn’t really care, but the bag in question was sitting in her lap, atop her slender thighs, and well, it was the first remotely safe thing he could come up with that he was relatively sure wouldn’t make her upset.
Since when is thinking about a woman’s legs a safe topic?
His plan worked, even if his question just served to confuse her more. “Um, I mean…I thought I was going to see everyone and that we’d be out all night, so I brought…sustenance.” She loosened the drawstring to open the bag and reveal its contents.
“Shit, girl, you buy the whole damn candy store?” Inside was all matter of fun-sized candies, filling the bag at least three-quarters full.
She grinned as she plopped the purse on the bar top, letting some of the candy to spill out. “It’s just part of one bag. Ten bucks at Walmart,” she bragged about her find. She reached over to scoop the candies back into her bag, then paused and offered her hand to Daryl. “I’m Beth, by the way. Beth Greene.”
He looked at her hand skeptically before taking it in his own in a half-ass shake. “Daryl,” he grumbled.
Beth looked at him expectantly, “Daryl…”
He pulled his hand back and rolled his eyes, “Dixon.”
Beth beamed at him. He knew she’d done it even without looking directly at her. He could…feel it? “Well, Mr. Dixon,” she went on, “feel free to help yourself to my goodies.”
On the plus side, he held in the beer he’d just started to swallow, barely keeping himself from doing one hell of a spit take. On the down side, he got a very unpleasant reminder just how much beer hurt when it came out of one’s nose. “The fuck?” he managed to get out as the burning sensation in his nostrils had calmed down.
Beth looked at him with wide eyes. “Well, you don’t expect me to eat all this by myself. And there’s no way I’m bringing all this to work with me.” Picking up on his still confused expression, she explained, “I work at a daycare. Those kiddos do not need any sugar to fuel themselves.”
Was she actually that innocent? That naïve? Surely not. She had to be pulling his leg, right? Did she just not realize what she’d said? Maybe it was a millennial thing? Still, what kind of person dresses up as a cute little ladybug to go on a bar crawl?
He decided not to dwell on it if she wasn’t going to. And, come to think of it, he wouldn’t mind a taste of her goodies. Or any of the candies in her bag, for that matter. He snorted at his own, albeit distasteful, joke, and reached his hand in to snag a couple pieces.
Beth giggled beside him as she eyed what he’d taken. Daryl frowned at her, more out of confusion than anything. “It’s just…it’s a stupid joke from when I was a kid.” She reached over and grabbed one of the candy bars from him and held it up to display. “Better not lay a finger on my Butt…erfinger.”
Maybe she was that innocent, after all. Just for good measure, he let her keep that bar and picked up the next one at random.
“Hey!” she exclaimed, causing him to drop the candy he’d just started to unwrap. She caught a glare from him for that, though it seemed she completely ignored it. “It must be your…Payday! You got a 100 Grand!”
His eyes rolled back in his head, completely of their own volition. “You gonna do this all night?”
She grinned at him, “Maaaybe.” She reached in her bag for another piece. “Come on, have a little fun. You do one.”
There wasn’t enough beer in the world…
Daryl looked at his small pile in front of him and sighed heavily. “Can’t believe those…nerds stood you up,” he grumbled as he opened the tiny box and ate half of the contents in one go.
“See?” she nudged his arm with her elbow. “Was that so hard?”
“Yeah, I’m a real smartie.”
Beth’s laugh rang out like a bell over the din of the run-down bar. Daryl decided then and there it’d be worth it to play along if he could get her to laugh like that again. She smiled directly at him, “Oh, you’re quick!”
Daryl scoffed into the mouth of his beer, “Yeah…let’s not let that get around, aight?” Beth giggled at that, a light and bubbly thing that made Daryl chuckle at himself – a rare occurrence indeed. The girl’s laugh was damn contagious. Not able to stop himself or his curiosity, he asked, “The hell you drinkin’, anyway?”
Prompted at his question, Beth took a quick sip before answering. “Just a Shirley Temple. Didn’t want to start really drinking until my friends showed up, but…” she trailed off.
He slammed his drink down on the bar top in disbelief and downright gawked at her. “You mean to tell me you’re this giggly and you ain’t even had any booze yet?” When she wrapped her bright red lips around her straw again and nodded, he yelled out for the bartender. When Joe sauntered over, Daryl demanded, “Get this girl a real drink.”
“Oh, gosh, Daryl, I don’t know…” she shook her head at him and Joe.
Daryl persisted, letting his ornery Dixon side shine, “C’mon, Greene.” He looked at her and quoted what she’d said earlier right back to her. “Have a little fun.”
Beth half grinned, half sighed, “Alright,” then turned her attention to the barkeep. “Do you have anything…seasonal?”
His mouth opened, ready to gripe and balk at something so ridiculous in a crappy bar like this place, but Joe beat him to the punch. “We got an apple pie moonshine just come in a couple weeks ago.”
Daryl’s jaw about hit the floor as Beth grinned even wider at the older man. “That sounds good, actually. Okay. I’ll try one.” She held up her pointer finger, complete with red and black polka dotted fingernail, for emphasis. Joe rapped a quick rhythm on his side of the bar and literally moseyed to the drink well to pour two glasses of the amber liquid, then set the glasses in front of them.
Daryl lifted his glass and motioned for her to do the same. He felt emotions bubble up when she hesitated: anger, disappointment, and strangely enough, concern. He bit them all back, waiting for whatever excuse she was about to feed him. “My dad always said that bad moonshine would make you blind.”
Oh. She wasn’t backing out, wasn’t looking down on it like she was too good for some good ol’ moonshine. She had an actual concern. “Ain’t nothin’ worth seein’ in here anyway,” he answered back.
He couldn’t be sure, what with the jukebox going and some crappy basketball game on the nearest TV, but he could have sworn he heard her mumble something like, “I wouldn’t say that,” as she lifted the glass to her lips. His ears flushed red, just in case they’d heard her right, and he took a healthy pull from the glass himself.
And they both fell into a fit of coughing as the booze burned its way down to their stomachs.
“Is it supposed to burn that bad?” Beth asked, her voice croaky and her eyes watering.
Daryl shook his head, not in answer to her question, but just to shake his brain back into place. Damn, this shit was stronger than he remembered. “Means it’s workin’.”
After her second sip, she commented, “It’s not as bad once you get going, though.” Another sip, draining the glass, had her smacking her lips. “I think I found my new favorite drink.”
Not to be outdone, Daryl knocked the rest of his down his gullet and slammed the glass to the bar. “Best take it easy there, girl. It’s the sweet ones that sneak up on you and knock you for a loop.”
Beth grinned over at him, “Is that so?”
Shit. He blamed the flush on his cheeks on the booze. Surely this girl wasn’t having that much of an effect on him. Right? Rather than answer himself, he just grumbled and tore through another candy wrapper just to give his mouth something to chew on other than his own tongue. Anything to keep him from putting his foot in his mouth.
The night carried on, following another round of moonshine before they both settled into bottles of beer. Daryl usually pegged himself as pretty antisocial. When people got too close, they started asking questions...questions he didn’t want to face the answers to…he either clammed up or made sure to be extra surly to encourage them to leave him the hell alone. For whatever reason, he found talking to Beth was one of the easiest things in the world, as easy as breathing. And it wasn’t just that she was cute.
No. Not cute. Well…she was cute, but she was…so much more than that. Beautiful. And the more time he spent talking to her, the more beautiful she became, inside and out. It was like the entire universe was flipped upside down on him – he wanted her to just stay there and talk with him. If she wanted to do more, he’d probably be up for that, too.
Every stupid candy pun, every cringe-worthy joke had her laughing like each one was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. He considered himself a funny guy (at least in his own mind…he rarely shared his humor with anyone else), but he didn’t think he was laugh out loud funny. Her behavior made him wonder just how hard all this booze was hitting her, but Daryl had to admit that it felt good that he could make her laugh, make her happy. He didn’t even mind the little antennae balls incessantly bouncing around her head anymore.
If he were completely honest with himself, they really just added to her cuteness.
He really needed to start pacing himself while drinking. What the shit?
The problem was, he didn’t feel drunk. At least not on alcohol.
“Well, Mr. Dixon,” Beth said a little too loudly as she slammed her newly-emptied beer bottle on the bar. “I think I’m gonna head home,” she patted his forearm before swinging her long legs toward him to face him fully. “Thanks for keeping me company tonight. I know I probably wasn’t your first choice, but…thanks all the same.” And before he could string a couple words together, she was off, headed towards the door and out of his life.
Daryl had been disappointed many times in his life, and he felt that familiar sting as her hand slid from his arm and she slid down from her stool. His stool. Whatever. It didn’t fucking matter.
He wanted to see her again. Immediately.
He flagged Joe down, settled his tab, and moved as quickly as he could while attempting to avoid the attention of the other patrons of the bar. Last thing Daryl needed was any of this shit getting back to Merle somehow.
Once outside, Daryl searched up and down the street to find Beth. She’d mentioned she didn’t live far, and her car was too small to carpool with her friends, anyway, so she had walked to this bar and was planning to catch a ride when they showed up. This was a tiny town, with a practically non-existent crime rate. Still, all Daryl could see was the dark alleys lining the cracked sidewalk and his imagination feared the worst. Relief rushed through his system when he saw her pass through the fading light of a yellow street lamp about a hundred feet away. He called her name and hurried toward her as she turned around and waited for him.
“Hey, I, uh…” he stammered. “I just…ya want a ride?” he motioned to his truck that just so happened to be parked a few paces behind him.
Beth shook her head and smiled, “Oh, Daryl…I couldn’t ask you to do that. Besides, I’m just a couple blocks away.”
“You ain’t askin’,” he argued. “Besides,” he continued, “don’t want any monsters to come out and grab you.”
Beth grinned and took a couple more steps toward him, antennae balls bouncing with each movement. “Are you gonna keep me safe, Daryl?”
Narrowing his eyes at her, he sneered and mumbled at her, “Just get in the damn truck.”
He helped her climb into the cab, then rushed to get himself behind the steering wheel to start the engine and get the heat going. It turned out she actually only lived about two blocks from his own house in a tiny apartment building just off the main drag of town, so it wasn’t like he got to spend a ton of extra time with her. Still, he knew where she lived now, so he could…do what exactly? Show up with flowers? He’d been so busy fighting off his own feelings, he didn’t even consider that she was just being nice in talking to him all night, that she might not ever want to see him again, that she’d just accepted the ride home because it was late and cold and she didn’t feel like walking in the dark in heels.
Who the hell was he kidding? Stupid.
He pulled the truck to the side of the road when Beth pointed out her apartment, but focused on keeping his eyes forward when she opened the door, causing the interior light to turn on. “Thanks so much for the ride, Daryl,” she said softly, her fingers brushing his shoulder before he grunted his reply and she turned to hop down onto the sidewalk.
Cursing himself, he pulled his eyes toward Beth, watching as she made her way down the dimly lit sidewalk toward her building. She gave him a tiny wave before opening the front door and disappearing inside.
Daryl sat while his truck sat idling, mentally kicking his own ass. He’d never been one to be afraid of anything, so why was this woman having such an effect on him? Why couldn’t he have just told her he wanted to see her again? That he liked talking to her? That he liked her?
It wasn’t that he was afraid of the answer, but because he knew he didn’t deserve someone as good and wholesome as Beth Greene. What the hell would she want with an old redneck like him?
He fell back against his seat, letting his head hit the headrest and his hand drop to his side. It landed on something plastic and round…and glittery.
Daryl flipped the interior light back on and looked at the bench seat in disbelief. There under his hand was Beth’s damned antennae ball headband, which might as well have been a glowing neon sign with an arrow pointing right to her door. She must have taken them off when she crawled in. Maybe she didn’t like them hitting the roof of the truck’s cab; maybe she’d done it on purpose. Either way, he wasn’t waiting one more minute.
Headband in hand, he made his way down her sidewalk and…wondered briefly what to do. There weren’t any call buttons for the different apartments like there always seemed to be in the movies. He had no idea which apartment was hers, so it wasn’t like he could go to her window and yell for her…meaning the movies had once again failed him. All he could think to do was bang on the front door and hope for the best.
Within seconds, Beth was peeking around the front door as it slowly opened, her smile beaming bright when she saw it was him. Had she been there the whole time, waiting for him? Was his luck finally working for him instead of against him?
Who the hell cared?
“Trick or treat,” he grumbled, shoving the headband forward for her to take.
Beth opened the door all the way to stand in front of him, letting her fingers brush against his as she took the accessory from him. “Why, Daryl Dixon, you are the sweetest.”
Daryl suddenly found the ground between his feet incredibly interesting; his thumb found its way between his teeth, completely unbidden. And when did the air get so cold to make his cheeks and ears glow? Surely it wasn’t any kind of natural reaction to what Beth had just said about him. He coughed and grumbled some kind of response; one he wasn’t even sure he could decipher.
The next thing he knew, her hand was on his, pulling it away from his mouth and surreptitiously using it to keep her balance as she reached up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Their eyes locked as she slowly pulled away, and he felt the strong urge to lean in and press his own kiss to her soft pink lips. He might have held it back, at least for now, but damn if he could come up with anything else to say or do.
Thankfully, Beth was there to save him from any further embarrassment. “I feel bad, though,” she said with a not-quite-sincere frown. “I can’t imagine you want any more candy tonight, and I don’t have anything else to give you.” As if the kiss still burning on his cheek wasn’t enough. Before he could argue, she asked, “Can I give you…my number?”
Daryl barely managed to answer her other than fumbling through his pockets to find his cell phone and offer it to her. She smiled prettily as she typed in her number and handed it back to him. Another tiny wave, from inside the front door this time, and one last smile, and she was gone again, leaving him to slowly make his way back to his truck, phone still in hand.
He’d heard somewhere that the rule was to wait three days before calling a new number. When was he ever a stickler for following the rules? He scrolled through the few contacts in his phone until he found “Beth Greene” with a picture of a little ladybug next to it. He grinned when she answered on the first ring. “Hey,” he began. “You hungry for some real food? I know a diner…”
“Maureen’s on Main?” she interrupted.
“North Main,” he corrected. The only way the giggle he heard could have been any better if it was actually in his ear and not coming through his phone. “Yeah. Wanna go?”
He heard her smile through the tiny speaker. “Give me five minutes.”
A tiny voice told him he was already willing to give her anything she’d ever ask for. No tricks.