When The Clock Strikes 12
Maggie’s New Year’s Eve party had been a tradition for the last five years. For the first two, Beth hadn’t been of legal drinking age, but Maggie had slipped her a glass of champagne for the midnight countdown anyway. Their dad hadn’t seemed to notice and if he did, he was too wrapped up in the festivities to really care. As a recovered alcoholic, he of course didn’t join in on the boozing. But he always helped Maggie host, limping around on his cane and making a point to chat with each and every person before the night was over.
The party had turned into a sort of huge family and friend reunion over the last few years, with said group slowly growing every year. They welcomed in new friends that Shawn had made around town as well as his girlfriend, Jillian; new friends Maggie had made from her job as a Sheriff’s Deputy as well as her fiancé, Glenn; and a few friends that Beth had made at college. Though Beth had brought a boyfriend home the year before last, it didn’t turn out well. They’d gotten into an argument and he’d driven off back to Atlanta before eleven o’clock.
And while their new Found Family seemed to alter just the slightest and expand every year, the traditions stayed mostly the same. Everyone made the drive out to the farmhouse and stayed for the night to ring in the new year, a particular few sitting down for a big dinner before everyone else showed up and they all began getting into the fun and games. Beth and Shawn would help Maggie and Hershel decorate the whole downstairs with streamers and balloons and little confetti shaped in the new year’s numbers, with tables put out for refreshments and furniture moved aside to open up the living room. And by nine or ten at night, the farmhouse would be alive with music and laughter and games. Hershel always welcomed every new guest into his home as family, eager to show generosity to them all and get to know them. Maggie always loved the spotlight of being the host, practically glowing as she bounced around the room like a social butterfly. And when midnight got close, they always popped open champagne, turned the TV on for the Ball Drop in NYC, and counted down along with all the crowds across the nation.
That was Beth’s favorite part - the excited tension that rippled through the house, shared and felt between everyone in attendance. The grins and the laughter, the raising of all their glasses in a simultaneous toast full of optimism. The segue from one year into another whilst surrounded by all the people she loved. And of course, the kisses between couples.
Beth had always wanted to experience that special moment of kissing a lover’s lips as the clock hit midnight. But alas, it had yet to happen.
Last year, Maggie kissed Glenn as the countdown ended. 2019 came roaring in and everyone cheered. Shawn kissed Jillian. Rick kissed Michonne. Sasha kissed Bob. Tyreese kissed Karen. Otis kissed Patricia. Shane kissed Lori. Carol kissed Ezekiel. Aaron kissed Eric. Dwight kissed Sherry. Rosita kissed Abraham. Tara kissed Denise. Even little teenaged Carl had kissed his girlfriend, Enid.
Meanwhile, Beth had stood around a table with all the single or widowed people like Eugene and Dale and Morgan and Andrea and T-Dog and her cousin, Arnold. And when the clock struck twelve, she simply clinked her champagne glass with her dad’s in a toast before chugging the whole thing.
This year, though… she had a feeling that this year would be different. She badly wanted it to be different.
Ever since she’d met Daryl Dixon, the last half of 2019 had been better. So she was eager to welcome in a whole new year, excited and anxious to see how it would unfold and what was waiting for her.
She’d met Daryl this past summer, while she was back home from her fourth year in college. He was one of Rick Grimes’ friends, and Maggie worked closely with Rick so she knew him fairly well, too. His older brother, Merle, was something else entirely. Where Merle was loud and obnoxious and a little offensive at times, Daryl was quiet and reserved and respectful. Though he seemed to open up around Rick and Maggie and their group of friends.
After they met at Maggie and Glenn’s engagement party and hit it off almost immediately, Daryl and Beth had wound up growing close - a lot closer than she’d ever expected. But certainly not in a bad way.
Maggie and Hershel and Shawn and everyone else - even Rick - could clearly see it happening too, but they hadn’t made any comments yet. Beth was grateful for that because she wasn’t sure where their relationship was going, or if it was going anywhere. All she knew was that she and Daryl had been getting to know each other a lot over the past six or seven months, and she trusted him, and she saw him as a really good friend. Maybe more than a friend. He made an effort to drive up and surprise her, to visit her, to talk to her, to do nice things just because it made her happy.
And a couple times, they’d held hands. He hadn’t even flinched away, he’d just interlaced their fingers and grasped her hand tightly. It felt nice, even nicer than all the piggybacks and the hugs and the playful slaps and lingering gazes.
Last week, for their first Christmas together, he gifted her a beautiful pair of earrings and refused to disclose how much he’d spent on them. They made her gift of a nice new sweater pale in comparison, but if he was disappointed he didn’t let it show. In fact, he seemed elated to have received anything at all - even more so that it was from her. She promised herself that she would start putting thought into an even better gift for next year.
She didn’t want to get her hopes up too high, just in case. But she had a really good feeling about the finale of her 2019. The Dixon brothers were officially a part of the big family crowd that would be attending Maggie’s annual New Year’s Eve party. Which meant Beth would get to ring in 2020 with Daryl.
What more could she ask for?
Well… maybe a midnight kiss.
Beth kept glancing at the front door, anticipating Daryl’s arrival. It was barely past 9, but he’d promised he would be no later than 9:30. Music and warm bodies filled the first story of the large farmhouse, accompanied by festive lights and loud conversations and even louder laughter. She shifted her weight uncomfortably, wiggling her toes inside the confines of her black high heels.
She’d dressed nice tonight - like she usually did for the New Year’s party. But she’d put a little extra thought into her outfit, picking out just the right black dress and just the right lace tights, accentuating with a long sparkly necklace and styling her blonde hair into a loose, wavy updo. And the earrings that Daryl had given her. The shoes were brand new and she wasn’t quite used to the higher heels.
Admittedly, she’d been hoping to look her absolute best because she knew Daryl would be seeing her. And she wanted to give him something nice to look at.
“The ratio of available, age-appropriate women is substantially more promising than last year,” Eugene said, clutching a half-eaten cupcake in one hand and a beer in the other. “If my calculations are correct, I believe this event may be my best chance yet to find a viable mate.”
Beth sipped from her cup of punch and nodded, trying not to laugh as she watched him take a hearty bite from his cupcake, smearing frosting across the top of his lip.
Shane clapped a hand on Eugene’s shoulder. “I think you might wanna recalculate there, bud. That frosting on yer mouth ain’t doin’ much ta help yer numbers.”
“Oh, c’mon,” Michonne said, trying to suppress an obvious smile of amusement as she looped her arm through Rick’s. “He’s right - there are some women here who’ve never even met him before. His chances are substantially better.”
Rick, Shane, and Beth laughed at that while Eugene rolled his eyes, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Are y’all giving Eugene a hard time again?” Hershel asked, hobbling over on one good leg and a cane, a smile on his bearded face from overhearing their jokes. “Give ‘im a break now, he’s still young. I didn’t meet my first wife until I was forty!”
Shane let out a bark of laughter and Eugene frowned, glancing over at Hershel. “I don’t think that’s quite the encouragement you intended it to be, Mr. Greene.”
Just then, a loud voice from the front door carried over the crowd and the music. “Alright, where’s the booze at?!”
Beth whipped her head around and her chest surged with excitement when she saw Daryl standing behind his brother, who was making a rather grand entrance. Merle laughed and started patting people on the backs, walking through and heading straight for the table full of food and drinks. Daryl shut the door behind him silently and gazed around, but his eyes stopped as soon as they landed on Beth. He smiled.
“Can’t have one without the other, can we?” Shane grumbled. He’d never been Merle’s biggest fan - though no one really was, they all seemed to tolerate him. He wasn’t so bad once you got past the rough exterior, Beth thought.
Rick just chuckled and shrugged. “We’ll keep ‘im in line. So will Daryl.” He pulled away from Michonne and turned to holler across the room, “Hey, Daryl!”
But Daryl was already heading their way. He stopped at Beth’s side, reaching out and shaking hands with Rick and Hershel and Eugene and Shane, hugging Michonne briefly before stepping back to stand close to Beth. He shoved his hands in his pockets but he leaned into her so close that his arm was touching hers. She gave him a wide smile and bumped against him affectionately. He shot her a smirk and a nod.
He didn’t particularly like being affectionate in public, especially when so many of their friends and family were watching. But she could tell he was just as happy to see her as she was to see him. And he’d dressed nice - a stark difference to his usual ripped sleeves and overworn jeans. He was clad in the new sweater Beth had bought for him, sleeves completely intact, and a new pair of dark jeans. Even his boots looked brand new. His hair was still in need of a trim, shagging into his eyes and brushing the top of his shoulders, but he’d very clearly washed it and brushed it and made some sort of attempt at styling it.
Hershel immediately began asking him how he was doing, and Rick followed up with questions about his job and whatever they’d most recently discussed. Michonne and Eugene stepped away and began having a conversation of their own, laughing and joking with one another, and Shane quickly wandered off to find Lori.
A few moments later, as Beth stood beside Daryl and listened politely while he conversed with Rick and her dad, Maggie approached. She gestured for Beth to step away with her and Beth nudged Daryl’s arm, getting his attention long enough to give him a look that said she’d be right back. He nodded in acknowledgment and she walked away with Maggie, heading into the kitchen.
“I need you ta help me carry the rest of the cupcakes out while I bring the other cooler of beer,” Maggie explained as they entered the kitchen, putting a heavy door between them and all the commotion in the living and dining rooms. “And make sure we have enough champagne glasses for midnight.”
“Okay, but why can’t Glenn help you?” Beth asked, setting down her drink and fetching the big box of cupcakes that sat unopened on the kitchen counter.
“What, we can’t have some sisterly bonding time?” Maggie joked as she emptied a box of beer into a cooler full of ice.
Beth shrugged. “I guess so.” She noted the other cup full of punch beside her own. “Aren’t you drinking tonight? Yer usually a couple beers in by now.”
Maggie laughed and shook her head. “No booze for me for a while.”
Beth laughed as well, assuming it was a joke. “Why - did you an’ Glenn have another crazy night recently?”
She glanced over and saw Maggie shrugging, turning away from Beth’s gaze. “Yeah, you could say that.”
Beth immediately became suspicious. “What… Are you tryin’ ta tell me…?”
When Maggie shot her a coy smile, cheeks bright red, Beth couldn’t help but let out a squeal of excitement and clap her hands together. “Are you serious?!”
Maggie abandoned her task and rushed over to Beth, grabbing her by the arms but grinning the whole time. “Seriously, you can’t tell anyone! Dad doesn’t even know. We’re not gonna announce it until I’m a little farther along.”
Beth squealed again, bursting with excitement. “Oh my god - Maggie!” She wrapped her arms around her older sister and squeezed tight, both of them laughing. “I can’t believe it!”
“I know, I know - we didn’t plan it, though. It just kinda… happened,” Maggie said, blushing again as she pulled out of the hug.
Beth shrugged, still grinning. “Who cares? This is amazing! Oh, Daddy’s gonna be so happy. He’s gonna be a grandpa! I’m gonna be an aunt!”
“Shh!” Maggie insisted. “Not so loud. It’s our little secret, okay? I don’t even trust Shawn not ta say anything.”
Beth rolled her eyes. “You know I can’t keep a secret this big either.”
Maggie raised her eyebrows and gave Beth a meaningful look. “Oh yeah? What about you an’ Daryl?”
Beth’s face immediately went bright red and her smile turned sheepish. “That’s not a secret. Everybody knows we’re friends.”
Maggie scoffed. “Friends? C’mon, Bethy. I’m not stupid. Friends don’t buy expensive earrings for each other.”
Beth rolled her eyes, a bit embarrassed. She didn’t want to start putting labels on anything when she still wasn’t sure what Daryl would be comfortable with. Plus, she really didn’t want to have that talk with her brother or dad. Or Maggie. Which would be inevitable if anything became ‘official.’
“We’re just talking,” she muttered, stepping away to grab the cupcakes.
Maggie paused, then went over and picked up the cooler full of beer, prepared to walk it out of the kitchen. “Yeah, okay. We all see how you two are with each other. It’s okay, ya know. I mean, I didn’t think he was really your type, but if he treats you well and makes you happy…”
Beth started to attempt an explanation as they both stood with arms full of refreshments. “He’s just…” But then she was blushing again and glancing away, shaking her head. “He’s just Daryl. And yeah - I like him. But we haven’t even kissed yet. I don’t even know if he really sees me that way.”
Maggie smirked knowingly. “He does. I see the way he looks at you. He’s just shy.”
Beth chuckled as they walked to the door of the kitchen, trying not to blush anymore than she already was. “Yeah. He’s shy.”
She knew Maggie was right, but she didn’t want to get ahead of herself just yet.
Maggie turned back and gave Beth a confident smile just before they rejoined the party outside the door. “There’s still more’an two hours left in the year, Bethy. Anything could happen.”
Anything? I don’t want much, Beth thought. Just a good ending to this year. And maybe a decent start to the next.
Shortly after bringing out the new refreshments, Beth sought out Glenn and whispered in his ear that she knew the secret. He begged her not to say anything yet and she assured him that he and Maggie had nothing to worry about. Then they hugged tightly and Beth congratulated him, telling him for the millionth time how happy she was that he was part of the family and thanking him for making her big sister so happy. Before she walked away to find Daryl, she clinked her cup of punch with Glenn’s beer and they made a toast to the new year.
Hershel was still talking with Daryl when Beth tracked him down, though Eugene and Rick had wandered off to the other side of the room and were currently catching up with Rosita and Abraham and T-Dog. Maggie was flitting around everywhere, stopping to share smiles and kind words with Andrea and Dale and Aaron and Eric and several other people that she didn’t get to see very often. Beth waved at Carl as he passed by before she stopped to stand close to Daryl’s side. Her dad was talking to him about business or something - discussing his job and his plans for the future, from the sounds of it.
“Just a few more years an’ you’ll be all ready to start practicing as a real veterinarian, Doodlebug,” Hershel said, turning his attention on Beth with a proud smile.
She smiled back and nodded. “I still got a ways ta go, Daddy.”
He chuckled. “But you’re already farther than you realize.” He looked at Daryl with raised eyebrows and asked, “D’you plan on stayin’ around here, son? Or would you entertain the idea of movin’ to Atlanta? If Beth gets a job in the city, that is.”
Daryl’s brow furrowed and Beth could see the tips of his ears growing bright red from where they poked out beneath his hair. He shot her a glance and she quickly cut in, grabbing his arm.
“Uh, Dad - I think we’re gonna go talk to - “ she looked out across the room briefly and named the first couple she spotted, “Tara an’ Denise.” She looked up at Daryl pointedly and lied, “They were askin’ about you, we should go say hi.”
Daryl interpreted the expression on her face and quickly agreed, reaching out a hand to shake with Hershel. “Yeah, ‘s good talkin’ to ya but we’ll catch up some more in a bit. I’mma go make the rounds.”
Hershel smiled knowingly and shook Daryl’s hand, nodding. But his eyes were focused on Beth as he said, “Alright now. You two have fun.” He gave her a sly wink as Daryl turned away and Beth simply rolled her eyes, pulling Daryl away from her dad as fast as she could.
She really hadn’t wanted everyone to start taking note and making comments on her and Daryl’s relationship tonight of all nights, when nearly every person they knew was in the same place. Though it was beginning to seem inevitable. She wished Maggie would announce her pregnancy already so the spotlight wouldn’t be on Beth and Daryl.
She led him away from her dad and across the room, toward the refreshment table rather than Tara and Denise. As soon as she let go of his arm, she gave him an apologetic smile and said, “I think it’s officially time fer me ta start drinkin’.” Then she chuckled and reached out to grab one of the bottles of alcohol and pour a small shot into her cup of punch.
“Yeah, me too,” Daryl agreed with a smirk, reaching out to pour himself a cup of spiked punch as well. “I mean, I like talkin’ ta yer dad, ‘s just…”
Beth sipped her new drink and winced a bit as the hint of booze shocked her tongue. She finished for him, “You don’t have to explain. He’s um, gettin’ a little presumptuous. Sorry if he made you feel awkward.”
Daryl shook his head, taking a swig of his own drink before assuring her, “Nah, ain’t that.” She noticed the tips of his ears turning pink again. “I never been too good at the family stuff. Don’t wanna say somethin’ an’ end up makin’ ya look like a fool.”
Beth frowned, gazing up at him. “Make me look like a fool?” She laughed awkwardly. “What d’you mean?” She had a feeling she knew what he meant, but she hadn’t expected them to be having this conversation tonight.
Plus, she wanted to hear him say it - if it was what she was pretty sure he was trying to say.
He shrugged and glanced away from her, down at the drink in his hand, and mumbled back, “Don’t want ya to be ashamed of… us.” He put the cup to his lips as soon as his last word had escaped, still refusing to meet her eyes.
She could feel her face growing warm but she didn’t care this time. She smiled wide and reached out to gently take his hand in hers, interlacing their fingers and waiting for him to look at her. His tensed shoulders relaxed.
When he finally looked at her, she said, “Daryl, I would never be ashamed of you. I’m really glad yer here tonight - with me. But we don’t have to… ya know, make it anything. If yer not comfortable with that yet.”
He furrowed his brow in confusion, squeezing her hand softly.
“I jus’ mean, my dad doesn’t need ta be grilling you like yer my new boyfriend or something,” she clarified. “I told Maggie we’re talking. That’s all. It doesn’t have ta be anything more.”
His blue eyes flickered with disappointment and she quickly added, “Not unless you… want it ta be. Or whatever.”
Her face was hot and she glanced away, taking another sip of her drink.
“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want it ta be,” he muttered almost too quietly for her to hear.
Her grin widened and she couldn’t stop it. He squeezed her hand again and she shrugged, trying not to appear too eager or desperate or anything like that. She didn’t want to risk scaring him away. Was she getting ahead of herself? She wasn’t sure, but the butterflies in her stomach were going crazy beneath Daryl’s intense gaze. He seemed to be studying her.
She opened her mouth and tried to explain, “I know, I jus’ don’t want you ta feel pressured ‘cause my dad is like, asking if yer gonna move - “
“Actually,” he interjected, and her lips snapped shut in surprise. “I was thinkin’ about it anyway - moving, I mean. I been lookin’ at places in the city. Got a buddy that might have a job for me up there.”
“Oh,” her voice came out quiet. Her grin returned full-force and her cheeks were beginning to ache from smiling so much. Reflexively, she tightened her grasp on his hand and urged him a step closer, until he was standing right in front of her and she was gazing up at him through long lashes. “Really…?”
He nodded, smiling down at her sheepishly. “Yeah. What d’ya think? Bad idea? Ya think I’m cut out fer city livin’?”
She giggled, curling her fingers inside his palm playfully. “I think yer cut out for anything you wanna do. You might miss the quiet of livin’ out in the country, though. It can get pretty loud in the city.”
He smirked and rumbled out in his low, gravelly voice, “Yeah, but I’d get ta see you a lot more often. Li’l bit a noise seems like a good trade-off.”
Beth grinned and gazed up at him, her heart filled to bursting with excitement and pure adoration. She squeezed his hand affectionately and said, “I was thinkin’ the same thing.”
His smirk grew into a genuine smile and the way he was looking down at her made all her muscles tense up in anticipation. He had that look on his face… like he might be about to lean down and kiss her.
But then he lifted her hand in his and raised it to his lips, planting a soft kiss on the back of her hand. And though it wasn’t the kiss she’d been hoping for, it still sent all the blood coursing through her veins at light-speed. Her heart thumped like she’d just run a mile.
“Ya look really beautiful tonight,” he growled out, quiet enough that only she could hear him, his intense gaze locked on hers. “You know that?”
Her face went beet red and she glanced away bashfully, giggling. Then she shrugged and gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. “You clean up pretty well yerself.” He chuckled as she reached up with her free hand and plucked at his new sweater. “I think I picked out the perfect color fer you.”
He grunted, nodding. “Well it‘s pretty damn comfy. Can’t remember the last time I owned a real sweater.”
Beth laughed but before she could say anything else, the music was being turned down and Maggie was making a loud announcement from the front of the living room.
“Everybody who wants to play charades, we’re gonna do it in the dining room!”
Glenn chimed in from beside her with a beer in his hand, “Come one, come all! Now is your chance to be owned by the Charades Champion!”
Laughter filled the room and then Aaron was piping up from the back of the crowd, “I have the real Charades Champ right here!” He was pointing to his husband, Eric, who was covering his face and laughing. “Tonight will be the end of your reign, Glenn!”
“Hey now,” Tara argued, grinning and stepping forward with a playful look on her face. “Last time I checked, I was undefeated!”
“By who?!” Glenn laughed.
Daryl leaned down close to Beth’s ear, chuckling. “Alright, we gotta go watch this.”
Beth laughed and freed her hand from his grasp so she could loop her arm through his. “Didn’t ya know I’m the second best charades player after Glenn?”
The next hour and a half flew by in a blur of games, laughter, music, and a little booze.
Daryl didn’t participate in charades but he stood back and watched, endlessly amused as Beth tried and failed to help her team beat Glenn’s. As it turned out, Carl, Andrea, T-Dog, and Carol were not the best charades partners she could’ve asked for. But in all honesty, she hadn’t played her very best either. It was impossible when she knew Daryl was watching. Nonetheless, they all had a lot of fun and Beth was crying with laughter by the time her team was eliminated.
After that, she had a slight buzz going from the two spiked drinks she’d been sipping and she ended up back in the living room with Daryl, talking and joking with Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Lori. Their pleasant conversation was abruptly ended when a commotion started in the corner of the room - Merle had pinched Andrea’s ass and called her “sugartits,” which earned him a full-force slap to the face that sent him stumbling back into the wall.
Daryl moved to step in, but then Rick was reaching out and giving Merle a steady hand to help him stand upright again, all the while apologizing profusely to Andrea. So Daryl stopped and remained at Beth’s side, watching.
“Do it again and I’ll put you on yer ass, redneck,” Andrea said, smirking.
“Well goddamn! Yer a feisty broad, ain’tcha?” Merle cried, holding his red cheek and staring at Andrea with something that resembled both shock and admiration. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so fuckin’ hard in my life! Can you hit me like that while we’re screwin’? Lemme get yer number, sweetcheeks!”
Nearly everyone witnessing the scene burst into laughter at that, and Merle was quickly led away by Rick and Michonne, putting plenty of distance between him and Andrea. Though Andrea seemed pleased with herself and earned a congratulatory pat on the back from Shane. Daryl simply rolled his eyes and looked away. Beth laughed and nudged him, shaking her head. They shared a look, silently agreeing that they’d expected nothing less from Merle.
A few minutes later, a particularly dance-worthy song came on and Beth pulled Daryl out into the middle of the room, where there were a few other couples dancing together. She ignored his protests of “I don’t dance,” laughing and tugging him along anyway, assuring him that he could just stand there if he so wished. He didn’t, though. Once he was out on the floor with her, his embarrassment gradually faded.
His face was bright red the whole time but he didn’t pull away, allowing her to make a half-assed attempt at dancing whilst they were both gripping cups in their hands. At one point, Tara and Rosita wandered over and danced with Beth, all three of them erupting into giggles by the time the song had ended. Dwight and Sherry made their way over as well, and Dwight bumped his hip against Daryl’s jokingly, earning a punch in the arm. Sherry stopped and leaned in just long enough to whisper into Beth’s ear, “You two are so cute!” Beth laughed and brushed her off, though the comment made her smile even wider than before as she continued dancing with Daryl and whoever else happened to momentarily wander over.
She mouthed along to the words of all her favorite songs, not caring how dumb she might look as she moved joyfully to the beat. And once they’d been left undisturbed for a few moments, Daryl placed his hands discreetly on her hips. He pulled her a little closer every time she misstepped in her high heels or bumped against his legs. They laughed together, grinning and growing closer with every song.
All she could think about was how happy she was that he’d come to the party tonight, and how she wouldn’t have rather spent her New Year’s Eve with anyone else.
By the time a slow song came on, they were already pressed together. All she had to do was rest her forearms on his shoulders and gaze up at him, a grin plastered to her face as she lightly swayed to the music. Everyone else seemed to fade away for a moment and it was just them, staring into each other’s eyes, moving in time with one another. The butterflies in Beth’s stomach were going absolutely nuts. But she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
She kept glancing at his mouth, eyeing his lips and asking herself why she couldn’t just muster up the courage and kiss him already. A couple of times, she thought he might’ve been looking at her mouth and thinking the same thing. But she couldn’t be sure. No one around them was really paying attention, it wouldn’t be a big deal…
His grasp on her hips tightened and she leaned into him. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to close that final bit of distance between their faces.
And then the music was back to being fast-paced and the moment was gone.
When Maggie turned on the big 60-inch TV in the living room, Beth knew it was getting close to midnight. She glanced at the screen to see Times Square packed full of people, all celebrating the new year with their noisemakers and party hats and 2020-shaped glasses, cheering and grinning and waving. The camera panned over a huge clock that read 11:44.
The last song faded out and Maggie took that opportunity to turn the music off. She and Glenn were standing beside the TV with Hershel seated in a chair close behind, waiting for the raucous crowd to notice them and turn their attention as the rumble of conversation gradually died down. Beth and Daryl stood close together side-by-side, sipping from their cups and watching patiently.
“Who the fuck turned the music off?!” Merle cried from the back of the living room.
Laughter rippled through the crowd and Maggie rolled her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but at the same moment, the door to the kitchen burst open and Abraham emerged. He’d stripped off his nice button-up shirt to reveal the wifebeater underneath, and now he was wearing an empty Budweiser box on his head with holes cut out for the eyes. He was holding a full bottle of beer and attempting to drink it through the box.
He threw his arms up and declared, “I love every single one of you stupid assholes! Who’s ready for a sparkly new fuckin’ year?!”
Nearly everyone cheered in unison as Abraham managed to lift his beer successfully to his lips - underneath his beer box mask - and take a long drink. The room raised their cups in cheers and joined him in drinking.
Beth and Daryl laughed and cheered as well, and she leaned into his side, wrapping an arm around his back. He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her in closer.
Shawn emerged from the kitchen holding a platter full of champagne glasses and Abraham stepped aside to make room. Jillian followed behind with another full platter, then Rick and Carl trailed in after carrying the same. They began moving around the room, letting everyone grab a glass of champagne.
“It’s almost midnight!” Maggie announced loudly, grinning with excitement. “So everybody who wants one, take a glass of champagne for the countdown. We just wanted ta say thank you to everybody for comin’ out and being responsible. Seriously - thank you, guys. Y’all are a part of the family! We’re all family. And it’s an honor to ring in the new year with all of you!”
The room had gone quiet as everyone listened to the announcement. Hershel stood from his chair, leaning heavily on his cane, and stepped up beside her. “When the countdown ends and the new year begins, I’ll be making a toast to many more years spent as family. Just remember that y’all are welcome in our home anytime.” He winked and turned his gaze on Merle. “Even you, Merle.”
Everyone laughed, raising their newly acquired champagne glasses in cheers.
Daryl turned to Beth, both of them having traded their plastic cups full of spiked punch for fancy stemware full of champagne. “What’re you gonna toast to?”
Beth smiled, shrugging bashfully. She nudged him with her hip and replied, “I dunno. Another year of school an’ hopin’ I pass all my classes, I guess… And seein’ you more often if you move to the city.” She giggled. “What are you gonna toast to?”
He smirked and glanced down at her from the corner of his eye. “I’ono. But I think I got a lot ta look forward to in 2020.”
Her smile widened. “And all the years after it.”
He nodded. “If I’m lucky.”
She held out her glass and clinked it lightly with his, making a silent toast before they took simultaneous sips of champagne.
Maggie turned up the volume on the TV and the sound of New Year’s Eve in Times Square filled the living room, mixing with all the sounds of half-drunken conversation and laughter from the crowd inside the farmhouse.
Off in the corner, Rosita was struggling to free Abraham’s large head from the tight confines of the Budweiser box - though he continued drinking his beer and conversing with Carol and Enid despite it, completely unaffected. At the other end of the room, Merle was giving Carl some sort of advice while Rick stood beside him, arms crossed over his chest and frowning heavily, shaking his head and obviously disapproving. Over by the refreshments table, Tara was reenacting a very dramatic story for a wide-eyed Dale while Denise and Andrea looked on with smiles of amusement. Near the doorway between the living and dining rooms, Bob was engaged in a heated discussion with Tyreese while Karen and Sasha stood by, laughing. And in the middle of what had been the dancefloor just moments ago, Eugene was using a lot of hand gestures to describe something to Aaron and Eric and Ezekiel, all of whom looked rather skeptical.
Beth focused her gaze on Daryl, unable to suppress the smile that curved her lips upwards. He was warm against her, even warmer when she gazed around and took in all the love that surrounded them. Glenn and Maggie were practically wrapped around each other by the TV, kissing and exchanging smiles and quiet words. Hershel had begun making his final rounds through the room, stopping to converse with everyone. The final ten minutes of the decade were drifting away.
The clock was ticking down, each minute passing quicker than the last. The crowd in Times Square was growing rowdier, as was the much smaller crowd within the Greene home. Anticipation mounted in every second, slowly building until it had grown into a palpable tension that hovered over the entire room. Daryl’s arm tightened around Beth’s waist and he pulled her closer until they were pressed against one another. They both seemed to be gazing around, taking in the amusing sight of their friends and family in all their half-drunken and playful states.
All the commotion around her commanded her attention until she realized just how rapidly midnight was approaching. The next thing she knew, it was 11:58 and Maggie and Glenn were standing up again, raising their glasses in a toast (though Maggie’s glass only contained seltzer water) with grins on their faces.
“Here’s to a new year,” Maggie announced. “And to y’all!”
Tara chimed in happily, “Let’s make 2020 our BITCH!”
Everyone laughed and raised their glasses in a unison toast and a loud “cheers!”, filling the room with a rumble of chatter and laughter for the next several seconds. Beth and Daryl raised their glasses as well, toasting to the rest of the room for a brief moment. They locked eyes and shared a smile at the end though, and Beth wasn’t sure if it was the champagne or him that sent her head swirling in the most wonderful way.
The final countdown began on the TV and the room grew loud once again as everyone proceeded to count down the remaining seconds of 2019 with Ryan Seacrest, watching the Ball make its slow descent. Beth’s heart swelled with excitement and her fingers’ grip on the stem of her glass tightened subconsciously. She felt Daryl’s hand squeeze her hip and pull her tighter against him, until his body heat seemed to merge with hers. She tore her eyes away from the numbers on the screen to look at him, turning her body until she was facing him and her chest was brushing up against his torso.
She flashed him a grin and he smiled back. But she couldn’t help the way her eyes drifted to his mouth, imagining what his lips might feel like against her own. They’d been so soft on the back of her hand. She wanted to lean up and kiss him right now, but the courage still wasn’t there.
A chorus of every party-goer’s voice was filling the room and her ears, and Beth normally would’ve been counting down right along with them all, but it didn’t seem important at the moment. The only person she could see was Daryl.
All she could think about was how fast midnight was approaching and how she still hadn’t kissed him. Was he glancing at her lips, too? Was he maybe thinking about it?
His hand gave her hip another squeeze. His tongue flicked out and across his lips, so quick she barely noticed. Her heart was nearly beating out of her chest. She wanted to close the distance.
She hadn’t realized her other hand was on his hip as well, nearly tucked into the pocket of his jeans. They were standing so close together that she could feel his chest rising and falling with every breath he took. And he was breathing oddly faster than normal.
Beth took a deep breath and held it without meaning to. Her muscles seemed to swell with anticipation.
I wanna kiss you, she tried to say with her eyes. But she wasn’t sure he was interpreting the message.
His lips barely parted. She blinked. Just do it. Just lean in.
It’s now or never. Kiss him. Kiss him. Kiss him.
She shut her eyes and leaned in, standing on tiptoes to reach his mouth.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
When the clock struck 12, the whole world was exploding with joy around them. But all Beth could feel was Daryl’s lips against hers. Fireworks went off in Times Square and noisemakers popped inside the Greene house. Everyone was cheering, whooping and hollering and throwing back swigs of champagne, welcoming the arrival of 2020 with a bang.
And Beth and Daryl were finally kissing for the first time.
It was like a giant bubble of anticipation had formed over them and burst open all at once, showering them in unseen confetti. Like a huge Ball of their own had made its slow descent and reached the bottom, bursting to life with light and music as soon as their lips connected.
She couldn’t help but smile against his mouth. And she felt him smiling, too.
When they parted and she opened her eyes, she found him staring down at her. He looked speechless and a bit perplexed. She exhaled the breath she’d been subconsciously holding and felt her face beginning to burn.
She was about to apologize, but then he smirked. He squeezed her hip meaningfully and pulled her back into him. Then he leaned down and kissed her again.
This time, when they pulled apart, Daryl gazed into Beth’s eyes with something new. She grinned and her heart fluttered inside her chest.
“Happy New Year, Beth,” he growled, still smirking.
She giggled. “Happy New Year, Daryl.”
She had a feeling that this year would be much different… in the best way possible.