Christmas Eve Morning
It was cold out, way too cold for this to be Georgia and predictions were it was only going to get worse. He'd heard on the radio that by noon there'd be whiteout conditions. An ice storm was coming followed by a snow storm, and both would be accompanied by high winds. The roads were already slick, covered in a layer of ice from the freezing temperatures.
The news was telling everyone to stay in, no unnecessary travel. Conditions were hazardous not just in Georgia but throughout the south.
He was staying right there at home, hunkered down. He didn't have anywhere he needed to be but home. He'd planned for a long time to take the day off, in fact he was taking the whole next week off. Unless he had an emergency call.
And sure enough at 7:00 am one of those calls came in. He couldn't tell her no, not Mrs. Heywood, she was an elderly widow whose furnace had gone out. In these conditions it would be giving her a death sentence. "Yes Ma'm ya bundle up an my Shadow an me will be there quick as we can."
He changed into insulated jeans, thick wool socks, and put on a heavy flannel shirt. His Shadow was trying to mimic him but he was having a little trouble. "Lemme help ya now or we'll never get outta here."
They got to Mrs. Heywood's and he was grateful to find it was just the pilot light that had gone out. He got the furnace going but just to be on the safe side he'd also built a fire for her in the old wood stove. He carried in several bundles of firewood, enough to tide her over until he could stop back by in a few days and check on her. "Lemme pay ya Daryl."
"Nah Ma'am we're good. I didn't do much a nuthin'. Ya just keep a log on that fire an ya call me if ya got more trouble, k?"
She handed his Shadow a cookie, "Well I insist ya take this loaf a cranberry bread, an thank ya Daryl you're a good man."
"No problem Miz Heywood, thanks for the bread an ya have ya a Merry Christmas now."
"You too Son."
He was back on the two lane and headed for his place, thankful he was in his work truck. It weighed heavy and sat low so he felt pretty sure of it on the bad road. But that rain mixed with ice that was falling was making him anxious to get back home.
Then he saw it up ahead blocking both lanes, a big tree limb lying across the road, and there was a small passenger car that had slid off the side. Whoever it was must have tried to brake too fast and lost control.
He pulled over slow and told his Shadow, "Ya sit tight now, ya hear? I'll be right back." He hurried over to the vehicle and saw the blond head leaning against the steering wheel, not moving. Thinking the worst he muttered "Shit," as he pulled the door open. But her head came up quickly and her eyes went right to him, scared looking and with tears running down her face.
"Ya okay? Ya get hurt?"
"No I don't think so. I think I'm alright I'm just scared is all."
"C'mon then, come with me. We gotta go. Ice is blowin' an the temperature is droppin' fast, c'mon. I got a boy in the truck, can't leave him."
"I'd like to take my bag, please."
"Yeah, yeah c'mon hand it here."
He got her up in the truck, threw her case in the back and barked, "Ya stay put now, the both a ya. I'ma try an move that branch, otherwise we're gonna have take our chances a goin' over it." He grabbed a small ax from the tool box and ran over to the big tree limb. He hacked off and tossed aside enough branches to clear a path, and hurried back to the vehicle, practically jumping in, "Alright, now we just gotta make it two more miles."
She'd been so scared and she realized now that she hadn't thought this through; she'd just done what he said. But seeing the little boy did make her feel better. Obviously he was a family man, probably not a serial killer. Hopefully. "I'm Beth Greene. Who are you?"
"Name's Daryl Dixon, this here is Timmy Dixon." That was all he said. She could see he was concentrating hard on the road, it was getting nearly impossible to see and she didn't want to distract him. She'd had enough close calls for one day. She'd just wait and talk to his wife.
They pulled off the highway and followed a barely visible road that was already covered in snow and ice. When they'd gone some distance she saw the faint outline of what looked to be a shop building. It was so hard to see she wasn't sure, but he headed right toward it. "Y'all stay put, ya hear?" And he lept from the truck and moved quickly through the snow, pulling the shops' big overhead door up. He got back in the truck and drove into the shop and as he looked at the little boy, for the first time he seemed to relax, just a little, "We're home now Shadow."
The little boy hadn't spoken to either of them, he just kept his eyes trained on his Daddy. He was a beautiful child with dark blond curls, pale skin and vibrant blue eyes. He looked to be about three. The man, Daryl, took the boy from the car seat and instructed him, "Ya keep your face buried in Daddy's shoulder, then ya won't get ice on it, an ya try an hang on ta this bread Miz Heywood give us, K?" The little boy nodded, "Yes Daddy."
Then he looked to her, "C'mon an hurry now, we need ta get in the house, this ain't gettin' better anytime soon."
He had the little boy held close to him with one arm and her case in his hand. It wasn't like she had choices so she just did as he said. The minute she stepped out of the shop building and onto the icy ground she slipped. Before she knew what was happening he'd dropped her case,and his arm was around her waist, holding her upright and close to his side. "Lemme get the two a ya inside, I'll come back for your case."
She couldn't believe it, the visibility was nearly zero as they carefully trudged to the house. With the ice coming down hard and pelting their faces, and the wind howling the way it was, she knew she would have never even seen the house if he hadn't led her there.
He opened the door, kicking his boots against the door jamb to knock the snow off. She did the same, not wanting to upset his wife by making a mess in her home. He rushed her and the boy inside, "Y'all stay put, I'ma close the shop door an get your case."
When he'd shut the cabin door she looked to the little boy, "Is your Mommy home Timmy?"
He just looked confused and she didn't push him, she had no desire to frighten small children. She noticed the wooden coat hooks on the wall by the door and that was her cue. She took the loaf of bread from the little boy and set it on an end table and then removed his coat and hung it. She slipped his boots off, "My goodness Timmy your feet are freezing." She was rubbing those little feet, trying to warm them up when Daryl Dixon walked back in.
He took his coat off and hung it but he was watching her and she felt the need to explain herself. "His feet were so cold I was just trying to warm them."
"That's nice but ya better get your own wet clothes off now. Timmy ya go get your slippers on Son."
"K Daddy." And off he trotted.
She took her opportunity, "Is your wife home?"
He looked puzzled for just a moment and then smiled a sort of barely there and funny kind of half smile, "Ain't got one, never did."
"Oh I see, I'm sorry."
"Ain't nuthin' ta be sorry about, an nah ya don't see it girl. Whatever you're thinkin' ain't what it is." And that was all he said leaving her completely confused. Now she was starting to worry. She'd willingly gotten into the vehicle of some man she didn't even know, and here she was virtually trapped in his house with him. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in a raging storm. Good thinking Beth. Of course, if she had stayed where she was she'd probably be dead by Christmas. Either way it wasn't looking real good.
He called to his son, "Timmy! Where's my Shadow? C'mon now n help Daddy stoke this fire." The little boy came running in from what she supposed was his bedroom. As his Daddy knelt on the floor in front of the big wood stove, the child took a log from the neat stack and handed it to him. "Thatta boy, I think one more's gonna do it for now." And again the child handed him a log from the stack. After placing the log in the fire Daryl shut the heavy cast door of the woodstove and stood. "See there? We'll be warm an dry now Son."
He trained his eyes on her, "So now tell me why the hell ya was out drivin' by yourself on an ol' two lane, when they done shut down the whole damn state? Even the governor was warnin' everyone ta stay in. Ya got ya a death wish?"
"It's a long story." She was embarrassed; it had been stupid that was clear to her now. And just to really embarrass her, she'd felt the color come to her cheeks.
"Timmy an me got nuthin' but time, we ain't goin' nowhere." The little boy stood right there by his Daddy, imitating his stance and his focused stare.
No sense fighting it, she shrugged, "I've been living in Atlanta for about a year, just to kind of see what city life is all about. I didn't have a great job or anything, but it was enough to rent a tiny studio apartment and feed myself. I thought everything was going pretty good until two days ago. Out of the blue my boss tells me he's got to let me go, there's not enough work. Merry Christmas to me. I don't have any savings or anything, and the rents' due next week. It was really kind of a blessing anyway, I don't think I'm cut out to live in the city. I just packed up what little I had, stuck it in the trunk of the car and I was on my way home. All I wanted to do was just get there for Christmas."
He just nodded his head, "You're lucky, it coulda been a real bad Christmas for ya, an your folks too."
"You saved my life." It was like she was just realizing it.
"Whatever. Did ya call your folks an let 'em know you're okay? Ya best call 'em."
"You have cell service here?"
"Yeah, we're not far from a ranger station, you'll ping offa their tower. Me an the boy we're gonna get us a stew started for supper." He pointed toward the wall, "There's a TV set there, an there's some books on the shelf, mostly nature an such. Ya go ahead an entertain yourself."
"Thanks, I can't believe your power is still on."
"We're livin' off the grid, got a generator, a well an a septic system. We even got solar."
He smiled what was almost a real smile, "Well we do got a satellite dish. Me an Timmy we like our cartoons, western movies and nature shows. An I get the radio that way too. We ain't completely backwards out here."
"C'mon Timmy." And just like that he and the young boy went to the kitchen.
That's when she finally took a look around. It was simple, comfortable, and very well kept. The front room area had the woodstove in the corner, with the neat stack of logs next to it. There was a big overstuffed sofa, an easy chair, a recliner and a couple of small end tables. There was a big braided rug in front of the sofa that along with the fire added to the room's cozy feel. Off in a far corner was an antique roll top desk with an old fashioned wood office chair, a bookcase stood next to it.
In the corner opposite the woodstove was a small Christmas tree. The tree itself was perfect but it was definitely lacking in decorations. There were lights strung but only six or seven ornaments hung from it.
There were very few things adorning the walls, a photo of Daryl and Timmy, both had a big smile and she thought they should smile more often. They were so handsome when they did. There was a large crossbow hung near the front door that looked both well-cared for and well used. The only other thing, and the only hint of modernity she'd seen in the place, was a large flat screen TV mounted on the wall opposite the sofa. She could picture the man and his son sitting there watching some ancient cowboy movie.
She called her folks and explained about the mishap, he could hear her trying to calm them, "No I'm fine Mama I promise. A real nice family came to my rescue and took me in, I'm safe and warm. I'll call you as soon as the roads are passable again. Yes, yes okay I love you too. Yes I promise, I'm fine."
She wandered into the kitchen to see what they were doing. The little boy was sitting on the counter closely watching his Daddy. Daryl had dredged some big chunks of meat in flour and was browning them in a large cast iron skillet. "See there Timmy, ya just wanna brown it, not cook it all the way through, then ya put it in the big pot. It'll cook more with the stew. K?"
He spoke to the small boy as if he was a grown up, and like he was going to do this very same thing himself, maybe as soon as tomorrow. And the little boy acted so serious like he was absorbing every bit of the information. All of it made her smile.
"Are you expecting him to start cooking any day now?" She asked it in a very lighthearted way.
Daryl looked serious, not angry, but definitely serious, "It's my job ta teach him things an it's his job ta learn 'em. He's all I got an I'm all he's got. We gotta be able ta lookout for each other."
She was a little taken aback by the solemnity of his answer, and sad. He made it sound like they were the only two people left in the world. She didn't want to make a big deal out of what really wasn't her business, "Well I'd like to help if I could, I'm a fair cook."
He looked at her like he was gaging her ability, "Yeah okay, I guess if we're all gonna be eatin' it we can all help fix it. How's your carrot choppin' skills?"
"I'd say I'm above average."
"Sounds good. I like ta use alotta vegetables in stew cuz it's about the only way Timmy likes ta eat 'em."
"Then it's a great idea and I love vegetables myself, the more the merrier." She smiled, genuinely looking forward to helping with the preparation. And it did turn out to be fun all of them helping a little. She noticed he was extra cautious about the little boy, not letting him too close to the range or near the knives, and he never stopped explaining to him what they were doing.
As they worked she took in the big square kitchen. There were plenty of cabinets, but also some open shelving that held lots of colorful jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables. The cabinets didn't have the slick and polished style of new cabinetry. These cabinets had a rough hewn and handcrafted look to them. They definitely fit the personality of the cabin. The big white farmhouse sink, the huge freestanding gas range, and the round top refrigerator all looked like what her grandmother used to have. The counters were wood but not butcher block, just thick wood that while it looked perfectly clean and sanitary, also looked ancient. There was an eating area at one end of the room, next to a big window, and the simple dinette had that 1950's diner look.
"Did you can all these fruits and veggies Daryl?"
"Nah them are all from trades I made. There's some elderly folks I help out around here. I don't take money from old folks so they trade me canned an baked goods. I like the way it works out an so do they."
"That's wonderful, what kind of work do you do?"
He snickered a little, "What I really do is heatin' an A/C, but folks call me for every kinda job they either don't know how ta do, or can't do. I guess that makes me a jack a all trades. Keeps me busy an no one seems ta mind that I bring my Shadow with me."
"Well it sounds like you keep busy and I'm sure he's a very capable helper."
"He's a real big help ta me. He knows most a the tools an he don't complain, he just watches an learns." She could tell the man was proud of the little boy, and Timmy smiled when his Daddy spoke of him that way.
"I'ma fix me an my boy lunch now, ya hungry? I got plenty."
"Thank you I am hungry. Can I help though, you've done so much."
"Ain't nuthin'. But yeah, if ya wanna. I set aside some leftovers, rabbit an biscuits. Will ya eat rabbit?"
"Oh sure. I was raised on a farm I'm not skittish about meats."
"Good, that's venison I used in the stew."
He watched her as she ate, doing his best to be discreet. She was pretty, he'd noticed it the minute he opened her car door and she looked up at him with her tear stained face. And tiny, he knew that when he'd half-carried her from the shop to the house. She seemed real nice, pleasant. She'd warmed Timmy's feet, offered to help with the meal and never complained about anything.
He'd never been a guy who got around with women much, and he'd never had a steady one. Once Timmy came to be with him there were no women at all. His life was devoted to the child. Now this woman had shown up and caught him by surprise. But he wasn't kidding himself. The only reason she was here with him and Timmy was because she couldn't go anywhere else.
She looked at him, smiling, "If you had some paper I could help Timmy make some decorations for the tree. I think it would be fun and I'd clean up any messes we made."
He looked at her, curious, did she think he was disagreeable? "I don't mind, an yeah I got copy paper an I got construction paper for Timmy. But he has ta lay down after lunch. He needs a little rest in the afternoon or he gets kinda cranky later. He stays down about an hour, so after that, k?"
"Yes that would be great, I think we'll have fun."
"Speakin' a his nap, so ya know, I'ma lay him down in my room. Ya can bunk in his room while you're here. Sorry the sheets ain't fresh today, yesterday was laundry day. He don't have accidents or nuthin' though."
"Its' fine I appreciate it, but are you sure it's not an inconvenience? I don't mind sleeping on the couch."
"Nah, he'll be fine in there with me."
She was surprised with how relaxed she'd begun to feel with them. She'd started to realize that as big and rough as he looked, and as raspy and coarse as his voice was, he was obviously a very nice guy who seemed to take really good care of his young son. And there was no denying he was handsome, and very nicely built. His shoulders were broad and squared, and she could tell by the way his shirt seemed to strain that his arms were quite muscular.
She wondered what the story was on the boy. When she'd asked him about a wife he'd seemed kind of flippant, like he definitely was neither heartbroken nor bitter. She wished she had the nerve to just ask but again she felt it wasn't her business, she didn't want to pry.
What convinced her she had nothing to worry about with Daryl Dixon was when Timmy woke from his nap. It was apparent the little guy was one of those people that's slow to wake, the kind that need some hugs. That's just what his Daddy did, he sat in the big chair and he held the little boy close, running a hand through his son's curls and asking questions in such a soft voice, barely above a whisper. "How's my Shadow? Did ya have sweet dreams? Get plenty a rest did ya? Ya know Daddy loves ya, right?" It was tender and loving, and it seemed to contradict the look of the man to be so gentle.
Soon the little guy was back to being a wide awake child and his Daddy told him, "Beth is a nice lady, isn't she son? She's gonna show ya how ta make some decorations for the Christmas tree, K?"
Timmy nodded and smiled, "K Daddy. K Bef." And with that the curly headed little guy stole her heart.
Daryl got them set up with paper and scissors and even crayons. She saw that his Daddy had all the coloring goodies for him, and even a pair of round tipped children's scissors. And Daddy sat at the kitchen table with them and watched. She didn't feel for a minute that it was because he didn't trust her, she noticed he paid attention, like he was always learning.
She folded the paper slowly, giving Timmy step by step instructions, then she folded a second. "Okay Timmy, I'll show you one first, then you can try the next one and I'll help you, okay?" He nodded with a very serious look on his face.
She cut the paper, carefully opened the folds and showed him the snowflake. He clapped his little hands and smiled, and she got a little bit of a thrill when his Daddy said, "Dang that's cool. Show us that again."
By the time they were done they'd made close to twenty of the snowflakes. Timmy's were kind of a mess, but he didn't know it and no one was telling him so. He was quite proud of his creations. "You did such a great job Timmy, I'd never guess you hadn't done this before because you're really good at it."
Daryl looked at her wondering if anyone was really so nice. He went to his desk and got the hole punch and some paperclips. He made the small hole in each snowflake and bent the paper clips to use as hangers, they all took turns hanging the paper snowflakes on the tree.
She noticed how big and proud both their smiles were at the sight of the paper ornaments hanging on the little tree.
He'd watched her, she was good at this. Not just making the snowflakes but the way she talked to the little boy, the way she encouraged him and was so patient. It was almost an emotional feeling for him, watching this woman, a stranger, show love toward his boy. He'd always been the only one in Timmy's life but he found he didn't mind her stepping in one bit. She had a kindness to her, a gentle spirit.
After they'd had dinner and the kitchen was clean he smiled at his son, "Okay one program, which is it, Rudolph or Frosty?"
"Alright, Frosty it is." The little boy climbed up on the couch and his Daddy sat next to him. She chose a chair and Daryl started the recorded cartoon.
When it was over he looked to the boy, while resting a hand on his head, "Bath time son." The little boys' expression changed dramatically as he began to softly cry. Beth was confused by that. "I'm sorry son but ya gotta, an besides, ya don't want Santa comin' an you're all stinky do ya? He probably wouldn't like that."
It didn't seem to change the little guys' feelings about the bath, "He hates to bathe?" She asked it without really thinking it wasn't her business.
"He wouldn't mind it so much if he didn't hafta wash his hair. That part scares him some."
"I might be able to help with that Timmy, I know a magic hair washing trick. It won't let soap in your eyes or water in your nose. Do you want to try?"
She had the attention of both the little guy and his Daddy and the little boy gave her nod.
She and Daryl both knelt by the tub, Beth took the clean washcloth and told the little boy, "Now watch closely, the magic goes into the washcloth because of the way I fold it, it's kind of special and I say the magic words 'abracadabra.' Your job Timmy is to hold the magic washcloth over your eyes while I wash your hair, don't move it though, okay?"
He held the washcloth over his eyes while she kept a strong hand on his back, gently coaxing him to lean back. She used her hand to scoop up the water and carefully get his hair wet, all the while asking him, "Okay? Is the magic working?"
"K." He would answer, while his Daddy looked on amazed not just at the way his son was so trusting of this woman, but of her. He couldn't believe how easily she'd handled this situation he'd struggled with so many times. Again he marveled at the soothing gentleness in her voice and her manner, and she showed such kindness and patience with the little boy. Soon his hair was washed and he was dressed in his warm jammies, all ready to lay in bed and wait for Santa Claus. Not a tear had fallen during what had always been the worst time of the day.
She went to the door of Daryl's room and watched as he tucked the little boy in. Like the rest of his home the room was simple, there was a big four poster bed, a dresser, a night table and a chair, and a sweet little boy under the covers. "Alright Shadow ya gotta sleep now so Santa can come, k? Ya been so good all year an I'm sure he's gonna bring ya sumthin', k?" Daryl hugged the boy and kissed his head. Again she saw the gentle side of this rough looking man.
She took a chance, "Can I give him a little hug goodnight?" She'd already found herself growing so attached to the child.
Daryl looked to her, "Yeah sure. He never gets girl hugs, he might like one." She almost laughed but she was also wondering if Timmy's Daddy ever got girl hugs, she was thinking she wouldn't mind at all giving him one.
She settled for just Timmy this evening, "Goodnight Timmy, you sleep tight and I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
"Night Bef." She could feel the huge smile on her face at his simple words.
When he was sure the little guy was asleep he'd gotten the gifts from the coat closet. There were just the two, one was a big metal truck, the other was a small crossbow. The bow was obviously made for little people with arrows that had soft spongy ends. Neither was wrapped and she asked, "No wrapping paper?"
"Yeah shit I forgot about it. I'm tryin' ta do this Christmas thing right. I want him ta have that but I don't know much about it. I never had Christmas growing up."
"Why?" She immediately wished she hadn't asked, she didn't want to snoop.
He didn't hesitate, "A mean bastard of an old man. But just cuz I didn't get ta have it, don't mean I want Timmy doin' without."
She had no way to respond to that so just asked, "How about newspaper? It makes good wrapping, especially the comic section."
"Well I got a lotta newspaper, I take all I can offa people's hands. I use it ta start the fire in the stove. Funny papers huh?"
She nodded and he went to the kindling box and dug out the papers. She showed him how to wrap the packages and he smiled, "Damn woman ya know how ta do everythin' don't ya?"
She laughed then, "I guess I'm a jill of all trades, but only with the children's things. I've always wanted to be a Mom ever since I was a tiny girl."
"Well I think you're gonna be a perfect one." He was starting to dread the weather clearing. She'd be gone then and he and Timmy would likely never see her again. He didn't like the idea of that. Not at all.
He wanted to talk to her, he had so many questions and things about her he'd like to know, he just wasn't sure how to ask.
She was so curious about him, everything about him. Who was this man with the little boy and the harsh sounding past? She'd like to know more but she didn't feel comfortable asking.
So instead they sat on the couch and watched the news. "I only watch when Timmy can't hear it, there's too much bad stuff he don't need ta know it."
"That's a good idea."
She thought it might be hard to sleep in the strange house with the little boy and the man she didn't really know. But she must have been more comfortable than she realized because as soon as her head hit the pillow sleep came.
They were up early, she could hear them in his room, Daryl was talking to the little boy. She glanced at her watch, 5:15. It sounded like he'd been soothing the child again, but suddenly the little boy seemed to wake completely. She heard the giggling and squealing as his Daddy teased, "Ya don't wanna see under that tree, c'mon now, you're just jokin', ya don't care 'bout no presents do ya?"
She knew the child probably couldn't last long and she hurriedly got up and put on her robe and slippers. So relieved she'd thought to ask about bringing her bag.
Daryl must have gotten up really early because when she walked in the front room she smelled the coffee. Christmas music was playing softly on the radio and there was a good fire going in the stove. And here they came, both looking happy. Timmy was jumping up and down with excitement over the two packages and his Daddy smiled, "Go ahead son, the big one is from Santa, that funny shaped one is from Daddy," he paused, "An Beth."
That griped her heart, even more than when the little boy opened the crossbow and his excitement filled the room, "Bow, bow." His Daddy showed him how to shoot it and he was a little boy in heaven. He played with it for several minutes before getting to the second package. He opened it and declared it, "Twuck."
"That's right Timmy, I guess Santa knows you're a workin' man an a workin' man needs a good truck, don't he?"
The little boy was so happy and content with his two gifts and his Daddy looked almost as happy as he reached a hand over and lay it on her shoulder, "Merry Christmas Beth, we done good, he's so happy."
It was like he suddenly realized he'd touched her, he pulled his hand away quickly, stood and said, "Uh yeah, I'll go make the pancakes."