The wedding date was set and there wasn't a thing to worry about, he'd be back home in plenty of time to make it. He was leaving Viet Nam in just two weeks, he'd have a stop in Germany to be processed, from there the army would send him back to Ft. Benning. Within the month he'd muster out.
He hadn't been home in over two years and he was looking forward to seeing everyone again. He told himself over and over it was all going to be just great. Thanks to his army training as a heavy equipment operator, and to his brother's buddy who worked at the highway department, he even had a good job waiting for him.
Yep, life was real good. Just right. Perfect. It was so good he wanted to sit down and bawl his eyes out. But he couldn't be doing shit like that. He was a man and he had to act like one. This wedding was going to happen. He'd be there and he'd be all smiles even if it killed him.
He knew it was going to be the perfect wedding, the wedding Beth had always wanted. She'd been telling him about her plans since they were 12 years old. Hell, by the time he was 13 he knew the plan as well as she did, backwards and forwards.
At his age he couldn't have cared less about such things as weddings and dresses and flowers and the decorations, but what he did like was watching her talk and listening to the sound of her voice. He liked seeing the big smile on her face and the sparkle in her eye. Even back then, as young as they were, he already had that little fire burning for her. She was the sweetest thing in this world, he was sure of that.
So he'd listen to her go on about how she wanted her wedding to be in the country, close to the farm where she'd lived her whole life. She wanted magnolias and she wanted her granddad to perform the service. She said there would just be a small number of guests, immediate family and a few close friends. She didn't want to be spending too much of her Daddy's money.
Daryl knew her a little better than that though, and he also knew her Mama and her sister. Now that the wedding was close things had started to evolve into something quite a bit more elaborate. A definite departure from those long ago plans. There was now a big party to be held just a week before the wedding. It was something her sister Maggie had cooked up and she and her husband were hosting the wingding at their house.
He'd smiled when he read about it in Beth's letter. Of course it wouldn't be held at the farm, Maggie was calling it a "Champagne Celebration." There was no way her Daddy was having anything like that on his property. Everyone knew Hershel Greene's farm was an alcohol-free zone.
Daryl was due to arrive back in town just in time for the big champagne party so there was no problem, he'd be there. Great. Bitchin.
He was sitting on his butt outside the mess hall, knees up and reading her letter one more time. He folded the paper and stuck it in the top of his boot like he always did with her latest letter. He liked keeping some little part of her close to him at all times. He had every letter she'd ever written him back in the barracks, stashed in his knapsack.
There was still a half hour before he had to report. He closed his eyes as he leaned his head back against the wall. He was hoping for a catnap but his memories didn't let him rest. Instead his mind took him back to the day he met Beth Greene, back when they were 12.
He'd walked in the classroom that first day of sixth grade and his eyes went right to her. Just the sight of the cute blonde with the sparkling blue eyes made young Daryl Dixon's heart beat a little faster. But he wasn't quite sure how he felt about it when he saw the teacher had assigned him to share a two-person desk with her.
As soon as he plopped down in his seat she turned away from him. She seemed so scared and nervous. Right away he thought he knew why. It was probably because she knew who he was, she'd heard about his family. It was no stretch to figure it out, the teacher had taped their names right there to the desk.
That thought immediately put young Daryl in a mood, "What's wrong girl? Ya scared a me or something?" He knew he probably sounded ornery, heck he was ornery. But he was startled when she looked up at him and he saw big old tears in her eyes. Her voice was quiet and all shaky sounding when she told him, "No, I'm sorry. It's not you. I'm just nervous and scared and it's making my tummy hurt and well, I'm sorry." And when she looked down he saw a tear hit the desk.
He felt like an asshole, he'd made her cry. "Hey stop that, shit I'm sorry. What's got ya scared, girl? Someone hurt ya?"
"No, it's not that. It's just I don't know anyone here and I'm not used to a big school like this. I've been going to the Christian school but they closed it up after last term. I know I'm just being a crybaby. Maggie said I'd make friends right away, but I'm not like Maggie, and…oh never mind, I'm sorry."
She sounded so afraid and so sad and he couldn't deal with that, but he had no idea what in the world came over him when he told her, "Hey, don't worry girl. I'll show ya around an I'll even look out for ya. You'll see, it ain't so bad here."
He was convinced then that he'd lost his damn mind, but it was worth it when she looked over at him smiling right through those tears and said, "Thank you Daryl Dixon. I'm happy to have you for my friend."
That was how it all started, how he and Beth Greene became the best of friends. They were inseparable. They shared their secrets and their plans. Mostly it was him listening to her. He couldn't help smiling thinking about how much she could chatter and how much he liked just lying on the grass and listening to her. But even though he didn't think he talked much over the years, he'd managed to tell her everything about himself. Except for one thing.
He was in the ninth grade when he realized it. Beth wasn't just his best friend, he was in love with her. The trouble was he had no idea what to do about that. So it remained the one thing he never told her.
The years passed and they went on to high school where he played football and Daryl Dixon was a big deal on the field. He was far more than just an average player. He was the school's star running back. Beth was not only his biggest fan and supporter, she was also the head cheerleader. After the games everyone else would go hang out at parties and whatnot, but not Daryl and Beth. They'd always go over to the Burger Palace together and celebrate, just the two of them with burgers and shakes.
They'd rehash everything that happened in the game. Laugh and joke and listen to the jukebox. Sometimes they'd touch hands, bump shoulders or sit extra close. But as much as he wished he had the nerve to make a move, to kiss her or even just hold her hand, he couldn't seem to get up the courage.
What if she didn't feel the same? That would spoil everything and he was afraid to take the risk. He may be the toughest guy in school, but he was also a big chicken when it came to her and his feelings for her.
When senior year rolled around he didn't bother to wait. That day in October when he turned 18 he went right to the recruiters' office and joined the army. He was due to report one week after graduation. He knew they were going to draft him the day he graduated anyway, he may as well just beat them to it and sign up. His brother Merle told him by signing before they called him, he'd have a better shot at picking the schools he wanted. He'd have a better chance at getting some good training, something that might help him land a job when his service was complete. Guys who just waited to get drafted got what they got.
She went with him the morning he reported for duty, her and Merle. He wanted to kiss her goodbye so badly he ached, and she looked at him like she wanted him to, but he didn't. Just as he was turning to get on the bus she grabbed him around the waist. She laid her head on his chest and he'd been so dumb he hadn't even hugged her back. All he did was just cup her elbow and say, "Bye Beth, don't forget to write me."
Well shit yeah, if he had it to do over again he'd do it all so different. But now he'd lost his chance. She was marrying someone else. He was simply going to be a guest at the wedding she'd been planning ever since he'd known her.
She always wanted to get married, she just wasn't going to marry him.
She was on her tummy, laying across her bed and writing in her journal. She'd been keeping a journal for as long as she could remember, but lately she'd been turning to it more and more. Ever since she agreed to marry Zach.
At first she'd been so happy and excited, she was getting married and all the planning and the dress shopping and all the other things that came along with it, they kept her mind off that thing that was nagging at her heart. It was supposed to be perfect, she was getting married. The problem was she wasn't marrying the man of her dreams, she wasn't marrying Daryl.
She kept trying not to think about it but her journal didn't lie. It never stopped reminding her how she felt about Daryl. The last chink in her armor came when she got the latest letter from him. The one that said he'd be home in plenty of time to make it to both the party at Maggie's and the wedding.
That was supposed to make her happy. After all she'd told him in her letter how he just had to be there. He was her best friend in the world and she wanted him there more than anyone else. Now, as the day was getting closer and closer she was getting more and more honest with herself. What she wanted him there for was not to be her guest. She wanted him there to be her groom.
But the sad truth was Daryl didn't love her the way she loved him. He never had and he never would. She'd known him since she was 12 years old and she'd loved him ever since. She knew she always would. But there was nothing to be done, he just didn't feel the same.
She'd given him every opportunity to say or show or do anything to let her know he was interested in her that way. In high school she'd never gone to the parties, she knew that wasn't really his thing. Instead she went with him to the Burger Palace and she'd sit as close to him as she could without being too forward. She'd let her hand slide over on the table, so close to his that the edges of their fingers touched. She'd look at him with what she thought was a loving and inviting look, but he'd just smile that little smile of his. He'd never taken her hand or put his arm around her or kissed her. Ever.
The day he left for the army, when she'd gone with Merle to drop him off, she took a big chance. It wasn't very lady-like but she just had to make the first move, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him hard. He hadn't hugged her back though. She thought he acted embarrassed and like he was uncomfortable. All he did was cup her elbow and remind her to write him.
She cried all the way back home and she was sure his brother thought she was either crazy or overly emotional. She guessed she was probably both.
She wrote him every week, she was sure she was the only one who did. He didn't write her back quite as often and that didn't really surprise her. She knew him and how he was. She knew it was probably all he could do to write a paragraph or two every month or so. It didn't matter, every time she got a letter from him she treasured it. She'd covered a shoebox in white contact paper and decorated it with flowers and hearts. She kept his letters inside it. They were all neatly stacked together and tied with a pink ribbon, and the box was placed up high on a shelf in her closet. As the wedding day got closer and closer she found herself getting that little box down a lot more often. She sat reading every one of his letters over and over.
The thing with Zach just seemed to happen. She and Daryl had known him for almost as long as they'd known each other. He played football with Daryl and he had a girlfriend named Amy who lived over in Smithton, they'd dated forever.
About eight months before Daryl was due to muster out Zach had come into the bank where Beth worked. As she recorded his deposit they chatted like old friends do. He suggested they go have a bite to eat when she got off work, it would be fun to continue catching up.
She did the right thing, she asked, "Won't Amy mind?"
A sad look came over him and he told her, "She broke up with me last month." There was no reason for Beth to say no.
He was waiting for her after work and he took her to a nice little restaurant where they talked and laughed about old times. They told each other what they'd been doing since high school and it all just kind of happened.
She told herself it was long past time to move on anyway, Daryl was never going to be interested. If he was ever going to show a romantic interest in her, it would have happened by now. She had to accept the way things were and get on with her life. Maggie and Mama both told her she deserved to find her happiness with someone new.
Zach was always so nice to her and such a gentleman. He tried so hard to make her happy, he was handsome and funny and warmhearted. Like Mama told her, he was a great catch, any girl would be pleased to have a man like him calling on her. He was a good man from a good family with a good job.
They began seeing each other every weekend and it didn't take long until it started getting kind of serious, and then he told her he loved her and he gave her a ring, and she said yes.
At first there was so much excitement surrounding the news. Her family, her friends everyone seemed to be on cloud nine about the proposal and impending wedding, and she got more and more caught up in that excitement. She realized now what she'd done. She just kind of sidestepped the big picture. She was too busy thinking about the parties and the planning and the perfect wedding.
Daryl didn't call her when he got back to Georgia and Fort Benning. He waited and called her when he got back to town, the day before the champagne party at Maggie's house. She asked him if he wanted to get together that very night, or even the day after Maggie's party, any day. But he told her he couldn't, he was real busy. He had to find a place to live and get organized because his new job started in just a few days. Her heart broke a little but that was Daryl, she should have expected it.
He'd never wanted anything more than to see her, but he just couldn't. It hurt too much to think of her with someone else. It was going to be all he could do to see her at Maggie's party and then at the wedding. After that he didn't plan to ever see her again. It wasn't that he wouldn't always love her, he would. There would never be anyone for him but Beth. But he couldn't put himself through that kind of torture, seeing her all in love and happy with someone else.
He knew it was important to her that he be at the party and at the wedding, and he owed her that. She was the best thing that ever came into his life and maybe if he wasn't such a coward he could have had a chance to be the lucky one. Just maybe. He was relieved that if it wasn't going to be him it was Zach who was the groom. He'd always been a good guy and Daryl was sure he'd treat Beth right.
The day of the party at her sister's Beth's stomach was in knots. She wasn't even sure she could go. She felt like she was going to start throwing up at any moment. Daryl would be there and what would she do when she saw him? She desperately wanted to, but she was also afraid to. Seeing him would break her heart all over again.
And what about Zach? None of this was fair to Zach. And in the past month or so she noticed there was a coolness between them. That was probably all her fault. She felt sick, she was heartbroken and she was consumed with guilt.
Daryl didn't want to go to the stupid party, he'd rather get all his teeth pulled out with a pair of pliers. But he'd promised Beth and no matter what else happened he'd never break a promise he made to her. He tried to console himself with the knowledge there would be booze, and there would be lots of people there, maybe he could avoid her and Zach all together. Yeah, fat chance.
He took his time, the last thing he wanted was to be the first one to show up. Instead he arrived thirty minutes late and two beers in. He said "Hi" to Maggie and her husband Glenn and then he quickly grabbed a glass of champagne off the silver tray on the sideboard. He shot it down and picked up a second glass.
He was just bringing it to his lips when their eyes met. She was surrounded by a group of friends who were all laughing and talking excitedly, and he was standing there, just him, looking at her. He gave her a nod of the head and held up his glass to her like he was making a toast. She smiled her big pretty smile his way but he could swear her eyes were full of sadness. Then one of her girlfriends got in his sight-line, grabbing Beth by the arm and pulling her toward some other group of party goers. That's when he split.
He'd followed through on his promise, she'd seen him there and now all he could think about was getting the hell away.
He didn't start work until Wednesday, they'd given him time to get himself situated. First thing Monday he found a small furnished house to rent, and he retrieved his bike from storage. With his mustering out pay and the money he'd saved during his time in the service, he bought himself an old pick up and a few things he needed for his new place. He also bought a suit to wear to her wedding, and a gift for the newlyweds. After he completed his tasks he spent the rest of the night cuddled up on the couch with Jack Daniels.
He started the new job and it was going great. He liked the work, he liked the pay, he liked the benefits that came with the job. His little house was just right. Good location, quiet neighbors and a nice garage for his bike and tools. Merle was staying on the straight and had himself a good job and a steady woman. Life really couldn't be any better. Except that it could.
It was Saturday, the day he'd been dreading since he'd gotten the invitation, Beth's wedding day. He had his new black suit and his white dress shirt laid out on the bed. He took a shower and cleaned up his facial hair a little. He got himself all dressed up and respectable looking, and then he made a last stop in the kitchen. He took the bottle from the cabinet and took a quick swallow, just one pull to calm his nerves. Then he reached back in the cabinet and got the hip flask. He filled it and slipped it in his inside jacket pocket. He wasn't sure he could get through this day without a little help from his buddy Jack.
He stood there a minute with his eyes closed, took in a deep breath and hoped it would all just go quickly. He'd make sure Beth saw him, he'd shake Zach's hand and he'd get his ass out of there as fast as he could. It would all be over, done. Except for the heartbreak, that shit was going to last forever.
It was a half hour before the wedding. The groom wasn't supposed to see the bride but that didn't matter. She and Zach both knew this needed to happen. He'd called her from home and they agreed. Mama and Daddy and Maggie were beside themselves, this couldn't be happening now. The chapel was already filling up with wedding guests.
Maggie did her best to remain composed as she went out and greeted everyone. Beth and Zach met in the bridal room of the small chapel, and Mama and Daddy waited with grandad in the Pastor's office.
Zach put his arms around her and she put hers around him and they both started to cry. He spoke first, "I'm so sorry Beth. We both know this wedding shouldn't happen. I love you, I always will, but I was kidding myself. It's Amy, she's the only woman I can ever really be happy with. Her and I, we've been talking and we agreed, we want to give it another try. I feel bad Beth but I know, it's been obvious to me since we were all in Junior High, you belong with Daryl and he belongs with you. Shit, I saw the way the two of you looked at each other the other night. You've never looked at me like that."
She began crying harder and he tried consoling her, "Hey, hey don't cry. Daryl's a good guy. I just don't know what the hell his problem is. He can be a bad ass football player, he can kick the crap out of anyone I know, he goes off to war and fights for his country, but he can't seem to ask a woman out on a date." They both laughed softly at that and he continued, "I have a feeling though, I think he's finally ready to come around. I'm gonna go out there and find him Beth. I know he came here today for you. I'll bring him to you."
"No Zach, I can't."
"Yes you can." He took the handkerchief from his pocket and as he handed it to her he smiled, "Wipe those tears off that pretty face. I'll be right back."
She worked hard trying to compose herself with slow steady breaths. She told herself this was good; she and Zach weren't making what would have been a terrible mistake. But she didn't really believe Daryl was going to come walking in the room and that everything would be alright. Until he did and it was.
He didn't speak and she didn't speak. His arms went around her and hers around him. They kissed and they knew, this was how it should be, and from that day forward that's how it was.