Daryl was tired. The bone deep kind that settles in and lingers even after a full night’s sleep. He’d spent the last ten years drifting around with his older brother, wasting time mostly. He’d dropped out of high school when he was fourteen and worked odd jobs to support his abusive, alcoholic pa till he turned eighteen. Then Merle had showed back up and dragged him out of there, and Daryl’d felt indebted to him ever since.
They’d gamble, run drugs, anything that Merle felt like and Daryl just tagged along. The only thing he had that really felt like was just for him was music. Sure Merle and his scumbag friends would blare metal while they were tweaking, but Daryl would listen to old classic rock on a cheap MP3 player he’d won in a game of poker. He’d first picked up a guitar when he was just a kid and his ma had still been around. She’d play it and when she split she left it behind. It was the only thing he had left of her and he refused to get rid of it regardless of Merle’s occasional teasing him of playing the beat up instrument.
Playing guitar had always been an escape for Daryl. A way to express all the things he could never say in his repressive upbringing. Merle had for the most part actually supported his playing guitar, always telling him it’d be a good way to pick up chicks.
“Hell little brother, don’t gotta talk if ya ken play like that, rockstars get all the Grade-A pussy!”
Daryl always smirked and let his older brother think that was why he did it. He’d drag him out to metal shows and point to the groupies fawning over bands. Daryl would just go along and talk to roadies over a smoke. He’d always hear about big shows happening in Atlanta and dream about what the music scene must be like there.
Now he was sitting on the back porch of the place where he and Merle had been squatting. He plucked lazily at the strings of his acoustic guitar while his older brother slept off a hangover inside. It seemed like he’d reached the end of some dead end road in his life and for the life of him he couldn’t imagine how he’d get out of it.
Eventually he heard Merle knocking about inside, cursing and finally stumbling outside with a cigarette in his mouth, a bottle of Jack in one hand and a folded up newspaper in the other. He let out a groan as his knee popped and he sat on the step below him, leaning back and lighting his cigarette. He righted the crooked sunglasses he had on and took a large swig from the bottle of booze before offering it to Daryl who shook his head.
“Jeezus little brother, how long you been sulkin’ out here?” he barked at Daryl.
“‘m not sulkin’” he grumbled and strummed out a few chords.
“Bull-shit!” his brother accused, “been mopin’ about like a moody teenage girl fer weeks now!”
Daryl just ignored him and proceeded to light up a smoke of his own.
“But I’ve got just the ticket! Saw here in this paper there’s a big concert happenin’ t’night in At’lana, figured thas just the thing ta-cheer-you-up!” he jabbed his finger at Daryl emphasizing the last part of the sentence. Daryl sighed weakly and nodded.
“‘guess,” he agreed. He really didn’t feel like being around a bunch of people, but he figured it couldn’t hurt to get out of the stifling rut they’d been in.
For reference to our lovely frontman, here’s a little clip of Tom Payne singing and playing guitar.
They set off in a beat up old pickup Merle had bought for its ability to transport his bike in the truck bed. It was Daryl’s first time in Atlanta and coming into the town he couldn’t believe the size of the buildings, or even the roads for that matter. Everything seemed enormous and daunting but he was glad to finally be getting out of rural Georgia for once.
When they arrived the music venue was relatively small and the walls were plastered with posters from as far back as the 70’s. Merle went straight for the bar and ordered a line of shots handing two to Daryl and knocking back three himself. The younger brother stood there awkwardly holding the liquor while the older shook off the booze and clapped his hands together with a maniacal glint in his eyes.
“Drink up lil’ brother, we’re gonna get our fuck on tonight!”
Daryl steeled himself at the thought then threw back the two shots.
“Aw’right! Thas more like it! C’mon let’s go see what all the fuss’ bout,” Merle slung his arm over Daryl’s shoulders and led him into the main room where a punk band was playing.
Merle nodded his head to the beat then moved towards a mosh pit up front. Daryl hesitated then signaled to his brother that was going out for a smoke which seemed to satisfy the older man.
Daryl made his way to a side exit which was propped open for smokers. There were a few people already outside including a man with long hair in a bun with a short beard who was enthusiastically recounting some story to an amused looking woman in a well worn plaid shirt whose dark hair was pulled into a ponytail.
Daryl lit up a cigarette and let out a muffled weary sigh on the exhale puffing smoke into the alley. The man seemed to notice him then but only paused momentarily before continuing his story. Occasionally the man would look over as if assessing him but Daryl tried to ignore it and stubbed out his smoke before heading back inside.
After a few more songs the band finished and exited the stage. Some of the lights went up and a Ramones song played much quieter over the speakers as people milled about and went to get drinks and use the restrooms. Daryl found Merle at the bar doing shots with a couple of drunk women and was called over to join them. He ordered a beer and gave a tight smile while Merle started chatting up the girls.
Fifteen minutes later the lights started to dim and he heard the tell tale sound of drums being tested. Merle continued buying drinks for the girls, seemingly unconcerned about the rest of the concert.
Daryl wandered into the main room and leaned against a pillar drinking his now warm beer. He recognized the drummer was the woman he’d seen before in the alley. A skinny guy in Minor Threat T-shirt was messing around on his guitar playing various chords while an attractive woman with short brown hair strummed idly on a bass nearby. He wondered briefly who the singer was until he noticed the man standing off to the side tuning a guitar and talking to a roadie who then made his way to the mic. It was the man from the alley whose long dirty blonde hair now hung loose around his shoulders.
“How we doing Atlanta?” he asked into the mic receiving a drunken chorus of cheers from the audience.
“Pretty fucked up it sounds like, right?” He smiled as the crowd cheered and shouted raising cans of beer.
“Alright, then let’s keep the party going, hit it!” He smirked and leaned back from the mic as the drums pounded and they started their set.
I smoke a pack a day
Cause I like the buzz
I roll two cause
One just ain't enough
I like 'em classy
Cause I'm all grown up
I'll take 'em trashy
When I'm kinda drunk
You may not like me
And I'm okay with it
Expect a swing or two
If you're talking shit
When I'm drinking
I'm just not thinking
Hit me with another round...
Daryl was transfixed. They were good, really good. He automatically responded to their music and started to actually enjoy himself.
“Ooowee! Would ya look at the tits on her!” Merle yelled in Daryl’s ear over the blaring rock music and pointed to the bass player. Daryl turned to find his brother next to him with an arm around one of the now extremely drunk girls from before.
Daryl nodded noncommittally and watched her play. He’d never seen a female bassist, and she was insanely good. Merle nudged him in the ribs a bit his lip while raising his eyebrows giving his younger brother a knowing look.
“Got a little crush there, huh lil’ bro?”
Daryl rolled his eyes and gave his brother a hard nudge back earning a drunken laugh.
“Aw’right then, I’m gonna go get ma dick wet, I’ll be back ‘round midnight an’ I’ll pick ya up,” Merle announced between songs and led the drunk girl off.
Daryl huffed in annoyance but wasn’t too bothered considering how much he was enjoying this band. After Merle’s departure he decided to move a little closer and he swayed a little with music letting himself get into it. He was now watching the singer with rapt attention, his gray Henley clung to his sweaty chest and his eyes danced wildly, roving over the crowd as he sang.
Part way into the song the drums cut out and the guitar matched the vocals as the singer hit a high note:
She’s a liar
And. I. Can’t.
Seem to untie
She’s got wrapped around her finger
Think I’ve lost the bit of my self control...
As the next song began the singer stepped in close and held the mic, his voice sultry and hot. Out of nowhere his eyes seemed to land on Daryl and his gaze locked with the man in the audience as he sang:
Tell me the truth, does he make you sweat
Shiver like I do?
And I don't mean to be so cruel, but
I want to make you do the bad things that he can't teach you
The places he can't reach to
Tell me the truth, does he make you... ah, ah, ah, ah?
Daryl’s chest felt hot and constricted, like all the air had been sucked from the room and his heart slammed in his chest. He’d never felt anything like that but no one around him seemed to notice. It felt like his blood was on fire and his head was a little dizzy. He began to move through the crowd and made his way out the side exit to catch his breath.
After a few minutes his heartbeat evened out and he heard the band finish their last song. He lit up another cigarette and regretted not seeing the end of their set, but then he heard another door further back in the alley creak open.
The sounds of the drunken revelry inside faded as the door closed heavily behind the man who’d just stepped outside. It was the singer who was checking his phone and hadn’t yet noticed Daryl sitting on a stack of crates near the wall. Eventually he pocketed the phone then spotted him.
“Oh! Hi, didn’t see you there,” he stated weakly seeming a little taken aback at Daryl’s presence.
“Hey,” Daryl mumbled back, eyes looking anywhere but at the long haired man.
He took a hand rolled cigarette from behind his ear and put it into his mouth then patted down his sides for a lighter.
“Shit,” he cursed around the joint then looked to Daryl pleadingly, “you uh, got a light?”
Daryl retrieved the zippo from the pocket of his vest and tossed it to him.
“Uh! You’re a lifesaver!” He flicked it on and lit up before tilting his head back and exhaling a cloud of smoke.
Daryl watched the column of his neck as he exhaled and had trouble not staring. He darted his eyes away nervously and went back to his own cigarette.
“Thanks,” the man said as he walked over and handed the lighter back. Their fingers brushed as he passed it back and the corner of the man’s lips twitched up in a half smile. “I’m Paul, but my friends call me Jesus.”
Daryl stashed the zippo back in his vest and shifted awkwardly on the crate. After a minute he responded quietly, “Daryl.”
“Well, Daryl, it’s nice to meet you. I didn’t think anyone would be out here with the headliner about to start, but I’m definitely glad you were.”
“Why?” Daryl croaked selfconsiously.
“The light,” Paul smiled cheekily.
“That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a little company,” Paul smirked and moved to sit on some crates near Daryl. “You mind?” he asked casually, his eyes dancing again with that energy from when he was onstage. Daryl shook his head and the other man sat down and leaned back against the wall as he smoked. Daryl was attempting to seem unfazed but struggling to reconcile the man’s casual demeanor with his onstage persona.
“Ya know, I don’t smoke too often, but there really is nothing like a joint after a good set,” Paul smirked, “or a good fuck,” he puffed with a satisfied smile on his face.
Daryl blushed furiously and looked away desperately willing his body to relax.
Paul chuckled lightly, “sorry, weed tends to loosen me up, get a little chatty.” He glanced casually at Daryl with an easy smile, “want a hit?”
Daryl generally avoided drugs, they turned his brother into someone he didn’t recognize and he’d just never really enjoyed them. But something about the other man and his calm composure made Daryl want to smoke with him.
“Mm, thanks,” he mumbled and took the offered joint.
He took a cautious drag and held the smoke for a minute before slowly letting it out. He felt the tension start to ease in his shoulders and he exhaled a heavy breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He passed the joint back to Paul who was watching him rather intently.
“Yer band, y’all were good,” he said casually, his voice a little hoarse.
“Thanks,” Paul smiled, “you local?” he asked casually.
“Nah, came up with my brother. Live bout an hour away.”
“Just for the show?”
“Mm. First time in Atlanta. Always wanted to see a show here,” he trailed off and took another drag from the joint when Paul offered it to him again. “Always wanted to be in a band,” he said quietly.
“You play?” Paul asked curiously.
“Guitar.” Daryl nodded to himself and stubbed out his forgotten cigarette.
“Should’ve guessed,” Paul smiled at him.
He had a way of making the simplest words carry so much meaning. The way he looked at Daryl made the older man feel like he was really being seen for the first time. He felt... exposed, but somehow with just the two of them alone in an alley, smoking and talking, he was remarkably comfortable.
“Wha’d ya mean?” he peered at the younger man through his messy brown hair.
Paul smirked and bumped his shoulder, “the hot ones always play guitar.”
Daryl blushed and looked away unsure whether or not he was being teased.
“Guess that ‘splains yer playin’ it,” he whispered quietly not even realizing he’d said it out loud. Paul grinned and locked eyes with Daryl.
Suddenly Daryl’s phone buzzed in the pocket of his jeans. “Shit,” he cussed under his breath and fumbled to stand and pull the damn thing from its awkward position. “Mm. Gotta go, mah brother’ll be here soon,” he grunted irritably.
Paul looked thoughtful and a little sad. “Too bad. I enjoyed talking to you.”
Daryl shifted his weight nervously and coughed. “Uh ya, you too.”
Before Daryl could turn to leave the singer perked up for a second, “uh hey, um we’re due to come back through Atlanta next month on our way back to DC... I could give you my number, ya know, if you wanted to grab a drink and talk music?”
Daryl blinked at him for a moment a little stunned, “uhh, sure.” Paul smiled and got to his feet reaching for Daryl’s phone. Daryl fidgeted awkwardly while the other man added his number to his contact list.
“There. Send me a message so I have your number and I’ll let you know when we’re gonna be in town.”
“Kay,” Daryl felt hot all over and couldn’t meet the younger man’s gaze. His phone rang then and Merle barked at him to come out front. “Uhh, see you,” he said before turning to head back inside and out to meet up with his older brother.
“See you,” Paul whispered quietly after him, a small smile playing at his lips.
It had only been a few days but Paul figured he wouldn’t hear from Daryl. Maybe he’d turn up at their next show in Atlanta. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop thinking about the man. They’d only talked for ten or fifteen minutes tops and already he found himself wondering what Daryl was up to as he tried to nap in their tour van.
Maybe he was just a sucker for mysterious broody types. Maybe he just wanted what he couldn’t have. Either way Paul really didn’t want to set himself up for more heartache but he feared it might be too late. There was just something about the guy that said ‘trouble’ and sadly Paul found that hard to resist.
He sighed heavily and shifted to get more comfortable. Then, his phone buzzed in the pocket of his hoodie.
This is Daryl.
From the concert.
Paul grinned and added the number to his phone’s contact list.
Hi Daryl, good to hear from you
You said to text.
Haha, I did.
I was starting to think you’d forgotten all about me.
Glad to hear
How are you?
Fine, I guess
Paul smiled even more. It was clear that Daryl wasn’t used to small talk and he imagined texting was particularly in his wheel house so he decided to let him off the hook.
We’ve got a show tonight so I have to get some sleep, but it was really nice to hear from you. Talk soon?
Sure... talk soon.
Paul tucked the phone back into his pocket and readjusted the pillow between his head and the window. Just as he got comfortable his phone buzzed and pulled it back out.
Have a good show tonight.
His heart fluttered a little. He really was in trouble.
Paul stuffed the phone back in his pocket and drifted off to sleep thinking about clear blue eyes behind messy brown hair.