Who knew the descent to eight o’clock could be so traumatic?
Beth Greene didn’t, that’s for damn sure. It’s nearly six and by eight she’s expected at a party. Not just a party but a Halloween party, a dress up one and if all that wasn’t enough to have her pulling her hair out, it’s the first party she would have attended since she moved back home to Georgia. She’s been away for a couple of years for college at the University of Southern California, and then travel but now a new graduate, she’s back in her small, familiar home town. Smack bang in the middle of the holidays too. Old friends have been reaching out, each wanting something or other from her: a coffee, a dance, a lunch date. In so far she’s managed to ignore them all.
It’s not that she’s being spiteful or that she’s a loner. She’s actually a very active person, a social butterfly her Mama calls her but since coming back from college she feels like a new woman. All her life she’s been good. She was raised on a farm, a simple life and in turn she became a simple girl. If anything, she became good by default, by sheer necessity. There was no reason to sneak out and party because she truly enjoyed spending time with her parents. There was no need to drink because she had seen the troubles it caused her parents marriage when her Daddy hit the bottle.
There was no need to shop on weekends because she would only ruin nice clothes in the mucky stables anyway or catch them on branches when she was flying through trees on her horse. There was no need for money or nice clothes or parties. It’s not like she couldn’t ask her parents for it if she really wanted. If anything, she could ask her parents for whatever she felt like asking for because she so rarely asked for anything in her life. She was a happy child, a happy teen and just happy. Her older sister Maggie and the oldest of three, was the troubled child, the one who came home at three am, the one her parents screamed at and grounded and punished.
Maggie’s a full grown woman now with a husband and child, but she wasn’t at one point. She was the devil child according to her Mama and Beth never wanted to have her parents worry for her the way they did her sister. She never wanted to see the disappointment her Daddy speared her older sister with either. Beth’s sure to this day she would break under a look like that from her Father but not Maggie. She’s the toughest woman Beth’s ever met and she was the one who convinced Beth to go to college. Reminiscing, Beth crosses the street towards the shopping centre, the cool air teasing at her jumper.
Seeing young girls milling around in their friendship groups makes her smile. Remembering what it’s like to be that young, where her life was going at that age. She remembers it wasn’t something she was considering: going away to college. She thought about taking classes at a community college instead so she could still live at home, still see her friends, help out on the farm. Surprisingly, her parents insisted. There was no fear for her the way there was for Maggie, and her middle child brother Shawn who had inherent wild streaks her parents couldn’t force out of them with groundings or manual labour.
The thing is, Beth truly found herself in college. She found that wild streak buried so deep inside her. A love for beer pong and shots, a hit or two of weed if she was brave enough. Never hard drugs, they weren’t her bag. She was down for a good time not a hospital visit. Steadily she got braver, bolder and more adventurous. When college was over she packed up her things and went travelling. It was something she had always wanted to do but never thought she would, and never in the manner that she did it in. Hostels full of wild students and hippies around a fire. Hitch hiking with dodgy strangers and rough women. Some nights spent on beaches where she passed out drunk.
Some nights spent with boys and men alike who showed her a good time and how to pleasure her body in ways she had never been brave enough to try before. All that fun, all that adventure, swallowing up five amazing years of her life. Five years that she started as an eighteen year old farm girl and emerged from as a twenty three year old woman. Now she’s back home. Back walking downtown, back in her child hood house with her walls covered in bands she used to listen to, diaries she used to fill and CD’s that accompany the posters plastering her walls and door. Being home is good, it is, but being home as another person is nerve wracking like her skin is pulled on too tight.
The only invite of the many that she’s responded to is Rick and Lori’s. Rick and Lori are family friends on her Mama’s side and when she was seventeen they used to let her babysit for them. They’re an attractive couple living in an attractive home and the sort of neighbourhood that says I made it. Real wood and nice cars, kids on bikes and open front doors in the summer heat because it’s the kind of neighbourhood that doesn’t get burgled, not to mention Rick’s a cop. They’re lovely but Beth is more excited to see their kids. When she was seventeen nearly seven years ago, their oldest boy Carl was twelve and their only daughter Judith a new born.
She stopped babysitting them when she went away to college so the last time she saw them Carl was thirteen and Judith one. Being nearly seven years from that point Beth is more than a little excited to see a nineteen year old Carl who is home from college himself and a seven year old Judith. Passing by a little mobile shop, she looks amongst the gadgets, debating buying one and if it’s worth the money, her blue eyes tracking the shelves. When she was travelling she didn’t take a phone with her. Went old school in terms of using pay phones and a camera.
All her friends who she was travelling with at the time had phones but she never checked in with anyone, never used any social media. She fell off the map and it was amazing. Did something to her soul that was peaceful and healing. In the exploration of herself she found a way of life she wanted to live. She wanted to watch the sun rise, she wanted to walk bare foot among the flowers, to be free and open. It’s a little depressing being back in society, trying to integrate into it again. The smell of pollution and rubbish bags, not the salt of the sea or the crisp air high on a mountain.
The sounds of angry car horns blaring and shouting voices, not birds and animals calling her awake. It’s not all bad though and she had to come back sometime, put the bachelor in music composition she worked so hard for to use. A job is a pressing concern for Monday. Right now she’s enjoying a Saturday of shopping and iced coffee in a busy mall on a cool October day. A bunch of key notes are pounding inside her head, leaving her clenching her Starbucks with the need to find something to write them down before she loses the rhythm. She forces herself to focus so she can get the things she needs and get out of here.
Problem is, shopping is still not something she’s big on, regardless of how much she’s changed since high school. Even still, spending money is fun and fortunately for Beth, she has a lot to spend. Not needing anything most of the time led to her putting money away. Birthday, Easter, Christmas; babysitting. Her parents are religious and therefore they’re more about sharing love and laughter than presents, but as the youngest child and the only one left at one point, Beth knows she was a little bit spoilt. On her eighteenth birthday they presented her with a bank account they opened when she was born.
It was after her decision to go to college and she cried her eyes out when she calculated that the sums would be enough to pay all her living expenses and have some left after. Her actual college tuition was covered by a scholarship from her hard earned straight A grades so even after travelling, she’s now got a net of security until she finds a job. She’s lucky, she knows she is. Most of her friends are paying off their education, working three jobs and struggling. It makes her feel almost guilty suddenly to be stood enjoying herself, eyes flicking from which shop to enter and instead to the frazzled girls behind the counters. Beth’s always been like this. Her Mama calls her emphatic because she feels the world’s emotions.
A blessing and a curse, Bethy.
Shaking the unexpected guilt away, she bins her now finished coffee, suddenly remembering the time. The worst part is she still needs to get home and get ready, not to mention get to Rick and Lori’s on time. Fashionably late maybe? Except she’s always punctual and it’ll grind on her nerves being late. Damn. She hasn’t found the corset she’s been looking for all day. Her plans tonight were to go as an angel but with one half of her costume still eluding her, she’s wondering if her time keeping will survive a costume change. Probably not. So what does she do? Lifting her eyes, she finds her answer.
Ann Summers. She flushes just looking at the store front. She’s gotten bolder, yeah, but only bold enough to browse online on her old, battered laptop. She thinks about turning away, that she’s not brave enough, especially alone, when she sees it. The corset she wants is right there, to the left of the open door. It shows a lot more skin than the one she was originally after and has a lot more sex appeal but of course that’s because it’s lingerie. Oh God, what is she thinking? She can’t go to Rick and Lori’s in that, in front of nineteen year old Carl, the boy she used to babysit! But she really is running out of time.
A glance at the clock in the mall tells her she’s got an hour and forty five minutes. In that strip of time she needs to get home, shower, get dressed and drive over to Rick and Lori’s house. Biting on her lip, she weighs her situation against her morals and promptly chucks her morals out the window. The heat in her cheeks is embarrassing in and on itself as she enters the store, leaving her in a vicious cycle of a hot face. The A/C is on full blast though, which feels amazing on her skin despite the cool winds outside the mall. The short days of October is turning her skin back to its usual pale complexion, though some of her golden tan is hanging on.
When she caught her reflection in the mirror earlier, she noticed how shockingly blonde she had gone while travelling. Just a month prior and the blue of her eyes looked grown, like she had seen things, experienced things. It’s a nice change since she’s always looked several years younger than her real age so she’s a little sad to watch it fade. The moment she’s in the store she grabs the corset and hurries for the counter. She refuses to look at the price tag. Having and spending money doesn’t mean she’s got over her squeamishness towards expensive items. That simple farm girl held on somewhere. Even in her haste to make it to the counter, her eye is caught by a pretty baby blue lace set.
Chewing on her lip, she looks around conspicuously like someone is going to condemn her on the spot for just looking. Other shoppers are looking at far racier things though and this emboldens her to stroke her fingers over the lace edges. I want it, Beth thinks immediately. Refusing to make eye contact with anyone, she rifles through until she finds her size and then turns to ring up her purchases until she’s side tracked. Again. Lube. Different flavours, textures. She’s used lube with guys but never herself and she wonders if it would be better, if her fingers would glide just right.
The thoughts forming in her mind make her flush deeper and she’s painfully aware of time ticking away. Snatching one blindly, she hurtles for the counter and smacks straight into an oncoming chest made up of brick and mortar by the feel of it. Her items go flying and she stumbles, caught only by the large hand catching hers and tugging her. The hold on her hand is painfully tight to ensure she doesn’t fall on her ass and stretches the joints of all her fingers but when she looks up to apologise in a frenzy of embarrassment, she freezes, forgetting about the pain in her hand as it grows numb.
“Beth?” The guy asks curiously.
“Daryl,” she breathes in answer.