interstice; an intervening space, especially a very small one.
Beth rolls her shoulder and looks down at the sleeping baby. Judith's little cheeks are flushed and she shudders in her sleep, the echo of a sob. She’s been crying on and off for hours. It breaks Beth’s heart to see her in distress but it’s also very draining to be stuck with a crying baby all day.
Glancing over her shoulder she sees Rick stretched out on his bunk his forearm over his face. His breathing is slow, occasionally interrupted by a soft snore. After Judith’s birth and Lori’s death, they lost him for a little while. Some of the group even feared it was forever. But he found his way back and he’s been spending more time with Judith, showing an interest, being a father. He’ll take her from Beth now, feed and change her, give Beth a break. He thanks, her all the time, says he doesn’t know what he’d do without her.
His smiles aren’t as rare now and it feels good to know that sometimes she’s the reason. He’s always telling her she has the patience of a saint and that she’d make a good mama.
But being a mama is just a pipe dream.
Right now though, all she wants is a little while to herself, to be herself- whoever that is. She was just finding out when the world fell apart.
Slipping out of Rick’s cell and bypassing her own she takes the stairs down to the ground floor. Exhaustion should have her crawling into her own bunk but she’s been thinking about being outside all day long. The prison walls are more than just protection, sometimes they’re suffocating. And a baby fussing in her ear doesn’t help.
It’s quiet. Like Judith and Rick, most people are sleeping except for the few out on watch in the guard tower or along the fences. This might be the only time she has to herself.
Making her way out of the block and into the night she tips her head back stretching her stiff neck muscles. What she sees takes her breath away and there’s something to be said for the fact that she’s still able to feel a sense of wonder at the star-filled sky. Maybe for a little while, the world can be hers.
Rounding the building and skirting the debris from their first days clearing the prison she finds the spot she’s kind of claimed as her own. It’s between a small shed and a caged staircase. She sits back against the cool concrete wall and stretches her legs out in front of her. Pulling her journal from her back pocket she sets it in her lap. Beside her, underneath a brick in a wooden box are a candle stub and some matches. She keeps them there just in case and tonight they’ll come in handy.
Movement just beyond the stairs catches her eye. Something stirs in the shadows and her skin prickles with goosebumps, not out of fear, she knows who it is. And as he tosses the red cherry of a cigarette on the ground and crushes it under his boot she sits up straighter and fumbles for the candle. This isn’t the first time they’ve met here. But it's the first time she’s come out here at night.
“What are ya doing out here?” To anyone else, Daryl's words might seem harsh.
She knows that’s not the case. They’ve been talking a lot lately. To each other. It started shortly after Judith was born. When she brought the baby out to get some air he’d inadvertently end up coming over. He’d ask about Judith and if there was anything the baby needed.
After the first time, he kept coming back. Even if she didn’t have the baby. He’d take a few minutes to check in with her, keep on top of anything Judith might need. It was sweet and she began to look forward to these small moments. Daryl was determined to make sure ‘little ass-kicker’ had everything she might need. And for that alone Beth was grateful.
“I’ve been inside all day. I just wanted to see the sky.” And there’s this, she can say what she’s thinking to Daryl, she’s not worried about how it might sound. Sometimes she purposely says things just to see his expression. He doesn’t talk a lot. Not with his voice anyway. She can read him, his body language, his eyes… his very blue, very intense eyes.
She stares at her boots and thinks about lighting the candle. The prison yard is bathed in moonlight, but it’s not enough to see her journal.
Daryl eases down beside her as she drags a matchstick across the concrete. It flashes and as it catches she lowers it to the blackened wick.
“Whada ya write in that?” he gestures to her journal on her lap. Then he lowers his hand to his own lap. “Ya ain't gotta tell me I mean if it’s like a diary or somethin’.”
She isn’t offended by the question. If anything she’s pleased that he’s noticed and wondered.
“A lot of things, I guess. Sometimes what’s happening here, sometimes what might’ve happened if the world hadn’t, you know, fallen apart. Just stories.” He’s nodding a little like he’s interested. “Never had a prom or college class- didn’t get to be that person,” she murmurs. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to miss it. So I tell myself stories.”
“I never had none a that stuff either.” A moth has drifted over, attracted by the flickering light and Daryl waves it away.
“How come?” she asks, watching as he shrugs, sometimes this is how he answers her questions. And sometimes he takes a moment before he says anything.
“Didn’t think it mattered.” She might have guessed that about him if she was choosing to guess. But she wasn’t, hasn’t ever. People have a tendency to surprise you if you let them. But he’s right, at least now. Those things don’t matter.
“Guess there’s a lot we ain’t gonna get to do,” she says wistfully.
“Never figured I’d be living in a prison,” Daryl says, “carrying a gun fer protection against dead people.”
“Never thought I’d be a surrogate mama to a baby and living in a prison...” This gets a small smile out of Daryl and it makes her tummy do a little flip flop. “And at least you get a gun! Apparently, I’m adult enough to take care of Judy but I don’t get a say in what goes on here, can’t go on supply runs…” she’s complaining a little, but he’ll listen without judging.
“They just want to protect ya-”
“Be better if they let me practice taking care of myself, let me do my part to help out-”
“Girl whada ya think yer doing with that baby? Yer as good as her mama! Feedin’ her, keepin’ her clean, walking the floors with her, singing ta her…” he says the later softly, so soft it’s almost like a prayer, like a sacred word.
“You hear me singing?” She pulls her knees to her chest and looks over at him. This time all she gets is a one-shoulder shrug. He’s looking down into his lap, scratching a spot on the patched-up denim jeans he’s wearing. She can see the pink in the tips of his ears. He’s not standoffish, he’s shy, she figured that out early on.
“Sometimes,” he admits.
“Oh.” The silence is punctuated by the distant growls of the dead and her own heartbeat pounding in her ears. He listens to her singing. Most of the prison probably does. But knowing he listens….
He glances up at her lip held captive in his teeth. And he looks nervous so she changes the subject. For him.
“I love taking care of Judy, love singing to her, watching her grow and change.. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly things can get bad now… and I need to know how to protect her in case it’s just me and her alone. I should be prepared.” This is something she’s been thinking about but she’s kept it to herself. Because no one takes her seriously.
“That ever happens, ya find me, get Judith and find me. I’ll protect ya.” He’s angry but she knows it isn’t at her or what she’s said. It's the thought of something happening to any of them.
“I’m strong, I, I’m not afraid to fight. If I was with you I’d need to have your back too, we’d be protecting each other… I just, I’m tired of being overlooked…” Beth gives up trying to explain what it means to her to be able to have a fighting chance. Daryl can’t relate to that. All he does is fight. He knows what he’s up against. And if in fact, something does happen, he’s the only one she would want to be with. Rick’s a soldier, he just forges ahead, or he used too. Her daddy, he would need her, but he needs more protection than even she does. And he’s got Maggie. The others, they all have a fighting chance.
But Daryl, he doesn’t forget that they’re all here, that they’re all in this together.
“I see you…” Those three words coming from him and the way he's looking at her in the candlelight… Like a man looks at a woman. But she's being ridiculous. Just because she’s got a silly crush...
“I’m not a little girl…” She’s not, she’s really not. Age as a number doesn’t seem to count anymore because she’s seen things and done things that took the fleeting childhood she had left and whisked it away in the middle of the night.
“Ya ain’t but don’t mean the people that love ya ain’t gonna stop trying ta take care of ya.”
The people that love you.
“I know,” she relents letting it go. Even if nothing changes at least Daryl knows that she wants to do more, be more. And maybe he believes she can. Maybe. “I’m just out of sorts is all. Judith’s been so fussy, can’t even come out here with her…”
“Think it’s the formula?” And they’re back on solid ground, safe ground. They were on the edge of something, something more than just her complaining.
Daryl knows just as she’s learned, that not all formulas are alike and some of them upset Judith’s tummy.
“It could be,” she says. He digs in his pocket and pulls out a scrap of paper. Unfolding it he holds out his hand.
“Lemme see that pen.” She hands it to him and he uses it to draw a line through what he has written there. “Figured it might. It wasn’t on the list.” They made a list of formulas so he knows what to look for or leave behind. “Little ass-kicker’s got a tummy ache and she’s giving you a headache.” His smile and teasing makes something in her own tummy flutter like butterflies wings, the ones she shows to Judith when they get to come outside.
“Maybe you can add aspirin to the list… can always use extra.” She can’t help the giggle that bubbles up from deep inside of her. It feels good- laughing. And having a conversation, their first real conversation.
She hopes it’s not the last. Daryl rarely lets his guard down, not completely anyway. But out here, all alone, just the two of them, she thinks he’s come pretty close.
It’s late and even though she doesn’t want to she knows she needs to go in and sleep before Judith wakes up in case Rick needs her.
“I guess I better go in..”
“Yeah. Alright.” She blows out the candle and tucks it and the matches back in the box. He holds out his hand with the pen in it and when she takes it she lets her fingers brush his, just barely.
But before she goes in, as she’s walking away...
“Beth…” He’s in the shadow of the building and she can’t see his face but she can see the set of his shoulders, strong shoulders, shoulders that carry more than just physical weight. Words are heavy too.
“I, uh, I’ll talk ta the council and yer daddy, yer right, ya oughta know what ta do… I’ll see about takin’ ya outside the fence, on a run…”
“Really?” He does believe in her. Walking back over to where he’s standing now, close enough so she can see his face, be sure…
“I got yer back too, that’s what friends do, that’s wh-”
“I’m your friend?” she blurts it out instead of leaving it in her head where it belongs.
“What?” he growls. But only because she’s put him on the spot.
“You said that’s what friends do-”
“I know what I said,” he pauses, “yeah yer my friend.” He’s blushing she can see it even in the moonlight. “Ain’t no big deal,” he mumbles.
But it is. And not because she might have a little crush on him. He listened to her and he heard her and she’s not just a babysitter or Maggie's little sister, she’s his friend and he’s going to look out for her.
Without thinking, she steps into his space and slides her arms around his waist. He stiffens for a second then relaxes enough to cup her elbow in his hand.
“Thank you Daryl,” she whispers against his chest. She moves back before it’s too much and smiles up at him.
“Yer welcome,” he whispers back.
She turns and it takes all her self-control not to skip or run… Daryl believes in her. And they’re friends. She’d already considered him that as well as family and maybe something else she keeps to herself… he said she’s his friend and maybe there are other things he’s keeping to himself too.