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Stars Through the Darkness

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“Dude! He’s doing it again,” Negan stage-whispered to the table as he looked over at the trash cans on the other side of the cafeteria.

“No way!” Shane gasped, pushing Rosita out of the way and straining his neck to watch. The cafeteria was packed full of students and a constant dull chatter filled the room, the occasional laugh or shriek breaking up the sound of high school monotony.

“What are you idiots looking at?” Rick asked as he sat down with his tray.

“Dixon’s dumpster diving again,” Lori said in disgust, making no effort to watch.

“Seriously, Grimes. Check it out,” Negan said as he bumped the other boy’s shoulder. “He’s gonna pretend to throw something away, but he’ll come up with like a half-eaten sandwich or a banana peel or some shit.”

“Then he goes out to the parking lot and eats it!” Shane said with a cringe.

Andrea laughed as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. “You know, it’s all fun and games until you have to sit behind him in English Lit and he smells like ten-day-old garbage in the dead of summer. He’s disgusting.”

Rick watched with interest as he took a bite of his pizza. Just like Negan said, Daryl Dixon stood hovering by the trash cans. He was in the same ripped jeans he wore every day and the same damn stained T-shirt. A few other students walked by and chucked their trash, then finally, when no one else was around, he dipped a hand into the can and came out with a Ziploc bag containing God knew what kind of leavings.

“Told ya!” Negan bragged with a boisterous laugh. “It’s like clockwork. Dixon digging for scraps like a damn dog. Noon sharp. Next show...tomorrow. At noon.”

Rosita giggled and reached over to Shane’s tray to snag a french fry.

“He’s probably riddled with disease. You should ask to get your seat changed,” Lori said to Andrea. “I wouldn’t dare sit near him.”

“I bet he’s got fleas,” Shane added.

Rick laughed. “Maybe we should put a flea collar in his locker.”

“YES!” Negan shouted. “Now you’re in the spirit, Grimes! Who’s got money?”

“I’ve got a box of flea collars at home!” Andrea said excitedly. “I’ll bring it in tomorrow!”

Shane leaned back in his chair and took a long sip of his chocolate milk. “I know for a fact that he don’t got no lock on his locker,” he said with smug confidence.

“And how do you know that?” Rick asked. “Leaving him love notes are ya?”

Shane punched Rick in the shoulder playfully. “No, Dick. Cause I stole his jacket last week,” Shane snickered. That earned him a high-five from Negan.

“Ew. What do you want his jacket for?” Rosita asked.

“It was actually real leather, man. I had my mom take it to the dry cleaners to get the Dixon off it. Just goes to show you what he spends his money on.”

“Yeah, God forbid he buy soap,” Andrea added with a hard eye roll.

As the conversation changed to Mr. Blake’s pop quiz in Chemistry, Rick zoned out. He had another test coming up in American History that he hadn’t really studied for. He’d be lucky to get a C and he was really going to catch hell over it, sure as shit.

His folks always complained that he didn’t apply himself. His grades were never good enough. His interests were always foolish. His dirt bike, his video games...all wastes of time. For God’s sake, he was fifteen. What did they expect from him? He was supposed to be having fun. Everyone else was. Negan’s folks never gave him grief over grades or shit like that. Rosita’s parents were thrilled any time she got a C, thankful that it wasn’t a D or an F.

Not his parents. Most of the time they were perpetually disappointed. Grades weren’t good enough. Chores weren’t done. Attitude. Laziness. Rick shook his head at the thoughts. There was really no sense in trying. He’d never be good enough.

When the bell rang, Rick followed his group of friends to the trash can and emptied his tray, half a piece of uneaten pizza falling unceremoniously into the garbage.

Saying goodbye to his friends, Rick headed to Mrs. Monroe’s history class, already planning excuses for the grade he knew he’d end up getting. He noticed Daryl coming back inside the school from a side door and he shook his head with annoyance. Not smart enough to take a damn shower, but Rick knew he’d ace the test. He always did.

As they settled into class, Rick spared him another glance. He had no idea how the kid got out the door each morning without his mother forcing him to take a shower or change into some clean clothes. It’s like he just didn’t give a shit. Maybe he didn’t even want friends. Why else would he be like this?

Mrs. Monroe started the class without a word as she quietly walked the aisles handing out the quiz. Rick’s thoughts changed to the matter at hand -- trying his best not to shit the bed too badly on the test in front of him.

***********************

At school that Friday morning, Rick’s group of friends hung around his locker as they did at the start of every day. They were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of students coming and going around them as Andrea pulled the box with the flea collar in it out of her bag.

Lori was leaning against the nearby lockers texting, while Shane, Rosita and Negan stood in a semi-circle around Rick’s locker with huge smiles on their faces.

Andrea started giggling immediately. “Next maybe we can leave a can of Febreeze.”

“No!” Shane exclaimed. “A packet of those little pine trees for the car!”

Rosita threw her head back with a laugh at that one. “So who’s gonna do it?”

“Rick, you do it,” Negan said. “I’ll cause a distraction so no one sees. Lori, you keep an eye out for Dixon.”

“And what if I see him,” Lori asked with a put-out eye-roll.

“Just give it to me,” Rick said, grabbing the box and walking quickly to Daryl’s locker, seven down from his. He heard the group trying to hold back their snickering as he opened the locker, tossed the box on top of the pile of books, and slammed it shut.

When he took the ten steps back to his friends, Shane pointed down the hall behind him. “He saw you in there, man,” Shane said, barely able to control his laughter.

Rick shrugged. “What’s he gonna do?” Rick knew Daryl wasn’t gonna actually do anything. He might look all rough and tumble but he had yet to try to fight anyone back and there’d been dozens of times he’d have had every right to. He’d just avert his eyes and walk away.

They all stood along the lockers watching, less than subtly, as Daryl got to his locker and opened it up. When his eyes landed on the box they all burst out laughing, high-fiving one another as if they’d won a big game. Rick watched as Daryl turned to them, their eyes meeting for a whisper of a second before he averted them just like Rick knew he’d do. There were no tears, there was no fight in him, he just picked up a book, shut the locker and walked away.

The rest of the day Rick watched the clock, eager for the 3:30 dismissal bell. It was Friday and he couldn’t wait for the weekend.

***********************

Daryl walked down the hall with his head down, eyes hiding behind his too-long hair. He was lonely, always has been. But he’d rather be fucking invisible than noticed as the social pariah he was, always being stared at and picked on mercilessly. He knew he was cripplingly shy. He knew he never had clean clothes or enough to eat. He knew the other kids looked at him with disgust, talked about him, made fun of him. But he didn’t show up every day for that fucking abuse; hell, he could get plenty of abuse elsewhere. He showed up so that he could make something of himself one day. He didn’t want to become his old man. He wanted things, wanted a home, wanted more than one outfit so that he could wash his clothes. He wanted to have a refrigerator filled with food where he could just reach in and grab something whenever he was hungry. He wanted a car and a job and a paycheck.

Daryl knew he was greedy for wanting so many things, but things is how the world worked. He slammed himself into his chair for his first period art class, his thoughts still lingering on the flea collar. He saw it. He heard the laughter. He knew how he must look to all the other students. They all had different clothes every day. They all got showers every morning. They had perfectly brushed hair, brushed teeth, and full bellies.

Guys like Rick Grimes or Shane Walsh? They had it all. Daryl couldn’t even imagine what their lives were like from the time they went home from school to the moment they showed back up to school the next morning. They probably had no idea how good they had it. Guys like that just didn’t know any different than what they’d always had.

After working on a landscape picture for 45 minutes, the bell finally rang and Daryl’s stomach sank. The day was already moving by too fast. It was Friday and he dreaded having to leave Savior High for the weekend. As bad as his life was when he was there, it was worse when he wasn’t.