“I can take you home.”
It takes him a few seconds to realize he’s said it. Then there’s a mild spike of panic, because what exactly does he think he’s doing, pulling up next to Hershel Greene’s youngest daughter in a battered pickup, and it’s on the long road leading back to the farm and it’s got to be about two in the morning and she’s soaked through, blue sleeveless dress sticking to her upper body and her long legs, sticking everywhere. And he’s not a creep, and he’s not even really looking at her like that, but he realizes, as soon as he delivers that offer, that a creep might be exactly how he’s coming off.
She looks at him, hugging herself, but she doesn’t stop walking, and he’s trapped between wanting to shrug and head off and staying and trying to convince her and probably looking even more creepy. Because what is she, seventeen? Sixteen?
She’s wet. That’s what she is. So he can either be a creep or a jerk.
“It’s gotta be a couple miles, c’mon.” And why doesn’t she have a ride, anyway? Why the hell is she walking? Dress like that, looks like she was out somewhere.
She looks at him again, still walking, and he can see she’s shivering, and in that moment he decides he’d rather be a creep than a jerk.
“What do you want?” she asks finally, and she sounds more tired than angry. Tired and annoyed, and he doesn’t think the annoyance is truly directed at him. Doesn’t feel that way, anyway.
He starts to say something, stops, realizes he doesn’t have much of a response to that. I wanna take you home is self-evident and he’s already said it, and something about how it sounds in his head wouldn’t, he thinks, help his case. So instead he takes a breath, feeling a little helpless and more than a little awkward, and says, “You look cold.”
For a moment nothing. Then she stops and he stops a second later, the engine idling, and to his intense surprise she’s almost smiling.
“Yeah, ‘cause I am.”
So he comes out and says it, since she’s halted and she’s actually talking to him. “I ain’t a creep or nothin’.”
She cocks her head, and he allows himself to think that she’s kind of adorable like that. “No, huh?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I kinda think that’s the sorta thing a creep might say.”
He shrugs, again feeling very helpless. He saw her once, delivering some feed to the farm—not a great job but it’s good enough for the moment until Merle decides he’s sick of this hayseed town and wants to move on again—and it was only for a minute or so but something about her made him feel helpless then, too. He’s never had a Thing for much of anyone, never felt what he would call real attraction, and he doesn’t think that’s what this is, but it’s something, and he would be stupid to pretend it isn’t.
“I’m just sayin’ I can drop you off. I’m headed that way.”
“I can’t get any wetter,” she points out, which he supposes is true, and which he doesn’t think he can argue with, except for one thing.
“You could get drier.”
She sighs and looks down the road in the direction she was going, looks back the way she came. Empty. He’s been driving back toward town for a good hour or so, hasn’t seen anyone. And there’s no lightning, no thunder, but the rain is coming down in sheets and it’s only coming down harder.
She seems to reach a decision and steps forward toward the truck. “Sure you ain’t a creep?”
He gives her a crooked little smile. “Pretty sure.”
She sighs again. “Alright.”
She’s dripping all over the seat when she climbs in; somehow inside the cab she’s wetter than she had been outside. He cranks up the heater, leans back, rummages behind the passenger’s seat and produces a rag which he thinks is mostly clean. She gives it a skeptical look but takes it from him and begins to towel off her hair.
So he starts driving again.
“The fuck you doin’ out there, anyway?”
In the periphery of his vision he sees her shoot him another look. “I was takin’ a walk.”
“Uh huh.” He gives her a look right back; he guessed when he first saw her that she had an attitude in her—not acidic or sharp but that she could push back when pushed, which he has exactly no problem with. It’s likable. “Lemme guess, you were out somewhere and someone flaked on you.”
She doesn’t answer immediately, wiping at her face; she’s not wearing much makeup, or she wasn’t, but now it’s smeared around her eyes. Again he thinks, somewhat against his will, adorable.
“My boyfriend got drunk,” she says finally, and again there’s that tired exasperation, and he feels a degree of irritation on her behalf. “Told him not to, he did it anyway. He was my ride.” She pauses, then says, softer, “Daddy would’ve killed me if I came back with him like that. Even if I wanted to. I didn’t,” she adds, and she sounds a little defensive. “I don’t feel like gettin’ wrapped ‘round a telephone pole.”
“Dick move,” he murmurs, and she laughs softly.
“Yeah.” She pauses, then studies him with a little more curiosity. “You were out at the farm, before. Couple days ago. Daryl, right? Daryl Dixon?”
He nods. Doesn’t say anything else. There isn’t a lot more worth saying.
But she persists. “You’re new.”
He gives her a half shrug. “Passin’ through.”
“So you ain’t stickin around.”
“No.” He glances at her, frowning. “Why the hell you care?”
“Why the hell you care if I care?”
He huffs a laugh. He’s feeling more comfortable now. She’s throwing back everything he decides to toss at her, and that’s just fine, because it feels friendly. She doesn’t seem like she’s about to mace him or leap out of the truck and roll down the embankment. He must be coming off better than he thought.
“Why aren’t you stickin’ around?”
“Never do,” he murmurs, and he decides not to mention Merle, because he doesn’t want to talk about Merle, because when he gets back into town he’ll probably have to peel Merle off a sticky bar floor and possibly pull someone off him. Drop a few punches. Not his idea of a fun time, but it’s what he does. This isn’t a Good Girl, he thinks, because she doesn’t feel like that, but she does feel like a nice girl, a nice person, and he’d rather not toss that shit into the ring.
Make things even more awkward than they are.
Either way she seems like she’s ready to cease persisting, because she falls silent, gazing out the window, and there is a flash of lightning some distance off, lighting up a long run of trees down a hill.
“You’re Beth.” He finally seizes on the name, and she nods, not looking at him. “Kinda out late, aren’t you?”
She shoots him a sharp little smile. “You my chaperone, Mr. Dixon?”
“Just sayin’, girl.”
“Mama and Daddy don’t know. I snuck out.” Back to tired. Whatever she was feeling when she did it, whatever teenage excitement, it seems to be gone. Washed out of her. “Feelin’ kinda stupid about that now.”
“Yeah, well.” He could say something like now’s when you gotta do the stupid shit, except a: he never stopped doing the stupid shit and he’s perfectly aware of that, and b: it makes him sound…
It makes him sound as much older than her as he probably is.
“I thought it’d be fun,” she says, quiet again, and it’s frankly strange that she’s still talking to him, this guy who is himself strange, who came upon her in a strange way, and this is all strange and a little dreamlike. Unreal. He’ll get back to town and do that peeling and maybe some necessary punching, and maybe tomorrow this won’t even seem like it happened, but the girl is talking to him, and he wants to listen. “It’s the kinda thing Maggie does. My big sister. Or she did. She’s gone now, got her own place. But I guess I…” She trails off and looks down at the rag in her hands, her damp hair falling around her shoulders and hanging in her face.
He sort of wants to reach out and tuck it behind her ear.
“I just wanted to see,” she says, and falls silent again, voice dropping under the deep hum of the engine and the dull roar of the heater.
“You had a shitty night. It happens.”
“Happens to you?”
“Mmhm.” Then he adds, in a rush of honesty that he thought he had been trying to avoid, “Happens a lot.”
Silence for a while.
“My daddy stopped drinkin’,” she says finally. “That’s the other reason he’d kill me.”
“You don’t seem like you got lit.”
“I didn’t. Just watched everyone else do it. They kinda turned into jerks, most of ‘em. They try too hard.” She sighs. “I don’t know why you’d try that kinda thing.”
“All kinda reasons.” He’s his own species of quiet now. He didn’t want to think about those reasons, not with her sitting next to him, but there’s something insistent about her presence even if she isn’t saying anything. He can see how it might get annoying, but right now it’s mostly okay. Shouldn’t be, but it is.
“I wanted to dance,” she says, and now she sounds almost dreamy. “I like dancin’. Singin’.”
And now he could say something, and he’s not sure he should. Feels an impulse, intense and intensely odd, and he’s not sure where it’s coming from. The rain is drumming on the roof and the wipers are swiping back and forth, making a whimpering noise, and all those other sounds of a truck probably on its last wheels because the guy he’s working for is too damn cheap to replace anything properly, but he wants to listen to something new, something not the radio. Her voice is low and pleasant and somehow musical in itself, and maybe he wonders what it would sound like.
“You get to sing?”
“Why dontcha sing somethin’?”
She looks at him, clearly surprised. Even a little confused. “Really?”
“Yeah, you heard me. Go on and sing somethin’.”
She hesitates, then squeezes the rag and laughs. A small laugh, surprise still in it, but also a kind of pleasure. Like she’s happy to be asked. Unexpectedly.
So she sings something. He doesn’t recognize it, but it’s sweet, and there’s something about her voice that’s pure in a way he doesn’t have any idea how to describe. Pure and smooth and practiced, and natural, like it’s something she doesn’t have to work at, like it comes out of her like breathing. Like maybe it’s something she’s always done, and maybe she’ll go on doing it, no matter how much the world changes her. He listens, and he falls so deep into it that he almost rolls past her house, until she goes quiet and touches his arm.
And he jumps slightly.
He cuts off the headlights and turns slowly up the drive, and as he does he realizes the rain has stopped and the moon is breaking through the clouds. Everything is dripping, puddles shining, and it’s almost pretty. She’s still soaked, still a mess…
But she’s pretty too. She is. Pretty and young and not ruined by anything, and he’s never seen anything quite like her.
He’s close to the house when she touches his arm again. “I can walk from here.”
She laughs softly. “You wanna get me killed after all?”
“Alright.” He stops, idling again, and she seems like she’s about to get out, but then she doesn’t, and he’s about to ask her what she’s doing when she lays a hand against his cheek and turns his face to hers and kisses him.
Not deep, not hard. Really it’s not much of anything. But he closes his eyes and lets himself sink into it. Her lips are sweet with some sort of gloss that’s clung to her in spite of the rain, and she smells like fresh water and soap and maybe a touch of perfume. Light. Not cloying.
She pulls back, and when he opens his eyes she looks surprised again, but she’s smiling, eyes shining, and he can see in her the kind of teenage daring she was hoping to find. Without meaning to, he’s given that to her.
And he does what he wanted to, his own kind of daring, and he reaches up and tucks a loose, damp strand of her hair behind her ear.
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Dixon.” She opens the door and climbs out, nimbly avoiding a puddle. He watches her, how she moves with a slightly gawky grace, something that’ll become real grace when she gets older. She’ll be beautiful.
She already is. Not adorable. Not pretty.
A few feet away she stops and turns and she’s smiling at him again, wide and happy. “You ain’t a creep,” she says, and gives him a little wave. “I’ll see you.”
Speechless, he waves back.
She heads across the yard then, moon lighting her up, catching her hair. She vanishes into the shadows, but he sees one more glimpse of her, climbing up the side of the house—a drainpipe, maybe, or a trellis. She moves easily, and he watches her until she slides into an open window and is gone.
He pulls the truck around, still quiet as he can, lights still off. Merle is probably waiting for him at that bar, ready to be peeled. And he’ll probably let Merle convince him to get drunk, and he’ll pass out and wake up the next morning feeling like shit and drag himself to work in this shitty pickup, and sooner or later he’ll leave and head to the next place Merle gets it into his head to go.
But he has this. The taste of her lips, and her singing in his ears, and it’s sort of perfect. A perfect thing, out of nowhere.
Yeah, he’ll see her again.
He’ll make sure that happens.