The recess bell sounds and the playground is suddenly alive and chaotic. One little girl in a soft yellow t-shirt and blue jean overalls moves tentatively around a four square game and towards the field where a football game of sorts is just getting started, well after the group of 10 year old boys decides who is going where and what they are naming their teams. Behind her back, clutched in her hands, blonde curls brushing it’s edges, is a pink paper heart. Along the bottom, in her best printing it says, ‘Love Beth’. No one pays her any attention until she steps onto the green grass.
“Whada ya want Bethany Greene?” A boy, bigger than a 10 year old should be, rushes up on the tiny blonde girl. She backs up, just a bit. Daryl Dixon who was wandering at the edge of the field notices this and an internal alarm goes off at seeing the much bigger boy, almost bigger than him and he’s 12, tower over that little girl. He moves in behind the boys and just watches.
“Here” Beth smiles and holds out the paper heart. But her smile falls as the boys begin laughing. The boy in question takes the heart from her hand and stares at it before ripping it in half and tossing it to the ground.
“Yer just a dumb girl. A stupid little girl. I don’t want yer ugly heart. Why don’t you go away already!” He’s in her space now. And Daryl sees her closing in on herself, her bottom lip is trembling and her blue eyes shimmer with tears and he can’t stand back any longer.
“Hey back off! Leave the girl alone!” He rarely speaks so when he does have a word or two to say, the kids all watch and wait.
“Wha’d ya say, ya dirty redneck?” 10 year olds are cruel and their laughter cuts deep, but the boys clear out because Daryl Dixon might be quiet, but he has a certain look about him. Torn jeans, black sweatshirt, he looks rough and those other boys are all talk. Not to mention he’s 12 years old and has a mean older brother in high school.
Daryl takes a couple steps toward Beth.
“Ya okay?” he asks and she nods and he notices the tiny crystal tear that detaches itself from her lashes and rolls down her cheek. A yard duty lady with a shrill whistle bustles over and immediately zeros in on him.
“Daryl Dixon, what did you do?” Hands on her hips, she’s already accusing him even before he gets a chance to explain. But that’s always how it is with Dixons though. Ain’t nothin’ new.
“He ain’t done nothin’ Mrs. Lou. He was taking care a’ me.” Beth is bouncing on her toes imploring the woman and they head off together hand in hand. The little girl looks over her shoulder at him and she notices his blue, blue eyes. Her daddy has blue eyes. She has blue eyes. She decides she likes blue eyes. Turning back to the yard duty aide, Beth tells her exactly what happened. Her little girl voice carries on the wind as she defends the boy who helped her.
Daryl Dixon is just a kid too, a kid wearing ripped jeans who didn’t get a decent breakfast that morning, a kid who all the other kids are leary of. He looks down and sees the paper heart nestled in the grass and he reaches out and picks it up.
Beth steers her small Honda into the parking lot of the only bar in town. There are quite a few other cars which is normal for a Friday night seeing as it’s the only place to go unless you want to drive to Atlanta. She’s hoping to surprise her boyfriend Zach. She finished up school early and only has to go back in a few months for the actual graduation ceremony. Zach’s texts from earlier indicated he was going to hang out with friends at Abe’s Place. So here she is, even though she’d really rather be anywhere else.
She checks her face in the mirror, just a little make up even though Zach prefers more, more than she is comfortable with. Her jeans and boots are all her. Her top is gauzy and falling off her slight shoulders, once again more Zach’s liking than hers, but it’s a soft yellow, one of her favorite colors. Her blonde curls hang down her back and she knows her hair is one of her best features and tonight she emphasized it.
The bar is crowded and loud. Taking a deep breath, Beth steps inside. At least it’s cooler in here. Georgia summers seem to have their own time clock and even though it’s still technically spring it’s hot and muggy outside. She scans the crowded room, looking for Zach. She spots him, near the bar, and she can’t say she’s not surprised to see him wrapped around a long legged brunette with huge boobs. She’s had her suspicions that he’s been cheating for a while now, but it still stings to actually have them confirmed. Sighing she heads in his direction. It’s time to get this over with. He doesn’t see her as she approaches and spins around at the sound of her voice.
His face blanches and then a look of mild irritation crosses it.
“I uh, came home early. I’m guessing you weren’t expecting me.” She keeps her eyes on him because she can hear the titering coming from the brunette and her two friends. And she feels the heat of embarrassment flush her cheeks.
“No, I can’t say I was. I was actually gonna call you.. I’m kinda busy now so..” And at that the brunette slides a hand up Zach’s chest.
“Yeah I can see that.” She doesn't know if it’s her raised eyebrow or the tone of her voice that sets him off. He’s always accused her of being a goody two shoes thinking she’s better than him somehow. He pushes the brunette off of him and points a finger at Beth.
“Ya know what?! I just wanna have some fun. You're no fun Beth! I ain’t gonna marry you just to get some!” He’s in her space now and although she isn’t afraid of him, her first reaction is to try and back up, but he grabs her arm and holds on tight. “Oh no, you listen to me Miss Goody two shoes..”
Daryl is sitting a few feet away at the bar nursing a drink and wondering why the hell he follows his brother to these places. Merle has cleaned up, knows how to have fun without getting into trouble now. Old habits die hard he guesses. He hears the raised voices and glances over at the guy doing the yelling. The object of his anger is a small blonde woman, much smaller than the asshole who is currently in her face. Daryl is struck by a strong sense of deja vu and without a second thought he’s up off the barstool and in Zach’s face.
“Back the fuck off. Leave the girl alone if ya know what’s good for ya.” Daryl doesn’t yell. He doesn’t have to. The gravel in his voice is enough to make most people take notice. That and the biceps that his blue t-shirt and black leather vest don’t hide. And that’s exactly what Zach does, he takes notice. He lets go of Beth’s arm and takes a couple of steps back, his eyes on Daryl the entire time.
“What’s it to you, ya dirty redneck?!” Zach just shakes his head when Daryl glares at him, but there’s fear in his eyes and he ushers the girls away from the bar and out into the Georgia heat.
“Ya okay?” He takes in the soft yellow shirt, blonde curls falling over her shoulders and back like a golden waterfall, and those blue eyes. He knows those blue eyes, filled with tears, one currently sliding down her soft ivory cheek.
She quickly brushes it away and is eyeing him, curious because..
“Do I, do I know you?” Her voice is tentative.
“Don’t know ‘bout that, but you should stay away from assholes like him.” Now that he’s actually talking to her, he’s nervous. Daryl isn’t one to just start up a conversation with a beautiful girl, but then she’s not just any girl.
“Yeah,” Beth sighs, “I was planning on ending it anyway. He’s a jerk.” She isn’t sure what to do with her hands and she doesn’t know why this man is making her tummy do flip flops all of a sudden. He’s big and rough looking, fills out his t-shirt quite nicely and his shaggy brown hair doesn’t hide the way he watches her.
“Ya deserve better.” He says it like it’s the truest thing in the whole world.
She feels her cheeks warm and she gives him a small smile.
“Oh? How do you know?” Daryl shrugs and bites on his thumb nail.
“I’unno, just do.” They both stand there and even though the silence is a little awkward, it isn’t uncomfortable. It’s new and sometimes it takes a minute to get used to a new thing.
“Well I think I’ll just go home, to my daddy’s. At least he’ll be happy to see me.” And he will. She knows that for a fact and she’ll feel safe and loved and she’ll be home. She glances over at the man. The man with the bluest eyes she’s ever seen, the one who helped her. Something is tugging and pulling at the insides of her brain and she shakes her head and starts to thank him.
“Thank you for..”
“Can I at least buy you a drink or soda or somethin’?” He took a chance here. But he knows this girl. Couldn’t forget her. His question puts a huge smile on her face and he’s so damn glad he asked, didn’t chicken out.
“Oh! Sure. I’d like that. My name is Beth.” She holds out her hand for his and when he takes hers those flip flops turn into tiny little deranged birds beating on the inside of her rib cage.
“Yeah.” He knows, knew even before that asshole said it. Beth. “I’m Daryl Dixon. Nice ta meet ya Beth.”
They have a couple of drinks, he has beer, she sticks to coke. And he asks her about college and what she was majoring in and her plans for the future. He steers her away from questions about himself and the past. He doesn’t want her knowing who is he is. Doesn't want it to ruin the evening. Doesn’t want it to ruin this, whatever this is. Not yet. A couple of hours later he walks her to her car and waves goodbye and that’s that.
Beth’s daddy is overjoyed to see her and that reunion makes everything okay. Well that and Daryl. Climbing into bed later that night she can’t shake the feeling that he’s more than who he says, which really all she got was his name. And the fact that he didn’t take kindly to a man being mean to a woman. He kept changing the subject whenever she tried to ask about him. He had angel wings on his vest. Maybe he’s her guardian angel. She laughs at the absurdity of her silly thoughts and rolls over and goes to sleep.
When she wakes up the next morning she’s out of bed and dressed and racing down the dirt road as fast as her little car will take her. She told her daddy she was meeting a friend and she almost forgot about it. Says she’ll see him later. And with her heart pounding and those little birds and the angel she dreamt about last night giving her wings, she heads into town to find him. Because she remembers.
The deputy sheriffs cruiser is in the parking lot of the diner and Beth swings her little car in there. Rick has been a family friend forever. He’s her brother Shawn’s age and hung out on the farm with him over the years. She rolls down the window and smiles at the man. She’d had a huge crush on him for years. He’s a nice guy and an amazing dad.
“Beth Greene! You home already?” He reaches in the window and kisses her forehead.
“Yep. Gonna stay awhile. Help my daddy. How are the kids?” Beth asks.
“Good. Doing good. Getting used to sharing time with me and Lori, but they’re troopers!” Rick leans back against his cruiser.
“Glad to hear it. Hey you wouldn’t happen to know where Daryl Dixon works would you?” She tries to act nonchalant, but Rick isn’t a dumb man.
“Daryl Dixon? Well sure, he works at his brother’s garage. Over on Elm. Why?” Beth can see the tiny smirk that Rick is trying to hide. She doesn't have the time to explain what’s going on and she wants this just for her for now.
“Thanks Rick! I’ll come by soon!” She waves out the window as she drives away leaving a clud of dust and Rick Grimes shaking his head.
Now she’s here, standing in the office of the shop. It smells like grease and tires and someone in the back is singing off key to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. A petite woman with close cropped grey hair and a nice smile greets her.
“Can I help you?”
“Um, yeah. I’m looking for Daryl Dixon?” She forces her eyes to stay on the woman in front of her and not stray to the door that’s open into the garage.
“Sure. Let me get him for you.” The woman starts to head for the door to the garage.
“Just tell him to meet me out front okay?” Beth smiles and hurries back outside. She makes her way back to her car and leans against it, trying not to look to eager. But her heart is beating so fast and she can’t get the images from her dream out of her head. When he steps out into the sun from the shadows of the garage she completely forgets to compose herself and hears the gravel under her converse as she bounces on her toes.
Jesus Beth.. you’re not 7 years old! She was though, once a long time ago and he..
“Hey Beth. What’s go…” She interrupts him before he finishes.
“I do know you.”
Daryl fidgets with his fingers and looks at her from under that fringe of hair. She wants to touch it, brush it away so she can really see his eyes.
“Oh yeah?” He watches her as she nods her head and tugs on a curl that fell over her shoulder. And she’s bouncing on her toes like a little girl.
“I think, maybe.. who are you?” She laughs nervously and he smiles. He likes this game. But he knows. Daryl has known since he saw her in the bar last night and Zach called her Beth. She was that a little girl on the playground. The one who stuck up for him and didn’t look at him like he was nothin’.
“I gotta get back to work, ya wanna go for a drive later?” Beth can tell he’s nervous, but he’s also being coy and she’s very interested in why.
“Yeah I do.” She smiles and he she hopes it isn’t as big and goofy as it feels to her.
She isn’t on the porch waiting for him specifically when his truck coasts down the dirt driveway in front of the farmhouse. She was just enjoying the late afternoon breeze. And his smile isn’t a bit bigger when their eyes meet through the windshield of his truck. He picks up beautiful girls off their front porches all the time.
“Hi.” She says as she slides in the passenger seat. It’s a little breathless and followed by a giggle.
“Hey.” He backs up the truck and turns it around.
And they take that drive.
Daryl took her down a back road to a field and a little grove of trees. He likes to come here to sit and think and watch the birds. He doesn't tell her that, just tells her it’s a pretty place. They sit on the tailgate of his pick-up and he watches her checking the place out. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls something out, hands it to Beth, 2 pieces of paper, a pink paper heart, faded and soft with age, torn down the middle, ‘Love Beth’ written across the bottom in childish print.
“Oh” She holds it like it’s made of glass. Daryl’s face is warm, watching her. “It was you,” she says so softly and there are tears in her eyes again.
“Awe Beth, don’t cry.” He doesn’t wanna make her cry, can’t stand her tears.
“It’s, I’m happy. I knew it. I had a dream.. Daryl that was one of the nicest things anyone ever did for me- and you were just a little boy.” He shrugs his shoulders.
“Ain’t no reason to treat a girl like that.” He’s remembering his mama, his mama who didn’t deserve to be treated the way his daddy treated her, vowed he’d never treat a girl or woman like that.
“Why’d you keep the pieces all this time?” It’s an honest question, but his answer scares him. What if she thinks he’s dumb?
“I’unno.. Hoped I could give it back one day? ‘S dumb..” He hops off the tailgate and rummages around in the cab of the truck and brings back a roll of tape. Pulling a piece off he takes the heart and fixes it.
“Ain’t perfect, but ‘s one piece.” He hands it back to Beth and she holds it and gazes down at it.
“Got a pen?” she asks without looking cause if she looks at him she might not go through with it.
He pauses for a second, but she’s got her eyes on her hands and she’s waiting so he brings her a pen.
She writes something on the heart and puts it back in his hands. Above the ‘Love Beth’, from all those years ago it says, ‘To Daryl’.
“Shoulda gave it to you that day.” Her cheeks are flushed pink as she smiles up at him. It’s the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen. And those damn blue eyes.
“Maybe this is why I was savin’ it.” He says quietly and he smiles back at her. Someday he’ll tell her how she was the only other kid who stuck up for him and made him feel like he was more than just a dirty redneck in torn jeans.
They sit together on the tailgate. Eventually Daryl works up the courage to take her hand and lace their fingers together and she scoots over so their legs bump into each other's as they swing them back and forth and watch the sunset.