Daryl Dixon stepped into the Leaking Pipe for the third time that week. He didn’t feel quite so guilty about it tonight. It was Friday night and it wasn’t odd for him to stroll into the dank little shithole and drink himself into a stupor so he could forget her as easily as she’d probably forgotten him.
It had been almost a year since that day at the swimming hole, when her father had caught them together. Telling himself that breaking up with Beth Greene was for her own good was a band aid at best. He was too old for her. He wasn’t good enough for her. She would be wasting her life, her potential, on a worthless redneck like him if they stayed together.
Nobody had known about their relationship. They’d done a good job keeping that to themselves. Still, he heard talk. According to what he’d heard, she’d gone off to college sooner than she’d spoken of to him. He sometimes wondered if it was just to get away from her overbearing father, or to get away from him, or both.
What would you do in Hershel’s place?
He’d asked himself that same question more times than he could count. Undoubtedly he would have done the exact same thing Hershel had done, were it his little girl, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. That didn’t make Daryl miss Beth any less.
There was a commotion going on in the middle of the room. Men were laughing and for once Daryl noticed the absence of foulmouthed foolery. He heard a distinctly feminine laugh and then a familiar voice.
“And then I’ll be a monkey’s auntie if that dog didn’t poop diarrhea all over Hersh’s new recliner!”
This comment brought uproarious laughter. Daryl stared in fascination as some of the worst despots in the county weren’t sitting neat and proper around a couple of tables that had been pushed together, eating apple pie and listening to Annette Greene tell stories.
“Oh, there he is!” she said, spotting Daryl’s bewildered countenance by the door. He had a powerful rush of déjà vu seeing her standing there, looking like an older version of Beth, waiting for him. “You boys enjoy the pie and thank you for being kind and polite. Especially you, Billy, you dirty old fart,” Annette said, not unkindly, before pinching the face of a grizzled, greasy man up in his seventies who blushed furiously as she left the table to come over to Daryl.
He was mad at her for some reason. She’d invaded his personal space and brought something good into this cesspool that he used to punish himself for not being good enough for the woman he loved.
“It ain’t safe for you here,” he chided her.
“Oh, phooey!” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “They’re not gonna hurt me. I’ve patched most of these men up at one point or another back when I was a nurse. Why don’t we find a quiet spot outside and leave them to their business of drinking and cussing and raising hell?”
She pulled him outside and he was helpless to follow.
“Something wrong with Beth?” he asked.
“Very much so, yes,” Annette said gravely.
“Is she sick?” he asked, his concern growing.
“Oh, she’s terribly sick,” Annette answered with a heavy sigh.
“What’s wrong with her?” he asked, his concern now reaching near panic levels.
“She’s got an awful case of love-sickness. One of the worst I think I’ve ever seen,” Annette explained.
Daryl heaved a sigh of relief and walked over to his bike. He’d feared Beth had come down with a case of something serious but it was just Annette teasing him. He self-consciously dusted the bike seat off and then motioned for her to lean against it, which she politely did while Daryl shoved his hands awkwardly in his pockets.
“I’m doing the right thing.”
“I’m respecting y’all’s wishes, ain’t I?” he kept his tone respectful. He liked Annette. He didn’t want to come off as rude to her. She was, in his eyes, and the eyes of anyone who met her, a true lady.
“You’re respecting Hershel’s wishes,” she corrected.
He studied her open, honest face. “You’re okay with me and Beth?”
She nodded. “Hershel is almost as old over me as you are over Beth,” she informed him. “He was always attracted to younger women. He had a few good years over Jo and he’s got a few over me. Still, he can’t see straight when it comes to his daughters.”
“Makes him a hypocrite if you ask me. No offense.”
She grinned. “I agree, but if you tell him I said that I’ll deny it and slap you silly.”
“Understood,” he grinned.
“I want to see your home,” she suddenly said, after a few moments of silence.
Daryl shifted uncomfortably. “Huh?”
“I want to see where you live,” she said. “Will you show me?”
He shrugged, wondering what she was up to. “Yeah, I can. You can follow me.”
“I’ll have to ride on the bike. I walked here.”
His mouth fell open. “On a Friday evening? On this road? That’s a three mile hike!”
Annette shrugged. “I enjoy long walks. Always have. Come on. You said you’d show me your house, so keep your word. Plus, I’ve always wanted to ride on a motorcycle.”
After a few moments of uncertainty Daryl climbed onto the bike and Annette got on behind him. It was weird, having Beth’s mother on the bike behind him, wanting to see his house. What was she up to? He decided he’d just have to let her reveal that to him when the time came.
Daryl was embarrassed to show a lady like Annette Greene his trailer. He’d gotten the truck down off the blocks and fixed it up so that now it was parked in back. He still preferred his bike. It was easier on gas and he liked the open air moving over him. The lawn was neatly kept, as was his house. Still, he was embarrassed to have her there.
She stepped into the trailer and looked around in approval.
“Your mama taught you to keep a neat place, I see.”
“My mama never taught me nothin. She wasn’t like you, Mrs. Greene.”
“Call me Annette. Are you a self-taught man?”
He nodded. “My family was a buncha slobs. I hated that.”
“So you refuse to live like that now,” she concluded. “You know, just to look at you from a distance, someone would judge you to live in a trailer that was run down and dirty and ill kept. They’d judge you to have an overgrown yard full of beer cans. That you wouldn’t shower or brush your teeth.”
He cocked his head to the side, looking for all the world like a confused puppy to Annette. Her heart went out to him. She touched his face, feeling very motherly towards Daryl, even though she wasn’t a great deal older than him. He loved her baby girl and she could easily accept him as a son. She wished Hershel felt the same.
“That’s what they would think from a distance. That’s where Hershel is going wrong, Daryl. He’s judging you from a distance. May I look in your bathroom, bedroom, and refrigerator?”
He stood in the living room, feeling like his mother was going to check that he’d actually put sheets on the bed and not fudged it. She came back a few minutes later and looked in the fridge.
“Lotta beer in here,” she commented. “You cook?”
“You drink a lot?”
She nodded in understanding. “I’m ready to go home. Give a lady a lift?”
“I don’t think your husband would like that.”
“Beth’s there. You may glimpse her.”
“Okay,” he said, a little too quickly, feeling like she’d played him like a fiddle. “Just make sure Mr. Greene doesn’t shoot me with a 12 gauge.”
“You’ve got my word. No buckshot in the behind for you, young man.”
Hershel sat on the porch, watching the last rays of the sun disappear from the sky as full dusk kicked in. His wife, Annette, had walked off with one of the biggest apple pies he’d ever seen her bake and hadn’t come back yet. He’d thought she was going over to the Walters’ farm for a visit but a call to Eugenia had confirmed Annette wasn’t there. Her behavior confused him. It was Beth's birthday. Why was she baking pies and running off in the evening on foot?
Now he was alone with his daughters, Beth and Maggie, both of whom were home from UGA on spring break. Beth had decided she was going to be an engineer. She had the math skills for it, and it would be a long road ahead, but he didn’t doubt for a second she could do it. He’d hoped she’d talk about a new boyfriend, someone she went to school with, but she didn’t mention anyone.
In fact, Beth didn’t mention anything to him. She acted like he didn’t exist unless she was answering a question directly. She was polite, but she was also well and truly done with trying to have any kind of relationship with him. He’d hoped that after almost a year away from the Dixon fella she’d realize that what he’d done was for the best.
Hershel begrudgingly respected Daryl’s resolve to do right by Beth by not seeing her anymore. She’d done her level best to win him over immediately after their breakup, but Daryl had refused. When he’d said the chain was on his door he’d meant it. He’d stuck to it. He was a man of his word and Hershel felt a pang of regret for calling him trash. He knew of the Dixon clan but it was plain to see that Daryl Dixon differed from them in that his word was his bond.
Speak of the devil...
He heard the roar of a motorcycle, one he hadn’t heard on his land in almost a year, and he wondered what on earth Daryl Dixon was doing riding up to his property.
Daryl’s stomach was tight when he saw Hershel sitting on the porch. The old man stood up, already looking like he was ready to go for a shotgun. A figure in the window of the second floor caught his attention. It was Beth. He hadn’t seen her in almost a year. His chest constricted as tight as his belly. God, he’d hoped he’d be over her a little more, but seeing her made his heart ache.
“Annie! What the hell are you doing?” Hershel demanded, seeing that his wife was on the back of the bike with Daryl. He couldn’t begin to imagine what had possessed her to ride on the thing.
“Daryl’s giving me a ride home. I went to the Leaking Pipe,” she explained.
This earned an open mouth and an expression of shock from her husband. “You went where?”
“To the Leaking Pipe. I wanted to see Daryl. Come on in, Daryl,” she said.
“He will not!” Hershel shouted.
“Don’t you raise your voice at me, Mister,” Annette said coolly.
“I’m sorry, Honey, but I won’t have him in my house.”
“It’s my house too, is it not?”
“Of course but--”
“I’m inviting Daryl to dinner. This feud has gone on long enough, Hersh.”
“I’d really rather not--” Daryl began, but Annette grabbed his hand and began hauling him toward the porch and her big, tall, scowling husband.
“I know it’s hard being somewhere you don’t feel welcome, but believe me when I say you’re wanted here by me and my daughters. It’s the old fart here that’s causin’ trouble.”
Hershel was insulted. “Annie!”
“Come inside, Hersh. Wash up.”
Beth sat down on the bed, her heart thundering in her chest. With her bedroom window open she’d heard the entire exchange. She’d seen her mother grab Daryl’s hand and drag him toward the porch from where he’d parked his bike.
What’s she doing?
Daryl had made it plain and clear he didn’t want her. Well, that wasn’t really true, or fair, she supposed. She knew he wanted her, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with her as long as her father disagreed with them being together. She was almost as angry with him as she was with her father. She was old enough to make her own choices. She’d hoped Daryl would respect that, even if her father couldn’t.
She waited for a few moments before she decided to wash up for dinner. She could smell the roasted chicken her sister Maggie was cooking. The door opened and she almost thought, for a moment, that it would be Daryl. She felt silly. He wouldn’t dare, not with her father there, but she’d still hoped.
It was Maggie.
“Is that the hottie you were telling me about?” she asked, upon entering.
Beth nodded her agreement. “He is hot, isn’t he?”
“Damn straight he is. Mmm, mmm!”
“I might steal him for myself.”
“Daddy won’t let you.”
“Daddy ain’t the boss of me,” Maggie replied. She sat down on the bed and bit her bottom lip in that way she did right before she said something naughty. She had a mischievous look in her eye. “Is he good in the sack?”
Maggie nudged her. “Come on, I’m your sister, tell me! Is he?”
Beth nodded and they burst into a fit of giggles. “He’s incredible, actually.”
“You know, after we’ve eaten and Daddy has pitched his fit, you should jump on the back of that bike, go home with him, and then jump on him. It’s what I’d do.”
“Yeah, but you’re older than me.”
“You’re nineteen today, Beth,” Maggie pointed out. “Daddy don’t have a say, and Annette approves. Now, go wash up and come on down to dinner. Maybe with you there I can keep my tongue in my mouth and not drool so hard.”
Downstairs, Daryl realized that today was a birthday celebration. There was a pretty birthday cake with vanilla frosting and elaborate pink and yellow roses that said Happy 19th Bethie in pink icing. Girl loved pink. Daryl had forgotten that about her.
His entire body stiffened when he heard Beth’s familiar footfall. She was preceded by her elder sister, Maggie, who’d looked him up and down as though he was a gigantic lollipop she wanted to open and lick. Her intense gaze was almost as intense as Hershel’s, though in a much more tolerable way. Hershel sat staring daggers into Daryl from his place at the head of the table.
Daryl’s eyes met Beth’s for the first time in almost a year.
“Daryl,” she said.
“Beth,” he said, standing until she could take a seat.
Maggie very obviously led Beth around the table to sit next to Daryl. “I want to sit across from you,” Maggie said with a wink. “That way I won’t have to strain my neck to drool over you.”
“Maggie, that’s enough,” Hershel snapped.
Maggie laughed in response while she and Annette began setting the food out. Hershel blessed the dinner and, without thinking, Beth began loading food onto Daryl’s plate. She seemed to know, instinctively, that he wasn’t going to take anything for himself, not with Hershel glaring at him over Beth.
Dinner progressed with Maggie and Annette keeping up conversation, engaging Daryl, though Beth herself said very little to him. She was caught between her father and Daryl, and Annette felt a stab of pity for her, as did Maggie. They both wished Hershel would at least try to be civil.
“I went to Daryl’s home today,” Annette said.
Hershel coughed as green bean went down wrong. “What?”
“I wanted to see where he lived. He’s a fantastic housekeeper,” she said. “He’s so neat. He can cook, too.”
“No kidding?” Maggie said, looking at Daryl with renewed interest. “What d’you say you and I run off to Atlanta and elope?”
“Hey,” Beth said involuntarily.
Maggie’s eyebrows rose in amusement. “You don’t seem to want him.”
“I do too!” she said, also involuntarily.
Hershel heaved a sigh.
Daryl felt a bubble of lightness in his chest at those words. Beth still wanted him. Now it didn’t matter how surly Hershel was. He couldn’t imagine anything could take this feeling away, even though he knew nothing could come of it. Her hand came to rest on his knee under the table.
“Are you touching him under the table?” Hershel asked suspiciously.
“God, I certainly hope so,” Annette said.
“I would, if I was her, and you were Daryl,” she explained.
Maggie, Beth, and even Daryl laughed. Beth brought her hand up and called for cake. They sang happy birthday and from then on it felt a lot easier to ignore Hershel’s pugnacity.
“I’ll walk you out,” Beth offered to Daryl, after they’d finished the cake and indulged in some conversation.
“Before you go, there’s something I want to say.”
“Daddy,” Maggie began, but he held up a hand to silence her.
“No! This is my home and I will have my say. Annie, I don’t know what you’re attempting with this dinner, by inviting him here, but I do not appreciate it. This man isn’t wanted in my home, nor is he wanted near my daughter. I thought we’d settled this matter last year, but I see I was wrong. Daryl, I understand that my wife drug you into this and I don’t blame you. I’ve appreciated that you kept your word and kept your distance from Beth so she can go on to make something of herself. You’re not like your family--”
“You don’t know my family. Don’t presume you do,” Daryl said calmly, but coolly.
“True. True, I don’t know them. I just know of them. You’re obviously a man of your word. I was wrong to refer to you as trash, last year. You’re not trash. You strike me as a decent man, but you’re not right for Beth. You and I know it, even if they don’t. This is the last time I’ll have you in my home because I don’t want Beth getting her hopes up. I want that clear, Annie. The last time.”
Annette didn’t respond. She just kept her fingers steepled under her chin and let Hershel get it off his chest. She’d deal with him in her own way, in her own time.
“Now Beth, walk Daryl out and say goodbye.”
Daryl’s mood plunged, though he thought everything had gone fairly well, considering. At least Hershel hadn’t called him trash and had acknowledged he was wrong to have done so the last time.
“Miss Annette,” he said.
“Call me Annette, or Annie, Daryl.”
“Yes ma’am, Annette,” he replied, bowing his head. “Maggie, good to meet you,” he said, offering his hand.
Maggie shook it. She had a look of sympathy in her eyes. “It was good to meet you too, sexy.”
He grinned and shook his head. She was a playful spitfire that was for sure. He found it hard to believe Maggie wasn’t Annette’s flesh and blood.
Out at the bike, Beth stood beside him and they shared a moment in silence.
“I’m glad you were here,” she said. Her hand reached out to his shoulder. “I’ve missed you every day since that day at the swimming hole. Have you missed me?”
“Of course I have.”
“For all my father’s bluster, he can’t really keep us apart, Daryl. That’s on you. He can hate it all he wants but in the end its our decision.”
“I don’t want to come between you and your father.”
“You kind of already have. I don’t speak to him unless spoken to.”
“I can’t help it, Daryl. I love you, and he took you from me. I don’t know if I can ever forgive that. I can still go to school. I can still have a career. I can do all of those things with you in my life. Just remember that.”
She pressed a piece of paper in his hand.
“My cell number. Call me or text me. It won’t ring into the main house. He don’t have to know.”
She longed to kiss him, to taste the sweetness of the cake on his lips, to play her tongue against his. She settled for a chaste kiss to the lips that ended all too quickly, leaving her lips warm and wanting more.
“I love you too,” he said, saying the words for the first time. “I always will.”
He started the bike and Beth backed away. She watched him go and when she could no longer hear the rumble of the engine she went back into the house. Her father was watching her closely.
“At some point,” she said to him, “you’re going to have to let go and let me grow up.”
She didn’t wait for a response. She wasn’t going to have that argument with him for the fifth time.
A/N: This fic will have one, maybe two more chapters, so keep a lookout for updates.