I have been working on this story on and off for months, now, and after the recent conclusion of season four I thought we could all use some happiness in the Caryl fandom. This is strictly Caryl. No other characters will be making an appearance, except for Merle. It's obviously an AU and there will be no ZA. And yes, I got the idea of them meeting in Central Park from Norman and Melissa's spin-off song, but that's the only similarity lol. So, I'm kind of nervous to be posting this because it's my baby! Please be gentle and kind with it! :)
Also, I'm dedicating this story to my dear friend, Robyn. This probably would not have been written if it wasn't for her. Actually, that's how a lot of my stories are. No Robyn, no story! :)
Carol knew that the man sitting across from her on a park bench would not be happy if he knew that he was the subject of her drawing of the day. The man was interesting, though, with his sleeveless hunter green shirt and ripped jeans. He didn't look like he belonged in the city of New York. He looked like he belonged in a wilderness somewhere.
When his narrowed eyes moved to meet hers, she quickly looked down at her sketchbook. Hopefully, she hadn't made things too obvious. The last thing she needed was for him to come over and...
...ask what she was drawing. As covertly as she could be, she pressed the book to her chest and gave him a smile. "Oh, um, nothing."
The man, who was so much more handsome up close, had walked across the pathway separating their two benches and took a seat just inches away. His right arm, a very muscular one at that, snaked along the back of the seat and she could feel his fingers brush along her shoulder.
This man was a complete stranger and yet, she didn't mind his proximity. At all. His left hand lifted from his lap and he gently pried the sketchbook from her hands. She didn't resist and watched in horror as he studied the pencil drawing in front of him.
Oh God, he was going to think she was some kind of crazy stalker chick. He was probably two seconds away from bolting and getting the hell away from her.
"Hm," he said, finally, seemingly in thought as he continued to study the picture, with a crease appearing between his brows.
Carol moved to grab the sketch back, very embarrassed. "I know it's bad. It doesn't look like you, at all."
The man let her take the sketchbook back. "Nah, it looked like me. Jus' wonderin' why you would want to draw my ugly mug anyways."
Ugly? Ha! Carol wanted to laugh out loud. This man was far from ugly. "I'm Carol, by the way." She held out a hand.
"Daryl." He shook the offered hand and she felt the rough calluses on his, which suggested he was use to hard work.
"You've got yourself an accent," she observed after safely tucking her drawing in the bag by her feet. "You aren't from around here, are you?"
"Nope. Born and raised in Georgia." The arm behind her back remained and the way he was looking at her should have freaked her out. Instead, she felt a warm flush overcome her body.
"I was born in Georgia, too. Can't tell, though. I haven't lived there in nearly twenty years. So, you're a long way from home, huh?"
Daryl's eyes left hers, then, if only for a second as he rolled them. "Yeah. It's all cuz of my idiot brother. He thought his...business would be more successful in a larger city. So, far we've upgraded from a shitty apartment to a slightly less shitty apartment with a lot more noise."
Carol hid a smile behind a hand. From the look on Daryl's face, she knew the story hadn't been told to gain sympathy. It had been told to inform her of how big of an idiot Daryl's brother was. He grinned when she saw the laughter she was holding back and Carol froze at the sight.
Daryl's smile was gorgeous. Unfortunately, just as sudden as that set of perfect white teeth appeared, they were gone. Hidden by a pair of lips, the bottom one slightly fuller than the top. Not that Carol had been staring or anything.
Daryl started to look a little uncomfortable as she stared at him and Carol wondered if her gaze had the opposite effect on him as his had on her. Quickly, Carol averted her eyes to her lap and hoped she hadn't scared him off. Six months she had lived in New York and hadn't felt a connection with anyone. Until now. Moving from South Carolina to New York had been a large step, but a necessary one.
She had been in a relationship bordering on abusive. Ed had never actually hit her, but Carol knew that in time he would. So, she had escaped with a car full of her possessions and an iron will that had her pulling onto the streets of Manhattan. Childhood dreams of becoming a famous artist were finally being able to be pursued, but she wasn't the only twenty-something who came to New York for success. Now, she worked two jobs. A waitress during the week and as a receptionist at a small law firm during the weekends. All the spare money she earned went straight into a piggy bank labeled 'Art School'.
Carol, realizing that it had been silent, looked over at her bench mate and noticed that he was looking off somewhere in front of them and was gnawing at the skin on his left thumb. Daryl still looked nervous. Carol wondered if maybe she should just leave, but standing up from that bench, with his arm still slung along the back, was proving to be the hardest thing to do.
Daryl must have noticed her shifting and turned to look at her, thumb slowly lowered back to his side. His cobalt eyes gave her a once over before settling back on her face.
The saucy part of Carol wanted to ask if he liked what he saw, but the shy, insecure one remained silent. In the seven months, she had been with Ed, the compliments came few and very far in between. Insults and putdowns were more common.
"Hey," his voice started her and sounded different from before. Gone was the confident man who had strutted over the pathway, sat right next to her and plucked her sketchbook from her hands. Now, he looked as shy as she felt and Carol found that enduring. Smiling, she encouraged him to continue. "Uh, wanna grab a bite to eat?" He wasn't looking at her as he asked and she saw his left hand begin to itch back up to his mouth.
It took a moment for Carol to process what he had asked and she stuttered out a 'Sure.'. The only thing she had eaten that day was a hotdog from one of the vendors outside her apartment building.
"Uh, all right, then." Daryl stood from the bench and watched Carol gather the rest of her things to place back in her bag.
Carol placed the messenger bag over her shoulder, smoothed down the unruly auburn curls on her head and smiled at Daryl. "Any place in particular you want to go?" They could go to the shadiest bar in all of New York and she wouldn't mind as long as she was with him. Geez, she was beginning to sound like some kind of romance novel.
Daryl shrugged with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. "Haven't been here long enough to know what's good and what isn't." He looked over at her. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"No. We can just walk around, though, and see if anything catches our eyes." She suggested.
Daryl gave a quick nod. "Okay, that sounds good."
Daryl didn't know what had come over him the moment he had crossed the walkway to sit next to the pretty, young woman across from him. Normally, he kept to himself and definitely didn't go around snatching sketchbooks out of people's hands.
He had only come to the park to relax for a few hours while Merle did whatever he did during the day. Daryl hadn't noticed the woman across the walkway until he had caught her looking at him. Shrugging it off, he didn't think anything about it, but every once in awhile he saw her glance at him from the corner of his eye and then scribble something on the notebook in front of her.
Was she drawing him?
With a confidence, Daryl didn't know he had, he walked over to the woman and began a conversation of sorts with her.
Carol was her name and it suited her. Daryl had never met a Carol before, but for some reason the name just fit. Carol was very pretty, he silently admitted, with her shoulder length, curly auburn hair, pink lips and beautiful, pale blue eyes.
Daryl had been shocked to find out she had also born in Georgia and briefly began to wonder if this meeting was fate. Whatever it was, he knew that he couldn't go back to his shitty apartment without knowing more about this woman. So, he had asked if she wanted to grab something to eat and to his surprise, she had agreed.
At twenty-three years of age, Daryl had never been on a date, never had a girlfriend and sure as hell, never been kissed. Not that he'd ever admit that out loud to anyone. Unfortunately, his brother sought to remedy all those 'nevers; every chance he got, but Daryl wasn't interested in the trashy women Merle would bring back to the apartment.
It was probably pushing his luck, though. He was a Dixon and no self-respecting woman would want to get with one, not even in a large city like New York. Yet, Carol had readily agreed to be seen in public with him, so he saw that as a hopeful sign.
Walking along the busy streets, they remained silent. A comfortable silence, he noted, and while her eyes sought for a suitable place to eat, his eyes began to roam over her again. Carol's shoulder bag full of art supplies, thumbed lightly against her waist every time she took a step and Daryl found himself zeroing in on a piece of pale flesh just visible over her waistband. The bag had pushed up some of her shirt and now some of her skin was on display to him. Quickly, he tore his eyes away. They had literally just met less than an hour ago and he was already starting to think inappropriately about her. Maybe he really was Merle's brother, after all.
From then on, he made sure to focus his gaze either on the surrounding scenery or on the ground. If he looked at Carol, he'd be tempted to look at that patch of skin again.
"Daryl." Suddenly her dainty hand was wrapping around his bicep and she was pointing at something. "Maybe we can eat there?" Instead of just listening to his answer, Carol turned to watch it.
It was a sandwich shop. A small one, pressed between two other buildings. A few tables were laid in front of it and only one was occupied by an elderly man. The place didn't look busy at all. It was perfect.
"All right," he agreed and allowed himself to be pulled along. Shockingly, Carol hadn't let go of him and instead of just a hand resting on his bicep, she looped an arm through his. Daryl tensed only for a moment, the contact a little surprising, but not at all unwelcoming.
Walking through the glass door, they got in line behind one other customer, a frazzled looking woman with a hand wrapped tightly around a little boys'. The boy was constantly fighting to break free and run over to the condiments table. Daryl chuckled at the boy and looking at Carol, he saw that she was hiding back laughter of her own.
Carol's grip on him tightened. "Have you ever been here before?" She asked and looked up at him.
"Nah," he answered. "To be honest, I don't even know where the hell we are, right now." Three months of living in Manhattan and he only knew how to get from the park to his apartment and nothing else. Whenever he wanted something to eat, he'd order take out or just venture outside his apartment building and go to a vendor. This was the only thing he liked about living in the city. One didn't have to venture far to get a bite to eat.
"I think we're near my apartment complex, but I'm not too sure," she said. "I don't venture very far from it, normally. This city kind of intimidates me." Daryl could relate to that.
"Next!" A bored looking teenaged boy called to the pair. The harried woman and her son were now just leaving the shop, a bag clutched in the woman's other hand.
Both Daryl and Carol realized they hadn't even looked at the menu, instead opting to talk with one another. Luckily, there was no else in the shop except them.
Carol detached herself from Daryl, which he mourned immediately and stepped closer to the counter, eyes focused on the menu in front of her. "Um, I think I'll have the...turkey club?"
The bored teenager typed it in the computer and looked at Daryl, waiting. "I'll have the same."
The adolescent rattled off the total and Carol moved to fish something out of her bag, most likely her wallet, but Daryl stopped her. HIs own billfold was in his hand and he was already handing over the money. "I got it."
"Oh," she looked surprised for a moment and then smiled. "Thanks. I'll get the bill next time."
Daryl's heart nearly stopped. There'd be a next time? Who was he kidding? The moment he locked eyes with the beautiful woman next to him, he knew that he'd never let her go. Willingly, at least.
Carol's nerves were starting to get the better of her once she grabbed her meal and followed Daryl to one of the tables outside. What was she doing having lunch with a man she had just met this morning? All she knew about him was his name and where he was born.
Daryl pulled a chair out for her and she took it with a smile. When was the last time a man had ever treated her like a woman before? Ed had been the only man she had ever dated and he had treated her like crap.
Unwrapping her sandwich, Carol listened as Daryl did the same and thought for a moment on what she should say next to him. "So, uh," she began, hating how nervous she sounded. "What part of Georgia are you from?"
Daryl had just taken a large bite of his sandwich and Carol giggled when he hurriedly swallowed it, almost causing him to choke. "Before Merle started draggin' me all over the place, I use to live in small town about fifteen or so miles from Atlanta. You?"
"I was born in Savannah and lived there until I was three. My parents got a divorce and I moved with my mom to South Carolina." Carol moved a piece of hair behind her hair. "And up until six months ago, that was where I lived. I'd like to go back to Georgia someday, though. I'd visit my dad there sometimes in the summer when he wasn't working and it was such a beautiful place. My dad died five years ago and I haven't been back since."
"'m sorry." Unlike when she had told Ed, Carol saw real sincerity in Daryl's eyes.
"It's all right. It was cancer and I knew it would be happen sooner or later." Thinking about her father, now, didn't bring as much pain as it did five years ago. She had been able to get over his death and move on. "So, how about your family? This Merle you mentioned, is he your brother?"
Daryl looked slightly uncomfortable, now that the attention had turned to him. "Yeah, Merle's my brother and it's just been me and him since I was nine. My mom died in a house fire when I was that age and I have no idea where my dad is."
Now, it was Carol's turn to be sympathetic. "I'm sorry about your mom, Daryl. That must have been horrible to deal with since you were so young."
Daryl shrugged. "I got over it pretty quick and soon after that, Merle came and got me. No matter what happens, I'll always have Merle."
Carol wanted to tell him that now, he had her, too, but knew that it was too quick in their friendship. For all she knew, Daryl probably wasn't feeling the same connection between them like she was.
"You said that you've been here for six months," Daryl said, clearly wanting to change the subject.
Carol hesitated, wondering if she should tell him about Ed. They had just met and that part of her life was kind of personal. However, Daryl was different from any person she had met and Carol felt like she could tell him everything.
"I came here to escape a relationship. My boyfriend, Ed, at the time was...mean and I knew it would be a matter of time before he hit me. So, I left him and came here to try to earn enough money to go to art school." Carol peeked up at Daryl and was surprised to see that he looked angry. "Is there something wrong, Daryl?"
"You said he was mean to you." Daryl looked her straight in the eye. "What did he do?"
Carol looked at the table as she spoke. "He used to call me names and make fun of the things I'd wear, sometimes."
"How long were you with him?"
Carol's face flamed in shame. "Seven months. He wasn't like that in the beginning, but the longer we were together the more of him I saw and didn't like. One day, I just left him and haven't regretted it, since."
"Good," Daryl said. "You don't deserve to be treated like that. Ever."
Carol was shocked by his words, wondering where it all was coming from, but it looked like he wasn't going to say anymore when she saw him pick up his sandwich. The more time spent with this man, the more Carol was starting to see a part of him she bet no one else had seen before.
Carol and Daryl continued to talk even when they had finished their lunches. Daryl had never talked so much in his whole life, but it was just so easy to lose himself in a conversation with Carol. She talked animatedly about everything and he knew the things she practically cared about, like drawing and painting, because she would speak with passion about those things. Daryl had never met a woman like her.
Daryl silently listened to Carol talk, not caring that she seemed to be rambling. He could listen to her talk all day. However, her face grew red when she noticed that he hadn't said one word in the past five minutes.
"I'm sorry, Daryl," she quickly apologized. "I just keep talking and talking. Next time, tell me to just shut up, okay?" Daryl knew he'd never do that. Ed, her bastard of an ex-boyfriend, had probably told her to shut up all the time, but he never would.
"It's all right. I like hearin' you talk." The tips of his ears began to heat up at his admission, but it was too late to take back, now.
Carol blushed even redder at his words and Daryl couldn't help but notice how pretty she looked, then. How would she react if he leaned across the table to kiss her? She'd probably slap him for being so forward. They had only just met over an hour ago and Daryl got the vibe that Carol wasn't an easy woman. Not like the woman Merle would constantly bring home.
"So, Daryl." Her face was back to normal color. "What did you use to do before coming to New York?"
Daryl froze. That was one thing he didn't want to talk about with Carol. Truth was, he hadn't done much of anything when he lived in Georgia except follow his brother around. He didn't want Carol to think he was some kind of loser, even if that was what he was.
"Nothin' much," he finally said and didn't look at her. "Jus' followed Merle around and when we'd stay in one place for a little while, I'd work on a car or two and go huntin'."
"Oh, really?" Carol placed an elbow on the table and held her face in a hand. "What did you use to hunt?"
Daryl was shocked at how interested she seemed. According to Merle, hunting wasn't something a lot of women were interested in. "Um, the usual, I guess. Deer, rabbit, squirrel."
"Squirrel?" Carol perked up and Daryl winced, he shouldn't have mentioned that one. She definitely was going to think he was some backwards hillbilly, now.
"Yeah," he said, reluctantly.
"I've always wanted to try squirrel, actually. What does it taste like?"
Daryl was in love.
Well, what do you all think?
Also, updates for this will be very slow. Maybe happening once a week or so. I have other stories to work on and I really want to take my time on these chapters to make them perfect. Like I said, this story is my baby! :)
Thanks for reading!