'The Winnie', as Beth should have already surmised, turned out to be a relic of an RV—steel and hulking and rattling. She stood on the porch next to Dale looking out at it in the bright sunlight as Daryl climbed into the thing and made his way to the driver's seat. She briefly wondered if he even had any idea how to drive something that big, but figured he was probably one of those men who was always capable behind the wheel of something.
Dale sighed loudly, breaking the silence. "He give you a hard time?"
She quirked her lips and shook her head. "Nothing I couldn't handle."
Her response earned a grin from Dale. "I see."
"I don't know if I did such a good job last night..." she began, squinting at him beneath her raised hand, "...expressing that I'm grateful. To you and to Carol, helping me sort this out. I was a little on edge."
She smiled at him sheepishly, but he only clasped her shoulder briefly and said, "Oh, can't blame you for that. It's nothing, doesn't put me out at all." He turned his attention toward Daryl again, who was currently attempting and failing to crank the engine. After a few tries he began to smack his hands on the steering wheel, causing Dale to laugh. "May wanna thank him, though."
Beth looked down at her feet as the image of Daryl standing calm and purposeful in front of the window while smoothing out her jeans replayed itself. "Yeah," she nodded. "Yeah, I should."
Dale considered her a moment. "I know he barks a lot. Man's got no filter, and I've wanted to smack him upside the head a few times myself…" He looked back out at Daryl and smiled softly. "But he means well, anyway."
As Dale stepped down from the porch, calling out a very complicated-sounding set of directions on how to get the RV moving, Beth stretched her legs in her stiff jeans and took a deep breath. She knew Dale was right. If Daryl were really all that awful he wouldn't have agreed to help her no matter the sum, and he certainly wouldn't have been so accommodating as to let her use his bed. She didn't know anything about him, and while she had felt justified in snapping back at him—she was justified—that didn't mean she had to continue being as hot-headed as he was just to prove a point. No, she thought, she'd be pleasant today and she'd thank him and she'd let whatever he chose to say roll off her shoulder if she had to. It was only four hours, anyway.
She called goodbye to Dale and stepped up into the RV, making her way toward the passenger seat at the front. Daryl glanced at her and she made sure to give him a blinding smile as she buckled her seatbelt. His eyes widened slightly in that same way that made her think he really wanted to roll them, but couldn't commit to it.
"Good to see one of us is feelin' refreshed this mornin'," he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.
Beth frowned, thinking of him out on the couch, still fully dressed and tossing around while she slept comfortably in the next room. That same guilt she'd encountered at spying him from the doorway began to creep slowly up from her chest.
"Thank you," she said seriously. "I mean it. Thanks for all this. Know it's not any fun for you."
He cut his eyes to the side, sweeping his gaze up and down. "Sure ain't."
She gave him a remorseful smile, to which he continued to scowl, but Beth could tell he was pleased she had acknowledged his suffering on account of her. As he backed up and headed down the long dirt drive that ran parallel to the field they had walked across the night before, she heard him grumble, "You're welcome," as though it pained him to say it.
The corner of her mouth twitched upward—they'd started out on much better footing today, she thought. Settling back into her chair, she felt calm, even optimistic, for the first time since she'd left Georgia.
Just half an hour into their silent drive the sky began to darken in a rush, clouds billowing in from the west at a worrisome rate. Beth kept moving from the windshield to the passenger window, twisting her neck to get a better view as the rain began to patter down in a drizzle that seemed anticlimactic in comparison to the heavy sky.
"Does it usually rain so much here?" she asked. When Daryl didn't answer, she sighed against the glass. "Maybe it's just me. Like Eeyore or something...just have a rain cloud following me around."
She peeked over toward him, sure he'd agree with that assessment at the very least. She was pleased to see he grinned a bit before giving her that same up and down once-over again.
"I dunno, some months more 'an others. More storms, seems like, this time of year."
"I always thought Texas was one big desert, ya know? Didn't expect so much...green."
Daryl made a noise that sounded an awful lot like a laugh. Beth turned toward him and noticed the small smirk on his face as he muttered, "Used to think that, too."
When he noticed Beth's expression, he clarified, "Ain't from here."
He looked uncomfortable for a moment, lips pulling into a thin line. She registered that this was the first bit of personal information he'd given her, and it seemed maybe he'd just had the same realization. Just as she decided to pry a little, ask him where he was from, he reached over and punched the radio on, turning it up loudly and scanning until he found something that suited him. Suitable, it turned out, was anything but in Beth's opinion. The noise was utterly grating, and even a bit cheesy to her.
"What is this?"
He looked at her in a manner Beth would probably refer to as 'snotty' and curled his lip. "Pfff."
She scrunched her nose. "What?"
"It's good, that's what it is."
"S'not so good to me…" she muttered under her breath.
He bobbed his head, "Keep talking that mess about Motorhead, see if it don't get ya put out on your ass on the side of the road in a minute."
"Pfff," she mimicked him. "Motorhead…" Beth didn't really know anything about Motorhead except that Daryl was probably exactly the type of person she imagined did know things about Motorhead.
His only response was to turn it up louder. She supposed that was ok; he didn't seem to want to talk anymore, and all she seemed to know how to do recently was ask an incessant string of questions that felt tiring even to herself. When she stopped to think about it, her curiosity about Daryl was a bit weird. She'd never met anyone like him before, not really, so maybe it was a sort of novelty. She was curious about most people in general, though she'd usually only taken on the role of observer in the past, but something about Daryl's surliness—his more or less hardened disposition—made him seem all the more alien and fascinating, even if she didn't like to admit it.
After a little over an hour of trying to fall asleep in her chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs, even trying to cover her ears a few times as she leaned her head against the window, she finally gave up with a drawn out sigh. She turned in her seat, aware Daryl had been watching her. He looked perfectly relaxed in his seat, now looking out straight ahead with an amused grin on his face. He actually seemed happy that she couldn't get comfortable.
"Something funny?" she asked.
"What? Can't hear you," he fake shouted, cranking the music a touch louder.
She reached over and turned off the radio. His eyes went wide, like she was out of her mind.
"I can't handle it anymore, I'm sorry." She managed to say it quite patiently, apologetically, but it did no good. He punched it back on.
"Can we at least compromise on a station or somethin'? Or better yet, no music. We could play a game?"
"Ha! You serious?"
She sighed, "Please don't make me listen to this anymore."
His expression was bored. "You're real melodramatic, you know that?"
"And you're really antagonistic." She slumped back into her seat. Beth realized she was doing exactly what she had told herself not to do, but dammit he made it hard not to talk back.
After another couple of punishing songs, Beth had resigned herself to her musical fate, staring forward with a purposefully impassive expression plastered to her face, forehead pressed against her palm as she leaned her elbow on the passenger side window. She was aware Daryl had thrown a few irritated glances her way, but she was determined to ignore his presence. Suddenly the music stopped. She looked over cautiously; his jaw was tight, flexing as his chin wavered.
"Only game I like's The Quiet Game." He gave her a pointed look as if to challenge her.
Beth shrugged with a smirk. "S'fine with me."
"Fine," he grunted.
"Fine," she repeated.
Her slow grin spread into a full blown smile that she tucked into the crook of her elbow as he managed to get the last word in. "Fine."
The rain pelted down on the metal roof, soothing in some way as they drove on in silence. She had just started to drift off, comfortable and warm, when Daryl shouted, "Those are classics!"
She raised an eyebrow, tilting her head slightly to view him.
"All these little shitheads now don't know a damn thing about music! All that bubblegum bullshit, everything's roses and ponies with you kids! And love this, and love that, makes me sick to my stomach..."
Beth blinked at him and hmed in a terribly similar way to his usual response.
He huffed, "What?"
She shook her head. "You're terrible at this game."
He opened his mouth then snapped it shut again. At that exact moment, her stomach growled low and loud. She shifted in her seat as if that would somehow cover the awful noise that had clearly already reverberated throughout the tin can RV.
"Jesus, girl…" He looked at her with wide eyes, obviously happy to have the focus back on her. "Take it you're hungry?"
"It's ok," she shrugged, embarrassed.
Daryl snorted, leaning forward in his seat, and looked to either side of the highway. "Should probably stop and get gas soon, anyway."
The sandwich shop was nestled in the back corner of the gas station, a later addition to the crumbling structure that served as the storefront; its interior was quite different, but no less old. Beth secretly loved this—was hopelessly intrigued by the despairing, forgotten landscapes and buildings of small town America. Her aesthetic sensibilities, to the casual observer, would probably seem focused on quaint, cutesy things bordering on kitsch, but in reality expanded beyond the confines of adorable to include older, darker, inexplicably more interesting things. She had grown up on a farm in the midst of other farms owned by hardworking families, gone to school with the sons and daughters of a quiet, unremarkable town, and had not once felt at a disadvantage for it, unlike Maggie who'd hightailed it to the city the moment she graduated.
She smiled thoughtfully for a moment, thinking of an abandoned house in the center of her hometown's more-or-less historic district where she and a few friends had spent hours playing one summer, much to their parents' disapproval when one of the girls—probably Lucy, because it was always Lucy—finally squealed about their hideout to her mama, crying over some imagined grievance perpetrated against her by the others. The sandwich shop reminded her of that house somehow—dim, a bit dusty, yet impossibly warm.
Her lips lost their curve as she realized Daryl was standing at the counter watching her, motionless, with that preternatural stillness that made her fingertips buzz and spine straighten. A lady approached the counter from a back room, finally turning his attention away from Beth. He ordered a plain turkey on rye, then glanced over his shoulder at her, prompting her to say she'd have the same. Beth stepped forward, even with Daryl, and began to pull a twenty from her wallet. He pushed her hand away without looking at her, and shoved his own twenty across the counter.
He gave her that bored look again.
She nodded and bit her lip. "Thanks…"
"S'just sandwiches," he shrugged.
They stood awkwardly for a moment, waiting for their food.
Beth shifted on her feet. "Would you mind if...could I borrow your phone?" She figured now was as good a time as any to ask, considering he seemed to be in a less perturbed mood than earlier. "Wanna try calling Jimmy again."
He slid a small, dated flip phone out of his pocket and held it out to her.
She smiled and turned toward one of the booths, pointing. "Thanks, I'm just gonna sit…" She almost winced as she heard the words leave her mouth; she had no idea why, but she felt incredibly weird about the exchange, not to mention plain stupid for stating the obvious.
He didn't seem fazed, merely nodded and turned back toward the counter.
She slid into the worn vinyl booth and smiled in surprise when she flipped the phone open; there was a grainy photo of a large black and grey dog, mixed breed of some sort, set as his background. She couldn't imagine him taking the time to do something like set a wallpaper for his prepaid phone, but there was the dog, tongue hanging out of his mouth and all, and suddenly, begrudgingly, Beth found Daryl a bit endearing. She caught herself tempted to look over her shoulder at him, but shook her head.
Dialing Jimmy's number, she held her breath and waited for the ring. Straight to voicemail. She frowned, her chest tightening—she'd felt certain he'd charge his phone once he arrived in Mexico to find she wasn't there. She tried her own number—immediately to voicemail. Holding out the phone like some kind of weird moon rock, she stared down at it completely perplexed. Daryl slid in across from her, pushing the brown tray that held their sandwiches toward her. He began unwrapping his until he noticed her non-movement and apparent disinterest in her food.
He leaned his head down a little until he was eye level with her. "He ain't answering?"
She looked up, brow furrowed. "No...both our phones are off now."
Daryl's eyebrows raised, and he looked genuinely concerned for a moment before he cracked a lazy grin. "You sure he was asleep?"
Beth narrowed her eyes. "Wha—" she began, until realization dawned and she understood the implication. "Oh har-har."
He barked out a laugh, a real and surprising laugh that jolted her for a moment. He shrugged, holding up his sandwich. "If you was half as much a pain in the ass with him as you've been in all twelve hours I've known you…" He shoved a bite into his mouth and continued grinning, genuinely pleased with himself.
"Just sayin'..." he mumbled around a mouthful of bread and turkey.
She scrunched her nose, mildly disgusted by his table manners. "Yeah, well Jimmy ain't you, that's for sure." Daryl's shoulders shook with silent laughter as she crossed her arms and continued a little louder, "And don't talk with your mouth full! It's impolite."
He stopped mid-chew, all trace of a grin disappeared, and thunked his sandwich down onto his plate. He wiped a napkin roughly across his mouth and muttered under his breath, "Impolite…" He dropped the balled up napkin beside the sandwich and scoffed, " 'M I having tea with the Queen a' England right now?"
She couldn't help but laugh at the truly offended expression on his face. He was really sort of funny. "No...I don't suppose you are."
He took a loud slurp of his soda, staring right at her for several seconds as he continued sucking through the straw until it loudly attested to its emptiness. He slapped it on the table and dramatically wiped his mouth with the back of his forearm.
"Mmmhm…" he teased, "...I bet ol' Jimmy was wiiiiiiiiiiide awake."
She rolled her eyes at him, but continued smiling; somehow he'd managed to make her predicament seem briefly funny, and that was definitely preferable to the panic she was trying hard to keep at bay.
They finished their sandwiches in silence, casually glancing toward one another every now and then with some sort of mutual mix of curiosity and amusement. When Daryl stood with the remnants of their meals on the tray and walked toward the door where he slid its contents into the trash bin, Beth watched him with a soft expression. He held the door open with his hip and gestured with a wave for her to follow him.
Outside at the gas pump, she handed him her debit card and nodded back toward the store.
"I'll be right back."
He took the card from her hand and narrowed his eyes. "Bathroom?"
She frowned, "Yeah…"
As she walked away, wondering why on earth he'd bothered asking that, he called out, "Might wanna practice openin' and closin' the door first!"
She stopped walking for a second and choked down a laugh. Shaking her head, back still to him, she raised her middle finger in the air and continued on. Still a jerk, she thought.
When she returned to the RV, she opened the door and froze on the steps; the image of Daryl sitting in his captain's chair, window slid open, cigarette in his mouth and black, tough-guy sunglasses perched on his nose suddenly became absurdly funny to Beth. Manning a tank, or riding a motorcycle? Sure. She could see it. But surrounded by fake wood paneling, shag carpets, and the muted neutrals and mustard yellow of 1970, added to the fact he'd just been blaring Motorhead for the last hour? She couldn't contain the dumb little giggle that burst out of her throat.
Cigarette still hanging from the corner of his mouth, he spun fully round and glared at her. Lord help her, the chair even swiveled. "What?" he barked.
She covered her mouth, mumbling, "Nothing." Another laugh escaped. "You just look so..."
His face cracked a bit, and she noticed he was biting the inside of his cheek trying to hold down his own smile. He looked down at himself then around the RV.
"Pretty goddamn ridiculous, huh?" he said, straight-faced.
Her shoulders shook with laughter, "You really do!"
He wiped a hand over his mouth and chewed his thumb before swiveling back to his original position. He shook his head as she finally situated herself into the passenger's seat, willing her giggling fit to stop. After a few tries and seemingly random turning of knobs and switches, Daryl finally got the thing cranked and pulled back out onto the highway.
They both cut their eyes toward each other at the same time, and Daryl cleared his throat. He tapped the radio and pointed at her. "You choose."
She grinned broadly at him and seized the dial. After a bit of scanning she settled on a classic rock station, much more mellow and singing friendly than his earlier pick. He didn't seem to mind it, and maybe even looked a little surprised as she began to hum softly along from her seat. They continued on in what was more or less companionable silence, Daryl occasionally grunting in disapproval when she ventured into singing actual words, but she didn't pay him much attention. He really was sort of funny, she thought again.
Sometime after noon, Daryl pointed into the distance. "There's your destination, Princess."
The edge of Matamoros sprawled like a jagged set of string lights—the colorful Christmas variety—shooting a dotted line across an expanse of slight swells of green earth punctuated by squat trees. The sky dipped between hills in blue and yellow cream, draping a cottoned blanket across the dusty rows of crops, though Beth wasn't sure of what.
She leaned forward in her seat, wondering at the incongruence of the sight with what she had imagined.
"Nothin's ever what I expect," she said quietly, looking toward Daryl.
He only stared at her for a moment, hmed as they inched toward the border.
AN: Hmmm. Where's Jimmy? I hope the pace of this isn't insufferable-I may or may not like to take my time drawing out their interactions.
Inexcusably late with this update, but I'm all caught up on personal things and the next few chapters are already in the works so updates should be more frequent from here on out. I didn't get a chance to respond to a few reviews last update, so if you get an extremely delayed response from me over the next few days, terribly sorry. Thanks, as always, for reading, and feel free to click the link on my profile so we can chat over at tumblr.