Nola saw Daryl park his beaten-up Ford pick-up truck outside the diner. She knew he'd probably take a seat on a stool, and then wait for her to bring his coffee as usual. Some of the waitresses at the diner didn't much care for Daryl, but that was probably because most of the time his methed-out brother would eventually show up to join him.
Daralee, the other waitress on shift, sidled up to Nola and nudged her. "Ding-dong, sweet-pea, looks like your favourite client 's here."
Nola rolled her eyes. Daralee was just a few months away from a well-deserved retirement and she was making the most of her last days here. Daralee saw the eyes Daryl made at Nola. Nola was a sweet girl, but she wasn't the most perceptive when it came to that sort of thing. Despite his family's reputation, Daralee liked Daryl and she wasn't intimidated by him like a lot of other people in the town. She saw through his gruff exterior. Her favourite game was trying to making him blush.
Daryl eased onto his usual stool at the diner. He spotted Nola finishing up at another table. She was the reason he came to this diner. He'd never had a conversation with her beyond placing his order; small talk wasn't his specialty. There was something about Nola that he couldn't get out of his head. Sure she was cute – he always saw the guys in here stare at her as she walked away – but it was her personality that captivated him. She remembered his name and the way he liked his coffee. When she asked how his day was, it was like she really cared about the answer.
Daryl was lost in his thoughts, staring blankly at the muted television. There was a news reporter standing in front of a hospital. They were reporting on some kind of new form of rabies. Rabid animals were easy enough to deal with – no reason this should be more difficult to deal with in people. He never paid much attention to the news. It was usually just the same story, but different people and different places.
Daryl's attention was abruptly snapped back to the present by Daralee's gravely voice. "Well good evenin' darlin', what can I get ya?"
"Just take a coffee," Daryl mumbled.
Daralee smiled. "Well now, I could get ya' that coffee, but then again you didn't say 'please'. You should know that I always insist on being treated like the fine southern lady that I know I am. I think I'm gonna be lettin' Nola get you that coffee."
She winked at Daryl as she bustled off and into the kitchen. Even though he didn't show it, Daryl definitely appreciated Daralee's sense of humour.
Nola had just finished settling the bill with her last table. She had seen Daralee talking to Daryl, but for whatever reason it didn't look like she had taken his order. Nola walked behind the counter stopping at the coffee station to pour Daryl a cup. She absent mindedly splashed a touch of milk in before sliding it in front of Daryl. The reports on the television were starting to worry her.
"Anything else I can get you today, Daryl?"
"Naw, thanks. Headin' home soon."
"You must love our coffee to just stop by for a cup."
"Best coffee in all Georgia," Daryl could hardly keep from sounding sarcastic as he said that. It was probably some of the worst coffee in the whole United States.
"You been listenin' to the news? I wonder if there have been any of those rabies cases near us. It's startin' to sound pretty serious. They're talkin' about startin' up with the martial law – you know, curfews 'n stuff."
Daryl just shook his head. Nola hadn't expected much of an answer from Daryl – she rarely got more than a couple of words out of him. She leaned against the counter as Daryl sipped his coffee, trying to catch a little more of the news report.
Daralee re-appeared with a huge piece of key-lime pie. Daralee plunked it down in front of Daryl. "Here you go sug', this one's on the house. You just keep comin' back here – least 'till I'm retired. After that, I don't give a shit what you do." She turned to Nola, hands on her hips, and she sighed with faked exasperation, "Warm up the man's coffee Nola – you ain't never gonna find a husband if ya' don't even know to serve pie with hot coffee."
Nola smiled, "Are you sure you're not ready to retire today?"
Daralee just swatted at Nola's retreating behind with the rag she kept in her apron. "Girl, you're lucky it's the end of my shift, an' I need to be gettin' to my beauty sleep, otherwise I'd make you regret those words!"
Daralee removed her serving apron and smoothed her hand over her hair. She retrieved her purse from under the counter, and headed for the door. "You're alright to close up, Nola?"
"Yeah, shouldn't be a problem unless the Lone Ranger over here starts giving me trouble," Nola said nodding towards Daryl, the only customer left in the restaurant.
Daralee nodded to herself. 'My work here is done,' she thought. It was pitch black outside as she headed to her car that was parked right outside the door. She saw a shadowy figure on the other side of the parking lot. They were heading for the diner – there was an odd way about them. They staggered when they walked. But Daralee thought nothing of it; it wasn't exactly unusual to see a drunk in these parts.
"We're all closed up here. You might have some luck about ten minutes down the road closer to town," she called out helpfully. The shadowy figure continued to shuffle toward her. "Look here, I got pepper spray on my key chain, and I ain't gonna hesitate to use it!" Daralee said, aiming her pepper at the approaching figure. The figure was almost on top of her now, reaching for her with its arms. Daralee screamed and released her pepper spray at the figure's face. There was no reaction on the figure's part. The figures' hands had reached Daralee's arm. Its hands were cold, and its grip was firm. Without hesitation, it dragged Daralee's arm up into its maw, tearing into her flesh with its teeth.
Daryl and Nola heard Daralee's blood-curdling scream. Daryl was closest to the door, so he got there first. Daralee was shrieking, and kicking a man who seemed to be gnawing on her arm. Daryl grabbed on to the man's shirt with both hands, tearing him off Daralee and slamming him to the ground. The man seemed unfazed, quickly pushing himself back up and lunging toward Daryl, Daralee's blood still fresh on his lips. Daryl caught the man by the collar of his shirt with one hand and slammed his fist into the man's stomach. Other than a wheeze of air that escaped, the man seemed completely unaffected, and continued snapping his jaws hungrily at Daryl. Daryl kept on punching the man, to almost no effect. "What the Hell?" Daryl huffed. Nearly exhausted, Daryl slammed the man on the ground and cracked his head on the cement of the parking space. Finally, the man lay still.
Daryl turned to see Nola crouched over an unconscious Daralee. Nola was wrapping a towel around Daralee's wound.
"What do we do? I tried calling 911, but there was no answer!" Nola said tearfully.
"By the time they send someone, it'll be faster if I just drive. Move over," Daryl said as he crouched down, picking up Daralee's limp body.
With a few strides, he had reached his truck. His hands full he called out to Nola, "Key's in my right pocket."
She found the keys easily and fumbled to open the door. As Daryl gently slid Daralee into the truck, letting her body lean against the passenger said door, Nola questioned, "What-what about him?", indicating the unconscious man.
"He ain't our problem," Daryl regretted his words when he saw the look of horror in sweet Nola's eyes. "Jus' keep tryin' 911 on your cell while we're drivin'," Daryl amended. Nola nodded silently – Daralee was her priority too. She slid into the pick-up next, wrapping her arm around Daralee and shifting her body so that Daralee's head was resting on her shoulder. The truck's engine started with a rumble. Daryl flicked the head lights on, illuminating the man on the ground. He was moving. Nola stared back at the man in confusion as Daryl pulled out of the parking lot at top speed toward town. By the time she lost him from view he had pushed himself up to standing and had begun staggering after their retreating headlights. 'What in the world was going on? ' she thought to herself. She rested her chin on Daralee's salt and pepper hair and prayed.
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