A/N: So needless to say, there's a bit of a controversy over this story! I never expected anyone to read this story, let alone care enough about it to start forming opinions and getting involved. I feel like I should say that obviously the teacher-student relationship is wrong and I am aware of that; if that is a turn off for you as a reader, I entirely understand! But the story is going to evolve and not focus on just that relationship, so just bear with me!

Really an enormous thank you to everyone who has shared their opinions with me and those who have messaged me about it. Even if you don't agree with it, I still appreciate your thoughts and I hope I can tell the story in a way that isn't off-putting.

On that note, have a fabulous Sunday! (Only 13 more Sundays until The Walking Dead returns!)

Beth was good at solving puzzles.

Even when she was a child, her favorite pastime was pouring out a hundred-piece puzzle and slowly connecting the pieces. Maggie was often forced into helping her, just to make sure Beth didn't swallow any of the pieces.

Sometimes it took hours, sometimes days. But the puzzle was always finished and looked beautiful to Beth. She would admire her work and cried when Maggie tore it apart and put it back in its box.

In this case, this puzzle was taking Beth months to figure out.

Beth woke up early the following morning. The old farmhouse creaked gently beneath her feet as she padded towards the window that opened onto the front porch. The window didn't screech like the screen door did.

While everyone else slept, Beth slipped out the window.

The air was crisp, and fine sprays of red light hinted at the horizon. Beth hadn't slept well last night, because there was a puzzle that she couldn't solve. No matter which way she looked at it, there was one piece that refused to fall into place.

After months of ignoring the problem, Beth was driven to solve it.

The engine of her little car turned over, and she flinched, wondering if it had woken Erin or her parents. She waited but the screen door didn't come flying open. The keys clinked together as Beth guided her car out of the driveway.

Strangely she could still catch whiffs of Dixon in her car. His distinct scent, a mingled spice and cigarette smoke. Everything about last night, from bringing Erin home to the realization that Dixon didn't regret meeting her in July, felt like a distant dream.

It was easier to think of it that way, just as a lucid dream. But something had snapped inside of Beth. Maybe it was seeing Dixon at Preston's last night, or maybe it was the way her chest ached when she caught his comforting scent. But she was finished with this puzzle.

Today, she was putting the last piece in place.

The early light from the sunrise painted everything in a lovely golden hue. There were practically no other cars out on the road. Beth felt remarkably peaceful as she drove. She'd expected to feel fluttery and anxious to the point that her stomach was sickened.

But a serene feeling wrapped itself around her, like the feeling Beth had when looking at the ocean. As she drove, her mind played over the past few months like the spotted film reel of an old movie.

It began in the heart of the summer, on a hot July evening. Erin talked Beth into going to a bar called Preston's, which was only about fifteen minutes away from town. Being well connected, Erin managed to scrape together two fake ID's for them that looked remarkably realistic. If they wore make up and tall shoes, Beth had realized as she looked in the mirror, they almost looked grown up.

By some miracle, or perhaps fate, they got into Preston's. It was packed with people, many of whom Beth had never seen before. Erin started drinking but Beth didn't, as she didn't care for the taste of alcohol. Instead she took a seat at the bar and kept an eye on Erin, who was dancing a ways off.

It was on that night that Beth first met Daryl Dixon.

Unshaven, almost unruly appearance. Long dark hair. Blue eyes that sometimes appeared gray under the light of Preston's. He happened to sit down next to Beth and struck up a conversation.

Unlike the other men at the bar who made her uncomfortable, Dixon was a gentleman. Instead of feeling ogled when he looked at her, Beth felt sweetly flustered. They talked well into the night, to the point that Preston's was clearing out. He made her promise that she'd be back next week, the same time.

It went on like that for a few weeks, into August. Beth would sneak away to Preston's, usually without Erin, and sit at the third seat at the bar. As if on cue, Dixon would materialize and take his normal seat on her left.

She never drank, and though he sipped on a beer he was never drunk. He assumed that she was twenty one, and when he said he was a teacher, Beth assumed it was at any other school in the area.

They only kissed one time, late one night in August.

In retrospect it was a very chaste kiss. They'd been standing outside of Preston's, listening to the crickets and admiring the way the stars glowed like embers in the sky. There was something sleepy and almost dream-like about that night.

He'd turned to her and asked, very quietly, "Beth, can I kiss you?"

Beth had nodded, and he kissed her. It only lasted a few seconds, and Beth was far too nervous to open her mouth. She remembered the way his beard tickled her chin when he kissed her. That kiss rocked Beth to her core despite its innocence, rivaling the explosion of colorful fireworks in the July sky.

Beth never told anyone about Dixon, being that he was a good fifteen years older than her at least. Her reasons to not tell anyone about him only multiplied when she received her senior schedule in late August, and her AP Literature teacher was a man named Daryl Dixon.

The first day, after school, Beth went to his room. She still remembered the pain in his eyes when he said they obviously couldn't see each other, that if he had known she was a senior in high school he wouldn't have kissed her. He'd apologized then and said that he was sorry it happened. Beth agreed with everything he said, but that didn't keep her from crying in her car on the way home.

Beth never breathed a word of her secret to anyone, not even Erin. She once thought that she could survive the rest of the year simply by forgetting about Mr. Dixon. But now, as Beth drove down an achingly familiar road, she realized how wrong she had been.

She'd only seen his place once, when she dropped him off late one night after Preston's. She had never been inside. It was a small place set far back from the road, with a dirt driveway and trees growing like barricades. It was very remote, and looked prettier in the daylight.

His truck was sitting by the cracked face of the garage. Ivy had grown up the white panels of the house, giving it an eery appearance that Beth liked. A mottled brown dog came loping towards her car as she parked and turned off the engine. Its throaty bark echoed through the trees.

"Hey, Scout. Remember me?" she asked gently, running her fingers through the dog's short hair. She'd only met him once, the time she dropped Dixon off. Dixon kept a picture of him in a frame on his desk at school. Thinking of it made Beth smile.

Scout's protective barks turned to a delighted whine the moment he recognized Beth. He pushed his muzzle between her hands, lapping at her fingers with his long, pink tongue. She heard the snap of the screen door and two heavy, black boots came to stand in front of her.

"Hey!" came a rough, vaguely nasal voice.

Scout flattened on his stomach instantly. Beth took a step away from the stranger as he approached. He was large and grizzled, with gray hair that was cropped close to his skull. There was something familiar about his eyes.

He grabbed Beth's arm without warning.

"Who the hell are you, missy?" he snapped. "This here is private property. We don't want no damn girl scout cookies."

He didn't even attempt to hide his scorn. Beth tried to yank out of his grip, but his fingers snaked around her wrist and pulled her towards him. "Let me g- go!" she stammered, shaken up by his rough treatment of her. No one, not even her father, had grabbed her by the wrist this way before.

"She said let go," came a voice.

Dixon was standing in the cracked door frame. She was taken aback by his appearance; gone was the handsome, put-together teacher that she knew at school. He had been replaced by an unkempt man who looked edgily at them through unfocused blue eyes.

"You know this girl scout, baby brother?" the older man taunted. Despite his tone, he released his hold on Beth. She recoiled from him, staring at the angry red finger prints wrapped around her wrist. Those were going to bruise. The words baby brother kept running around in her mind like a broken record.

Dixon only had eyes for Beth. He nudged the older man aside and stopped just in front of her, checking her wrist. It was then, as the older man watched them, that Beth put her finger on what was familiar about him: he had the same blue eyes as Dixon.

"Go inside, Merle," Dixon said in a low voice, not bothering to turn around.

Merle's eyes flicked between them. He was seeing too much. "Didn't know you were into jail bait, son."

Dixon was ignoring him, flipping Beth's wrist over in his hands and checking the red marks his brother had left. Faint flickers of electricity shot their way through her arm and pierced her heart like an arrow. She could feel the little details of his hands, the callouses and every little life line.

Beth didn't see Merle go inside, but he eventually disappeared when he couldn't get a rise out of his brother. Scout followed him into the house, and with a snap of the screen door she was alone with Dixon again. Her wrist dropped to her side.

"I'm fine," she said, avoiding his eyes.

"Why are you here, Beth?" She didn't miss the edge to his voice.

She'd recited in her mind what she wanted to tell Dixon. On the car ride over, she had imagined how the scene would play out. So far, her expectations were nothing like reality. She hadn't expected his crazy brother, and now her rehearsed lines had been scattered like houses in a tornado.

She found herself telling him the truth.

"I need to talk to you."

Dixon rose a brow. "There's nothing to talk about."

"After last night-"

"Last night shouldn't have happened," he cut across her, too quickly. "I was a little buzzed and I shouldn't have driven you guys home... it crossed the line."

Beth was quiet. She didn't pretend that his words didn't hurt, but then again she had expected him to say these things. She nodded. "I know, and... I agree. But I just want you to know that I meant what I said. About Preston's."

Dixon shuddered and bowed his head, as if in surrender. He was quiet for a moment.

Blots of golden and scarlet dashed across the horizon, announcing the arrival of the sun. Beth could see the top of the sun now, peeking over the tops of trees. The birds were chirping softly in the trees, creating a symphony.

Maybe it was the peacefulness of the morning, or maybe being close to Dixon again gave her a feeling of security. But like that, Beth's worries were drained from her mind. She wasn't thinking about her parents or about school. She was just happy to be around Dixon.

He peered down at her. His eyes were no longer unfocused. "Do you want to come in for a moment? You should ice that."

There was no double meaning to Dixon's words. He was genuinely concerned for her, which touched Beth. She could tell he felt guilty that Merle had grabbed her so roughly.