This is the first story I've written (and completed) in a while, so hopefully you enjoy it! I can't wait for the new season to start!
It's one of those nights where the humidity sticks to Daryl's skin. The sun may be gone but the heat of summer hangs heavy in the air. And with the A/C being busted in his truck for some time now, he's pretty used to it. Clammy fingers drag the cigarette from his mouth and damn, it's time for his first shift at his new (temporary) job. Daryl doesn't stay in one place too long and he's only hanging around to scrape together enough cash to fix up the truck some, then he'll be right on driving off into the sunset.
He didn't know it would be so easy to land the job, it was really just dumb luck. He had only stopped in the local grocery store to see if they had cigarettes when the handwritten NOW HIRING sign hanging in the window caught his eye. He spoke with the owner, an older bearded man with eyes that Daryl deemed a little bit crazy, but even after giving the drifter a once over, agreed to give him a shot. As surprised as he was, with his current lack of proper hygiene and flat personable demeanor, the mentioning of unloading boxes and stocking local produce made sense with his physique. Daryl was no stranger to manual labor and the fact that it would be a night job, allowing him to avoid most people, was quite appealing. So with nothing more than a handshake, the bearded fella, who shared his name as Dale, took the drifter in.
It's sorta hard to clean up in a gas station bathroom, like Daryl had to earlier, but a motel would have to wait a few weeks or so, till whenever he got a couple paychecks under his belt. He'd managed to wash some of the grease out of his hair and use tap water and a finger as a makeshift toothbrush, so it was a decent start. Dale doesn't seem to notice (at least his face didn't seem to give much away) as he shows Daryl around the store. It's bigger than he had expected but still a homey space, the floors tainted an off-white, yellowish color and a few of the fluorescent lights strung throughout flicker to their own random beat. The back room, where Dale says he'll be spending most of his time, is dingier, but it's not like Daryl minds.
"9 o'clock every night, not 9:15 or 9:01. Sundays you can have off. You can head on out at 6 AM, when I get in. You can help Glenn with cleaning, stocking... he'll show you the ropes. Show up clean and sober, I have zero tolerance for that nonsense at work. Don't want to deal with that crap anymore. Neither do you, right, Glenn?" Daryl's eyes fall onto the young guy Dale addresses, ball cap pulled down close to his eyes. Glenn offers a half smile and nods as he unstacks a couple of crates. "We got a deal?" Daryl nods once and only flinches a little when the older man claps a hand onto his shoulder with a squeeze.
Dale disappears into what Daryl assumes is his office, with its wobbly dark-stained desk and squeaky rolling chair, Glenn stealing his attention as he starts to babble on about where different cleaning supplies is located.
Glenn is pretty amicable but not overbearing, which Daryl greatly appreciates. He tells him what to do with little less spoken between the two and it's exactly what Daryl had hoped for: a temp job where he can simply put his head down and work for his pay.
Only an hour or so has passed, Dale long gone, when the office door opens again. He hadn't been aware that anyone else was there besides himself and Glenn, though he doesn't care one way or the other. He goes back to his sweeping though through his peripheral vision, he sees a silhouette moving about in the illuminated doorway. It's only a few minutes before the light in the office goes out and the soft pattering of footsteps grows a bit louder.
"Good night, Glenn," calls a gentle, sweet voice. Daryl glances up at the sound, against his better judgement, catching a petite blonde embrace the other man for a moment and planting a light kiss on his cheek. Glenn replies but Daryl doesn't hear it; he just sees the girl smile lightly before pulling away and turning towards him. He must be staring because her face falls for just a second before she offers him a similar expression. "You have a good night, too."
She practically floats across the room and Daryl forces his attention back to the ground, attempting to scrape together pieces of tape stuck to the floor beneath his feet. It's doesn't take long for him to forget about the girl once Glenn starts going over inventory with him.
The next two weeks carry on the same, sleeping in his truck during the early evening and living off the scraps that Dale lets his employees have for free, stuff that's about to spoil and doesn't sell. He works all night with Glenn and the two form what isn't really a friendship but to Daryl, just might be the closest thing he's had to one. They chat occasionally and Glenn is quick to learn that Daryl isn't interested in telling much about his past or life. He's from "all over" and has done "just about everything" work wise. Daryl assumes Glenn is married by the ring on his finger and in the start of his third week at the store, his assumptions are confirmed. Her name is Maggie and she actually works on one of the farms that supplies the store with some produce.
The blonde girl is there almost every night too, shuffling around in the office and counting money. He picks up bits and pieces about her, like when Glenn asks how her college classes are going or when she tells Glenn what to bring to family dinner Sunday night. Her powder blue uniform dress and always somehow dirty apron match that of the other cashier Daryl sees some mornings when he's sitting in his truck. And every night before she leaves, she always offers Daryl a kind smile and bid good night, even tacking his name onto her goodbyes in time. He wonders how she knows it but it's not too hard to figure out, once he discovers Glenn is married to her sister. He might not reply to her but eventually he starts nodding at her in response.
"She doesn't bite, you know," Glenn points out one night after the jingle of the bell on the front door lets them know she's gone. Daryl doesn't say anything but he shoots the other man a quick look. "She asked me the other day if you don't like her."
"Don't know her so I can't dislike her," Daryl states blankly, ripping open a cardboard box. It dawns on him. "Don't even know her name." Glenn shrugs and seems to accept the logic.
"Her name's Beth."
Sleeping in the truck isn't awful; he's lucky to have a roof over his head on days when it rains and while the stiffness in his neck from awkward sit-sleeping isn't always pleasant, he knows it could be a lot worse.
A pounding at the driver's side window startles him from his sleep one late afternoon and he goes to grab the knife he has stashed under his seat before he recognizes Dale's face, laced with confusion.
"Do you sleep out here?" he shouts too loudly, as if the glass is eight feet thick. Daryl rubs at his eyes before reaching over to crank the window down as he gives a nod. "You can't sleep out here." Daryl assumes he means keeping his truck in the store parking lot and starts on about he'll move it right away before the older man waves his hand and interrupts. "I mean in the truck, you should be sleeping in a bed. You don't have a place? There's a motel down the road a few miles."
"Gotta save up to fix up my truck," he discloses with a shrug. Dale doesn't seem to take well to Daryl's explanation, letting out a long exhale and scratching thoughtfully at his beard.
"I got an extra room in the back of the store you can stay in. I'll bring a cot over tomorrow morning." Before he can even turn down the offer, his pride already starting to swell some, Dale explains the terms. "I'll take out a bit from your checks." It's not worth arguing over because the thought of actually laying down on something resembling a bed is too sweet of a notion. So he hesitantly nods in agreement which seems to be enough for his boss, who pats the truck door a few times before meandering inside the store.
The room is pretty tight; it was mainly used for useless storage, an old ragged mop and forgotten empty crates stacked in the corner, a folded up "Happy Independence Day!" banner tucked behind them. The cot fits just right and Dale supplies Daryl with a pillow and a few blankets too that smell fresh with detergent. Sleep comes easier and he finds himself going about every day with more energy and even a slightly lighter attitude. Glenn notices too but Daryl doesn't reveal his new sleep arrangements. That's kind of a strange thing to admit.
It's early (or late, in Daryl's case) one morning, just past seven and he's changing out of his dusty, sweaty work clothes. He kicks off his boots and they hit the wall of the small makeshift bedroom with a thud each, just as he peels off his shirt. Normally he'd go wash up with the hose out back but he's eager to take his truck in and get an estimate on some of the work it needs. Too busy mentally adding up how much money he's made in the past few weeks, he doesn't hear the door to his room open, but it's impossible for him to miss the familiar pleasant voice.
"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry." Daryl turns around, clean shirt slid on just his forearms, to see Beth standing in the doorframe, her hand clenching the handle. Her usual light blue cotton dress is offset by the pink seeping into her cheeks, politely averting her eyes from his half naked body. He slips his shirt on the rest of the way and while she successfully avoids looking at him, he can't seem to do the same. "I heard something so I just came to see what it was. Thought maybe some raccoons got in again..."
"Since when do you work mornings?" he nearly cuts her off, his voice a little gruffer than he intends for it to be. But Beth doesn't seem to notice with the way she lets her eyes travel back to him, meeting his gaze, which makes it his turn to look away.
"I don't, normally. Just covering a shift for Amy." There's a lapse of silence because what else is he supposed to say? And why is she still standing there, peering at him with wide blue eyes? "Are you... you're sleeping here?" It's not said with disdain, Daryl can pick up on the curiosity, but he's not about to talk about it with her. So he lets out a grunt in reply before sliding his boots back on, not bothering to finish changing out of his work clothes since she seems to be glued to his doorway, and while he'd make a good point about her invasion by peeling off his pants, he doesn't want to alarm the girl. At least not enough to have her run off to Dale and consequently, he lose his only source of current income and the roof above his head.
Daryl slips past her, their arms just barely brushing, and flicks the light off in the room before making his way towards the back door. He's already outside when he hears her voice call out, sounding a bit wounded, but he might be making that up in his head.
"See ya tonight, Daryl."
Daryl notices Beth more now. Whether he's busy sweeping or unpacking or sorting, he finds his eyes naturally drifting towards the office door, which always seems to be open these days. Most nights he hears her singing to herself and on the nights she's completely quiet, he can't help but wonder why. There's a certain calmness in spotting her ponytail swish around the room and catching the way her brow furrows as she punches numbers into a calculator. He doesn't mean to watch her, not really, but it's hard to remind himself of that on daily basis.
She speaks to him more now too, even if he typically doesn't reciprocate. Her goodbyes are more drawn out and wordy, she starts one-sided conversations about random topics, like how raspberries taste the best this time of year or asking how he manages to shower and get his laundry done when he's living at the store. Sometimes he humors her with replies; she's even coaxed a few smiles out of him and by the way her own grins grow when that happens, she must know how rare that is.
Glenn calls off sick one night so it's just Daryl all by his lonesome, which he doesn't mind at all. Beth says her goodbyes, lingering a bit longer than normal, her car keys clinking as she tosses them from hand to hand. If he knew any better, he'd think she didn't want to leave, but that's a silly thought entirely.
It's only a little over an hour that he's on his own, methodically stacking apples, when he picks up the clicking of a turning key and the familiar bell at the front door jingling. Curiously, he meanders towards the sound, only a little shocked to see Beth standing there. She's out of her blue dress, clad in slim jeans and a bright yellow blouse. She tilts her head at him expectedly, like she's waiting for him to speak, but no words leave his mouth. "I figured you might want some company. Doesn't seem fun being stuck here in the middle of the night all by yourself."
Daryl nearly mouths off the truth, that no, it's not a big deal, he is pretty used to being alone. And while he's confused and thinks she's somewhat crazy for coming all the way out here in the middle of the night just to keep him company, he doesn't hate the idea. "I still got things to do." It's not an argument, just a statement of a fact, to which she bobs her head a few times.
"I won't distract you too much, promise." Her smirk causes something in his chest to tighten and he ignores it by wandering back to the apples and resuming his stacking. Beth snatches one just as he sets it down, running her fingers along the smooth skin before sinking her teeth into it. Daryl quirks an eyebrow at her, to which she only innocently smiles. "What? It's not like Dale is gonna notice." His laugh gets caught in his throat and hers isn't too far behind. She only lets a few beats of peace pass before she speaks up again. "So... where're you from?"
"What makes ya think I'm not from here?"
"Daryl, everyone knows everyone in this town. I'd have at least noticed you if you were from here," she states matter-of-factly, sinking another bite before offering the fruit to him. He eyes it for a second before carefully snatching it from her fingertips, taking his own mouthful and using it as a stalling mechanism. Nobody needs to know where he's from, in any sense of the question. His past is twisted and messy, it's difficult to talk about without sounding as though he's in search of pity, because that's the reaction he typically gets whenever anyone finds out any detail, however small, about his life. Pitiful looks and words. In his mind, he can already see Beth's eyes sink into a sad, empathetic gaze and it makes him want to spit the apple in his mouth right out.
"I ain't from anywhere." She throws him a look, unimpressed by his answer. There's still another crate of apples to put out so he tosses the half eaten one back at her and busies himself with the task as silence drapes over them both. Part of him wants her to talk, he finds himself enjoying the rise and fall of her voice and how she seems to just let whatever is on her mind spill out. And he doesn't want to be a jerk or too awkward or make her run off to Glenn and go on all see, I told you, he doesn't like me! "I'm here now, that's what matters."
"But how did you get here? Why would anyone want to come here?" she inquires, chewing thoughtfully and staring him down with mockingly intent, squinted eyes. He allows a smirk to take over his lips but doesn't say a word. "Are you in witness protection? No, wait, I can't see them letting you live in the back room of a store if that were the case. Maybe the opposite, are you running from the law?" At that, he does throw a glance her way, eyebrows raised. Picking up the empty crate, he makes his way towards the back room, Beth popping to her feet and following after him. "Can't you give me something?"
"No need to go unearthing the past, Beth."
"Okay, well, then if I can't ask you about your past, you can't ask me about mine. Deal?"
"Ya got somethin' to hide?" he replies, half-joking, but her face falters just enough for him to catch it.
Days later, Daryl still finds himself thinking on his late night conversation with Beth. He never would've guessed that she had anything to hide; maybe she didn't, maybe she only said so to try and put him at ease or throw him for a loop. If the latter was the case, she was successful. He had enough to want to hide, there wasn't really anything positive about his past to bring up. It was hard to imagine the same was the case for her, based on what he knew about her life. She was in school, she seemed to have a close family, her singing and constant smiles painted a very bright, happy picture.
Her past isn't his business, just as he had pretty much told her about his own. But damn if the interest in her life wasn't there.
Beth's warm nature begins melting him just a bit; Daryl looks forward to seeing her every night and the limits to her kindness seem to know no bounds. Before her shift begins one day, she brings him a steaming tinfoiled plate of food from dinner with her family, which becomes a somewhat regular occurrence.
"You can't live on expired milk and mushy fruit, Daryl," she argues with him when he protests at first. After tasting the homemade meal though, he never makes another peep of protest.
Daryl starts to notice other things about her too, the more she enters his mind when he's lying on his cot, trying to fall asleep, or attempting to focus on his work as he steals glances at her going about her own business. The way her eyes crinkle at the corners when she laughs or how she occasionally will touch his arm when she says goodbye for the night; there are things that take up his thoughts more often than he would ever admit. Her beauty is undeniable but the way he finds it affecting him is more than confusing.
He's sure it shows sometimes, when his whole body tenses if she stands too close to him or averting his gaze from her more than he had before. Nothing is spoken about it but it's evident on her face, eyebrows quirked and smiles tugging at the corners of her pink lips. She has a gift of making the back of his neck heat up which while embarrassing, isn't that objectionable.
Daryl and Glenn are busy restocking canned goods one night, rain pelleting down unmercifully and thunder booming, rattling the shelves. Beth's still in the back office working when the power cuts out, leaving the two men in the pitch dark, only catching glimpses of their surroundings when the lightning illuminates the night sky through the front windows.
"Dale's got a generator at his place, I'll stop by and see if we can use it to finish up," Glenn explains before Daryl watches him sprint out to his car, shirt collar pulled up over his hat. Beth pops into his head and he shuffles to the back room, only managing to bump into one display and the edge of the doorframe.
"Beth? Y'okay?" he calls out, just as another bolt of lightning strikes and he spots her blonde hair gleaming in the brief flash of light. He hears her shoes scuffle on the floor and while he can't see her all that well, he does sense her as she moves in closer to him.
"Yeah. Where's Glenn?"
"Went to Dale's for a generator."
"Oh, okay." Silence falls over the two and he listens as she tugs a wooden crate over and sits down.
"Y'can head home, if ya want. No sense in staying when there's no power," he tells her, following her example as he takes a seat on the cool ground.
"I still gotta finish the deposit." Daryl doesn't argue with her response, not knowing too much about money and deposits and the processes they involve. And really, he doesn't mind her company one bit. "I'm not a fan of the dark."
"I wasn't either, as a kid." He swears he can hear her smile form.
"I thought we weren't gonna tell each other anything about our pasts." The look he throws her probably goes unnoticed but she still giggles, setting off a peculiar warmth in the depths of his chest. He tries to shove the feeling down but his elbow lightly hits her knee and it surges back. He apologizes under his breath and she hums a response.
"That's all the information y're gettin'," he utters, pressing his palms into his knees, willing Glenn to hurry on up so he can get back to work and force this weird feeling away.
"So then I guess I owe you something in return, huh?" Beth's voice is playful but he thinks on her question seriously for a moment, on how he does wonder if she has anything to hide and what it could possibly be. "Go ahead, you can ask me something about my past."
And he's tempted, but he refrains with a shake of his head. He speaks up only when he realizes she might not have seen him. "Naw." While his curiosity is there, it doesn't matter. It can't be anything bad enough to change his thought of her, to overshadow the kindness she's shown him and the beauty she possesses.
"Why not?" She pauses a moment. "'Cause I'm here now, and that's what matters?" she inquires, echoing the words he had tossed at her before. He doesn't offer her a reply but he must not need to because he feels her reach out for him, her hand gingerly slipping over his shoulder, fingertips lightly curling around the back of his neck where he can feel the heat spreading again. Her steady breathing seems to overpower the pounding rain and thunder, but that may just be because she slips her way so close to him, he can feel puffs of her breath on his face. Out of instinct, he grasps onto her as she kneels onto the floor and presses her lips to his, a bit askew and off center, but there all the same.
The kiss is slow and sweet, that warmth in his chest exploding into tiny shards that pierce his entire body. She's soft and pleasant and tastes like the sweetest summertime fruit. Their lips part lazily and while he's not sure what just happened, he keeps a hold on her, her own fingers toying with the ends of his hair.
They sit there for a while, all gentle kisses and small touches, till the front door jingles and they force themselves apart. Glenn is thankfully oblivious and by the time he gets the generator going and the lights back on, Daryl's heart is pumping at a normal rate. Beth throws him a small grin before she smooths down her dress and disappears back into the office.
Daryl hopes maybe Dale won't mind keeping him on permanently.