a/n: florist/tattoo artist AU. Title taken from Harold T Wilkins, or how to Wait for a very Long Time by Fanfarlo. Happy New Year to you all. xx
By now, she knows the artists by their music selections, the loud, thumping bass that floats through her into her small shop.
She knows that Joe is partial to Lynyrd Skynryd, and that Gareth listens to too much Blink-182. She knows that Tara has Kanye on rotation, and Axel is a Johnny Cash man.
And there's Daryl, who likes the silence.
She thinks she might like him the most.
Shawn doesn't know the first thing about flowers, so it's funny watching him stumble his way through conversations with old ladies about the locality of their chrysanthemums. He's the business savvy one, the one with the degree hanging on their small office wall.
She has a few courses under her belt and an eye for arrangements. So naturally, it was a perfect partnership
Business was blooming, despite the name of the shop, Heavy Petal, which Shawn thought was the most hilarious thing in the world, even if the majority of their clientele might not understand it. Still, she embraced the name at the time – it was his grandfather's inheritance that was the catalyst for their small shop - and it fit, in an odd way, with the wrought iron fittings and concrete walls and colour, colour everywhere.
It's an urban wasteland, bursting with life.
"I'm in love!"
Shawn lives his life like it's a sitcom – always has always will. His voice is loud and booming, he looks like a quarterback frat guy, but he's a giant teddy bear. Everyone that meets him loves him, and maybe that's part of his success.
(The girls with the cardigans and the librarian dresses, well, they love him more than others. A number of poems have been written and performed at local open mic nights around town in his honour.)
Lori, the Sheriff's wife, laughs, rolling her eyes. She started a couple of months ago, working for a few hours a day, while her son is at school and daughter is at day care. Sometimes she brings her daughter, Judith, and Beth is never productive on those days, preferring to adorn the small girl in daisy chains than do any real work.
"Sweetie, when are you not?"
Shawn chuckles, nodding in agreement. Beth hums, tying off a small corsage – it's homecoming Friday and their orders have skyrocketed – waiting for her brother to spill his feelings.
"She's not like the others," Shawn sighs, clutching his heart, "she's edgy and cool and calls me 'dude'. I mean, she fist-bumped me and-"
"Tara?" Beth asks, incredulously, "your current 'love of your life' is Tara the tattoo girl?"
Glenn, their delivery guy, starts laughing hysterically.
"Oh, Shawn. Let me tell you a little bit about Tara…"
When they moved in, the first people to walk through their door were their neighbours, Terminus Tattoo Emporium. They were an odd bunch, intimidating, but friendly, and it was the first time, in meeting owners of the surrounding businesses, that they bothered to address her as well.
Something about a girl with braids and cowboy boots that screams shop girl instead of co-owner. Go figure.
But Joe welcomed them with a gift basket that was really more of a wine box filled with alcohol. A bottle of sambuca, Jack Daniels, dry gin, and gold flakes vodka. And a jar of moonshine.
"You ever have any issues, let me know," Joe tells them seriously, "we've got a few rough clients who have been known to cause…incidents. We're not saying you can't handle yourself," he gestures to Shawn, "but if your little sister is ever by herself at night, she knows where to go."
The group trickle out, giving their farewells.
"Daryl works late."
The man she guesses is Daryl, turns around, his expression a mixture of surprise and confusion, as if he can't believe that he's been volunteered as some kind of late night flower shop bouncer.
"Thanks, man," Shawn grins, all friendly, all the time, "Bethy will probably be staying back a bit, working on orders. Girl can never get any work done during opening hours, too busy chit-chatting with customers out the front."
Joe chuckles, giving her a once over that kind of creeps her out.
Funny thing though, when Daryl does the same, she doesn't particularly mind.
Glenn was their delivery guy first before he was Maggie's boyfriend. Shawn bemoans the fact that he ever introduced them in the first place, because Glenn, who was supposed to be his new 'dude-bro', is Maggie's new 'play thing' and why is life so unfair? Why can't I be great at business AND great at life?
Shawn. Dramatic. Understatement of the year.
She feels a bit bad, because it's not the first time. The first time there was Zach and that relationship ended badly and the subsequent friendship ended worse, with Shawn crash-tackling him at a barn party.
"Maggie really likes him," Beth offers, smiling, "like, really likes him. Like he might actually stick around."
"Really?" Shawn's jaw drops, "Glenn? Is he, like, funny or something?"
"And you wanted to be dude-bros," Beth tuts, shaking her head, "not a nice thing to say about your future brother-in-law-bro."
"You kids are ridiculous," Lori laughs, handing a customer their change with a smile, "I hope Carl and Judith get on as well as you when they're older."
"I hope Carl isn't a stupid head," Beth sticks out her tongue.
"Yeah, well I hope Judith isn't the most annoying human in the world," Shawn pokes her in the ribs.
Lori just laughs.
They keep getting their mail.
Because apparently their mailman is both blind and hard of hearing so she can't even call out to him to tell him that the stack of letters and magazines belong next door.
With a be right back to Shawn, Beth makes the short trek next door to Terminus Tattoo Emporium.
It's not really what she expected. Sure, maybe in the back of her mind she'd expected some kind of seedy, den of criminal activities, but it's just a tattoo parlour. The entrance is kind of dim, but she likes the wall of Polaroids, each showing a tattoo, the artist's name, and the date. There's some amazing detail in the ink; portraits and cartoons and delicate lettering. One catches her eye, a bird, drawn as if in water colour and she touches the Polaroid reverently, as if it might fly from the photo and out the door.
She jumps – she can't help it, she's naturally jumpy. The girl, Tara, grins. They've had a few conversations: by the dumpsters, walking to and from their cars. Across the street waiting for coffee. It's an easy friend-ish thing, but still, the girl intimidates her.
"Sorry," Beth laughs nervously, "you startled me."
"I can see that," Tara chuckles, "what you got there, Petal?"
"Oh, yeah, we call you Petal. We have nicknames for most of the locals. Some worse than others."
"What do you call Shawn?" She asks curiously.
"Flower boy," Tara grins, "no disrespect to his masculinity, but he needn't worry. He's by far the hottest dude on this block and half the women in our age demographic that come in here have a major lady boner for him."
"Don't tell him that, his ego is big enough as it is," Beth rolls her eyes good naturedly, "anyway, I have your mail."
"Ah, bills and magazines, the staples," Tara flicks through them absently, "hey, you want to hang out for a bit?"
"Sure," Beth replies, cautiously, following Tara through to the main floor, well lit and tastefully decorated. It's all mirrors and graffiti art and she can tell, based on the Polaroids, that the staff has had a strong influence here as well.
"Good, because I have time to kill before my next client and I need to be entertained."
"You dykes always need to be entertained," Gareth yells from across the room, his needle buzzing.
Tara flips him off, grabbing a stool and gesturing for Beth to sit.
"Yeah, I'm gay," she says with a friendly shrug, "don't worry, I won't hit on you. I know a straight girl when I see one."
"Thanks?" Beth replies uncertainly. Tara laughs.
"You want a tattoo? We can give you a good deal cause' we're neighbours."
"Good girl like that?" Axle chuckles, "No way."
"I don't know," Gareth grins thoughtfully, "it's always the good ones that are secretly bad."
She blushes at this and Gareth sends her a wink.
"Actually, I was admiring some of the photos – the water colour ones?"
The group grows quiet and Tara gives her a soft smile.
"Yeah, Daryl does those," Tara says softly, "everyone kind of assumes Gareth or I, because we're the young ones, but it's Daryl. He's kind of amazing."
She blushes, because she may have kind of assumed that anyway.
It was two weeks ago when she first talked to him. By the dumpsters – she was throwing out the trash, singing something ridiculous, Taylor Swift probably, and he was smoking a cigarette.
"Oh!" she jumps, seeing him there, suddenly, "Hi! Daryl, right?"
He's leaning against the wall, all cool and effortless and because she's that girl, she likens him to James Dean in that moment and she kind of wishes she looked a bit cuter.
Cuter as in older, though. Because right now, she's sure that converse sneakers and a dress with cats on it isn't anyone's idea of a turn-on.
"Hey," he grunts, pushing himself off the wall, stubbing out his cigarette with his boot.
"Um, how's your day going?" she blurts out, kind of wanting to talk to him, about anything really, even if it is as mundane as his day.
She kind of hates herself.
"S'alright," he shrugs and she feels another question on the tip of her tongue until they're interrupted, and rudely so.
"Daryl fucking Dixon, man, I can't believe it!"
The man, striding quickly towards him, has an unreadable expression. Beth's not sure if he's about to hug him or about to punch him.
"Martinez," Daryl mutters in greeting. Beth thinks she should leave, but somehow she's still there, as if waiting to finish their conversation. If you could call it that.
"Been looking for your brother, he around?"
"Jail," Daryl pulls another cigarette out of the carton in his top pocket, lighting it swiftly, "but you knew that."
The air between them goes still and Beth is afraid to move, let alone breathe.
"This your girl?" Martinez looks her up and down, lips curling into a smirk, "what a fucking peach."
"Not my girl," Daryl snaps, stepping into her space, placing himself between her and the other man, "get out of here, Beth."
And yeah. That's her cue and she takes it.
Shawn does a weekend workshop on social media and, well, he's hooked. Sure, they had a website, but then there's Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and he spends half the day in his office paying bills and sorting through invoices and pinning things.
"You need to sort that out," Tara tells her, perched on the workstation counter, eating chow mein straight from the carton, "Flower boy has no idea about quality content over quality content."
"What do you mean?" Beth asks, snagging an egg roll.
"He's putting filters over things that don't need em'," Tara rolls her eyes, "he's pinning to one giant board, rather than creating subcategories. It's amateur hour."
Oh. She's not good at giving criticism and he's not good at taking it.
"Look," Tara glances at her seriously, "let him keep the Facebook. Facebook is all about the business nitty gritty. Glenn used to look after the Instagram for Gino's Pizza when he was the delivery guy there. He killed it. I ate pizza there and I don't even like pizza."
"Okay," Beth nods at her friend (friend?) and Tara grins.
"You can handle the Pinterest."
"Okay," she sighs, "Okay."
Joe comes in from time to time, apparently he has a few women on the go and Shawn gives the surrounding shops a discount, because, well, Shawn's a nice guy.
Doesn't mind his nickname or anything.
"How ya doing, Petal?" he grins and she's learnt not to take his flirting too seriously, that it's part of his schtick (Tara's words) and he's, ultimately, harmless.
To people like the Greene's, anyway.
"I'm good, Joe," she smiles, putting the finishing touches on his order. She wraps the stems in brown paper, ties it off with some coloured twine, "who's the lucky lady?"
"Hot yoga lady, just opened last week."
"She must be something, then."
"Yeah," Joe grins, "but I mean hot yoga, that shit where they do yoga in a steam room, basically."
"Well, if this bunch doesn't at least give her butterflies, then I've failed as a florist," Beth laughs, presenting it to him with a flourish.
"Thanks sweetheart," Joe winks, "but I think you don't have to worry about your ability to give people butterflies. You're good."
She laughs, but there's something in his eyes that makes her think she's missed the joke anyway.
Valentine's Eve is the worst day of her life.
(Well, second worst, but we won't get into that.)
During the day, the customers are cranky and on edge and clueless, so clueless and she thinks sometimes that might be worse. But, then again, when they're yelling at her and accusing her of 'ripping them off', that's not a walk in the park either.
She thanks goodness for the regulars, thanks goodness for Lori, who knows how to shut down the angry ones. Thanks goodness for Shawn, who's not afraid of a bad yelp review if it means throwing out a customer who calls his little sister a dumb bitch.
Love, she has come to learn, makes people scared. Makes them anxious and nervous and so much effort is put into showing that special someone they love them for one day a year. And it's ridiculous, because she knows that if she loved someone, she'd make sure they knew it every day.
That's more important than a bouquet of flowers annually.
Still, it's their busiest time of year – make it or break it, Shawn declared at their weekly staff meeting. Beth stays back late, filling orders until 11pm and she doesn't think twice about making the journey from the shop to her car.
She turns around quickly, cursing the fact that neither her phone nor her keys are in her hand. From the shadows a man, a stranger appears, and all warning signs point to the fact that he's bad news. Heading towards her car, she digs around for her keys. All she needs to do is hit the unlock button. All she needs to do is throw herself in and lock the door. All she needs to do is call the police, call Rick, call Shawn, call anyone.
She's not fast enough, when he knocks her bag out of her arms and pins her against her own car. She's not fast enough when the weight of his body is pressing her against the door, when his rancid breath invades her senses. When a small blade digs into her stomach, threatening to draw blood.
"You're beautiful, flower girl," he whispers, his other hand finding its way into her ponytail, tugging forcefully, "smell so pretty. Wonder if you taste pretty too."
"Please don't do this," she pleads, "I can give you money, just please-"
"Shut up!" he snaps, slapping her across the cheek, "You scream and I cut you, flower girl. You got tha-"
His weight is gone. She closes her eyes and holds her stomach, which she knows is bleeding. Her ears are ringing and time slows, almost painfully.
She can't shut down. Not now.
Beth opens her eyes.
From next door, Daryl is throwing punch after punch at the stranger, whose face is now a bloody mess. A final punch knocks him out cold and Daryl spits on the ground, wiping his forearm across his forehead.
"You alright Beth?"
She shakes her head and throws up.
Cursing, Daryl pulls out his cell phone, punching in a few digits.
"Yeah, I need an officer and a paramedic down to the car park behind Heavy Petal and Teminus Tattoo Emporium…"
Shakily, she opens her door, sliding into the backseat. Curling her legs to her chest, she lets Daryl make the phone calls – first to the police, then to Shawn. She's not sure why he has Shawn's number but probably in case of instances like this.
Her brother may ooze happy-go-lucky, but he's dead serious about her safety.
She hears the sirens first, sees Glenn second. His phone is glued to his ear, and he runs over to her, panic in his eyes.
"I'm with her, Maggie, I'm with her now. Yeah, Daryl is here too…Daryl, tattoo artist next door…yeah, okay. Okay!"
He quickly passes the phone to Daryl, who takes it, hesitantly.
"Bethy? You doing okay?"
She looks between Glenn, concern written all over his face, and Daryl, phone held awkwardly, muttering one-word answers and short phrases to her hysterical sister.
"Shawn's on his way. And Maggie and your Dad. They'll be here soon, everything's going to be okay."
Beth knows this. She knew she would be okay the moment Daryl ripped the man away from her and she could breath again.
In the weeks that follow, she finds it hard to adjust to this new 'normal'.
Normal includes Shawn's constant presence around the clock. The sympathetic, pitying looks from her regulars. Lori pressing fliers into her hands for self-defence classes. She hates it, but understands. She can't fault the people she loves for worrying about her.
The last thing Daryl Dixon would want, she tells herself, is a hero-worshiping twenty-two year old following him around. So she keeps her distance, and when Tara asks her to recount the story, she shrugs and tells her that Daryl was in the right place at the right time and she was grateful. She was not going to make him uncomfortable, even though, every minute of the day, it was his presence, the knowledge of his very existence that brought her the most comfort. When her dreams got dark, she would wake to his face in her mind and she would breathe easy.
Still, she needs to thank him. Somehow.
Lori watches her, not saying anything, as Beth studies the roses they have on hand, choosing the best of each colour. She trims the stems, gathering them together with a bit of twine. Half filing a mason jar with water, she deposits the bouquet into the jar, admiring her handiwork. Lori walks up behind her, a smile on her face.
"That's really beautiful, Beth," she says softly.
"A bouquet of roses, full bloom," Beth murmurs, "represents gratitude."
She ties some more twine around the neck of the jar, attaching a small, white tag.
Lori has a barbeque and Shawn gets drunk.
Well, the Grimes have a barbeque. Shawn's state of inebriation stays the same.
Maggie calls him a fool because he's the only one in their family dumb enough to get drunk in front of their father. Shawn always shrugs, his mantra Hershel doesn't care and one look at their father and that twinkle in his eye, they know that it's true. He's always treated Shawn differently, boys will be boys his parenting style and Maggie will be forever petulant about the double standards. Beth doesn't mind so much.
This week, Shawn is smarting from a rather public break-up with one of the teacher librarian girls. They all want to settle down, he complained, cheek red from the palm of said girl's hand, a result of his brand of thoughtlessness he's perfected over the years, despite having her and Maggie as sisters. Still, Tara cackled gleefully as she recounted the day that 'Flower Boy' got cursed out at the coffee shop by a girl wearing a cat cardigan and Beth couldn't help but giggle at her brother's misery.
He'll live. They'll be others, and then other's after that. Such is Shawn Greene's life.
Lori's son Carl follows her around like a puppy dog, which is kind of sweet, but kind of something she's trying to ward off. She's not made for breaking hearts, especially teenage ones. She busies herself with baby Judith, bouncing the baby on her hip as Rick approaches, iced tea in hand, a familiar figure beside him.
"You're a natural, Beth," Rick smiles, swapping the drink for his daughter. Judith fuses momentarily, but settles in the familiarity of her father's arms.
"She's easy," Beth smiles, stroking her hair, "and such a sweetheart."
"I wanted to introduce you to Daryl," Rick says wryly, "before I realised that you are already acquainted-"
In the distance, Lori calls for Rick, who gives them a sheepish grin and departs swiftly.
And it's awkward.
"Got your flowers," Daryl says gruffly, "didn't need to, ya know."
"I know," Beth shrugs, "my Mama would be turning in her grave if I didn't thank you somehow."
She cringes at her phrasing, not sure that bringing up dead mothers is ever really a good move. But Daryl Dixon doesn't pry and Daryl Dixon doesn't apologise for something that happened a lifetime ago. She's grateful for that, grateful for him.
"I'm trying," she pauses, mulling over her words, trying to find the right phrasing, "I'm trying to think in terms of 'what now' instead of 'what ifs', you know? Like, I'm here, I'm safe. Nothing bad happened. What now?"
"Good way to live," he says gruffly.
In the distance, Shawn has his hands on a guitar and is serenading some poor friend of Lori's, who looks about ready to hit him. He can play decent enough, but can't carry a tune when he's liquored up.
"Will you get a drink with me sometime?" she blurts out, catching them both off guard.
He recovers. "Don't need to keep thanking me, girl."
"I'm not," she says quietly, "I just really would like to get to know you, Daryl Dixon."
He's quiet, for a spell, and she honestly thinks he's going to say no. Steeling herself for rejection, she's genuinely surprised when he answers.
"No one's ever wanted to get to know me."
It's not a no. She can't help but break into a smile.
She hates everything she owns.
Lori tells her she's being overdramatic. That she's being like Shawn.
That one cuts deep.
"I'm no good at this," she complains lightly.
"Picking clothes?" Lori smarts, "Clearly."
She uses Shawn's office as a makeshift dressing room, her whole wardrobe littering every available surface. She has cute, she has sensible, she has flirty, she has sexy, but still no obvious option.
"Where you going?" Lori calls out as Beth struggles into her knew dress, feeling hot from all the outfit changes.
"Copper Kettle," she calls out in reply, and is met with silence, "is that a bad choice?"
"It's a bit…hipster?" Lori states, Beth peeks her head out, eyes wide in panic.
"You think he won't like it?"
"I think that a man like Daryl enjoys...the simpler things. Things that don't include craft beer and Mumford and Sons on repeat.
Flinging the door open, Beth stands before the other woman, a look of fear on her features. She can't even hear Lori complimenting her crop top and floral maxi skirt combo because suddenly she's t-minus fifteen minutes and she doesn't know where to go and why, oh why, did she decide to become the type of girl that asks out a guy without any semblance of a plan?
And he's early. Standing by the counter, peering at her curiously. She knows she looks distressed. She knows she looks panicked. But his eyes are roaming over her, lingering in that way that gives her goosebumps and maybe the anxiety is worth it, because plan or no plan, she's going on a date with Daryl Dixon.
"Idon'tknowanybarsthataren'thipsterbars," she says in one big rush and he smirks, rounding the counter slowly, all denim and leather and the hint of something dangerous.
"Don't worry," he murmurs, "I know a place."
The bar he takes her to, she would probably categorise as 'hipster', but he shrugs, telling her that in this town, most places are likely classified as such at one stage or another. The Hook is probably on the verge of mainstream popularity; located down an alley and around a corner, and to the eye, it's not much. A small bar with adjoining kitchen, a few tables and chairs. Wait staff floating around and music that she doesn't take a lot of notice of playing in the background. Daryl gives a nod to the bartender and leads her to a small table in the corner, pulling her chair out for her and everything, making her heart flutter.
"This isn't hipster?" Beth asks with a small smile and Daryl shrugs.
"Not gonna find many bars in this town that aren't," he notes, handing her a menu, "and I ain't gonna take you to a dive bar or some shit. No place for a girl like you."
"A girl like me?" Beth smiles softly, glancing up at him from beneath her lashes.
"Yeah," Daryl looks physically uncomfortable, rolling his shoulders, "all pretty, like a flower and that shit."
She lets it slide because he just called her pretty and her brain is still trying to catch up and process that.
"Besides," Daryl shrugs, "hipster bar or not, this place has the best cheeseburgers in town."
And it does, for the record. And he doesn't bat an eye when she orders an alcoholic ice-cream float. Or macaroni squares. Or extra fries. And he doesn't flinch when she grabs his hand when they walk down the alley, back to his truck. And he doesn't pull away when she kisses him outside her apartment door.
"Call me sometime?" she breathes. His hand comes up to play with the ends of her ponytail.
He nods and kisses her again.
Spring fades into summer and as the weather heats up, so do things between her and Daryl.
Shawn teases. It's a given, really. Comes with the territory, she warns Daryl, who takes everything in silent stride because this is new and there are no expectations, no labels. They are exclusive, but not publicly so. They are not public. Maggie knows. Shawn obviously knows. Her daddy knows that there is a man, but he does not push for information.
It is easy. It is fun.
It's a lie.
She is not the casual girl. She is not the girl that plays things by ear, that lets nature run it's course. She is Facebook official and photobooth shenanigans and mix tapes. She is not the cool girl. She is dorky and love struck and every bit a sweet, naïve fool.
There are things Daryl does not do. He does not invite her to his place. He does not stay the night. He does not take his shirt off. That's not to say that this is simply a 'hook up'. He is sweet and attentive and for every time he might drop her hand like it's fire, there's a sweet token on the hood of her car or a chivalrous gesture that knocks her off balance. He's always on hand to right her.
It's Glenn's proposal to Maggie that signals the shift in their universe. Everyone's universe, because suddenly the spotlight is on the other Greene children as well. Shawn, twenty-nine and single and refusing to grow up, and Beth, twenty-two, 'it's complicated' whispered all about town, beautiful and haunted. They are Annette Greene's children and they should have it more together.
"She wouldn't care," Shawn confesses one evening, working late; him on invoices and her on bridal bouquets, "Mom would just want us to be happy."
"Are we happy?" Beth asks quietly, "because some days…"
She lets it hang there, because Shawn knows what she means. Knows, because there was a time once, years ago, when both their worlds seemed the bleakest. A time when she took a blade to her wrist and he held her together on the way to the hospital and continued to hold her as they stitched her back up. Because he understood, the unbearable weight, the darkness that lingers. The sadness that stops you at the most inconvenient times and can consume you if you let it. Shawn knows, because when Annette Greene died, one of her children hid and the other ran and they will never be proud of these moments, but they will never deny them. Mistakes are for the living and they are alive.
"We are," Shawn says firmly, "we have a successful business, we have great friends. You've got guy who is the best dude a brother could want his little sister hooking up with, given the circumstances. I've got freedom coming out of my ears. I know people say 'Shawn should settle down' and you know what? Dad didn't settle down at twenty-nine? He was old the first time he got married, and old the second time. He married younger women both times. That's the dream, right there."
Laughing and struggling to breath, Beth can't help but feel like Shawn, as is the case about most things, is right.
They are okay, and that's all that matters.
Maggie wants a July wedding, because that's when her mother married their father and, as is the case with those bearing the last name Greene, traditions run through their veins.
"Glenn got a tattoo," Daryl tells her one night, in her bed, tracing patterns on her bare skin. She shivers, pressing a kiss to his palm, burying her face into his shirt. It's a warm night, but she wraps herself around him nonetheless, as if afraid to let go.
"Do I want to know?"
Daryl smirks. "On his ass. Her name."
"Did you do it?" Beth teases and Daryl scoffs.
"Hell naw. Tara did. Shawn tried to bribe her to fuck it up, but the girl's got a code."
"And Shawn probably didn't offer enough money," Beth giggles.
"Your brother's a cheap bastard," Daryl smirks.
"You're not wrong."
She enjoys the silence that lingers, his hands on her skin, in her hair and when she sighs, he tilts her chin up, placing a slow, lingering kiss on her lips that makes her sigh again.
"Will you go to Maggie's wedding with me?"
His hands still. "I ain't that kind of guy, Petal."
"You could be."
"But I ain't," he murmurs, "I ain't gonna be your Facebook boyfriend, and I ain't gonna meet your high school friends. And there ain't gonna be carnivals or picnics or beach trips because I ain't the kind of guy."
Quietly, she disentangles herself from him, grabbing her dress off the floor, slipping on her discarded panties.
"I'm gonna go," she says softly, biting her tongue to keep the tears at bay.
"This is your place." Daryl looks at her like she's lost her mind.
"I know, I-" she stumbles around the room for her shoes. He turns her lamp on and she wishes he hadn't, because her emotions – sadness, disappointment, dismay – are clear as day. And she feels like an idiot, putting her faith into a man she thought could save her, and not just physically. Feels like the biggest fool because she loved him, more than she should have, more than was wise.
"-I just can't be here right now."
(She leaves him gobsmacked and speechless. And she tries not to cry, as she drives the forty minutes to the farm and she tries not to cry when her father, half-asleep and confused, answers the door. And she tries not to cry when she hurls herself into his arms because she is a twenty-two year old woman and her world will not end because a boy – a man – doesn't love her, but in this moment, it feels like it's already come crashing to the ground.)
Shawn starts a fight with Daryl and ends up with a black eye. Courtesy of Merle Dixon, the brother, who is now out of jail.
She was quiet about the demise of their 'relationship' (that never really was). Lori asked and she just smiled sadly, a strained you know how it goes her only real reply. Shawn didn't ask; always the 'need to know' kind of guy. Knows that she'll come to him if it's serious enough.
She doesn't. But their father does.
Beth's not privy to their conversation; every month the two men will head to the nearby creek for fishing and bonding. It's been that way since before Beth was born and apart from his four years away at college, it has been a steadfast tradition.
Perhaps she had been too naïve to think their father would not share her breakdown with Shawn. He was a man simply trying to understand the situation, not cause trouble. His daughter had shown up at his door, in tears, her heart breaking. He didn't ask, simply offered comfort. And turned to Shawn to shed some light on the situation.
When she goes into work Monday morning, there's a tension that makes her wary. Glenn's looking at her, confusion etched across his face.
"What's up with your brother?"
"I don't know?" Beth says slowly, looking around, but finding his office door closed.
He never has his office door closed.
In the distance, she can hear the roar of Daryl motorbike as he arrives to work. She brushes it off, like she's trying to brush off most things she associates with him and him alone because he's not the centre of her universe and she's can't be the girl that makes him so.
She's jolted from her thoughts by Shawn's office door slamming open.
"Shawn?" Beth asks, as her brother storms past her towards the door, "Are you okay?"
"Totally okay," Shawn's voice is even and controlled, "just gonna go have a conversation with the fucking redneck next door."
"Shawn!" Beth chases after him, glad she wore her boots today, "what are you gonna do?"
Daryl turns around, but so does another man, a more intense looking man, who eyes Shawn with a sneer.
"Shawn, don't do this!"
"Hey man, we need to have a chat!" Shawn yells.
The other man snorts. "What's your damn problem, prom king? My baby brother fuck with your girl?"
"Shut up!" Shawn snaps, "She's my sister and this is none of your business!"
"Shawn, stop it! Daryl didn't do anything, I was just being stupid!" Beth grabs his arm, but he jerks it away.
"I know y'all call me 'Flower Boy' and think I'm some joke, and that's fine," Shawn approaches Daryl slowly, glaring daggers, "but you fucking around with my baby sister? Making her cry? I'm not gonna stand for it."
Daryl doesn't meet his eyes and even Beth wants to disappear into the ground, back to a time when her brother wasn't trying to defend her honour in a car park, with a small crowd already gathering.
"You fuck this bitch?" his brother crows, looking her up and down, licking his lips, "She as sweet as she looks, baby brother?"
He looks embarrassed, he looks apologetic. Shawn curses.
"Shut up, man!" he's not good at this tough guy thing, never has been, "Or I swear to god, I'll beat the shit out of both of you."
Daryl's brother bursts into hysterical peels of laughter. Daryl doesn't look embarrassed anymore, but on edge. His eyes dart between Shawn and his brother and all she wants to do is hide behind Daryl, or in his arms. Somewhere safe, somewhere familiar.
Don't be stupid, a voice in her head chastises, that ain't who you are anymore.
"Listen, boy," the man emphasises, taking his own step forward, "you best watch what you're saying before you say somethin' you're bound to regret."
It's too late, because Shawn goes in swinging and Daryl's brother is just a second quicker, jumping out the way, and with one punch, Shawn is down. Not out though, but as he clambers to his feet, the elder Dixon delivers a swift kick to the stomach that sends him sprawling to the asphalt again.
She doesn't even realise she's crying until she looks up and can suddenly feel the tears dripping down her cheeks. Merle glances up at Daryl, smirking and backing away.
"Sure, Darylina, whatever you say."
Daryl takes a step towards Shawn, who is cursing under his breath. Wordlessly, he grabs him by the armpits, hauling him to his feet and giving him a quick onceover.
"She's better off, anyway. I'm just an asshole with a bigger asshole for a brother. So be fuckin' happy, okay."
Shawn coughs, spiting out a mouthful of blood.
"She loves you. Ain't gonna be happy until she's happy."
With that, the fight is over, Daryl's face unmarked, yet he looks like he'd been the one knocked out cold.
She spends Friday night updating their Pinterest and drinking Peach Schnapps and sprite. She thinks of it as a small act of defiance, remembering the way he glared at the bottle the first time he saw it in her pantry, like it had offended him in some way, or had caused him harm.
(Then she remembers the moonshine that followed, the way her head spun and her clothes came off so, so, so easily. His beard rough but his tongue oh so soft against her skin and the way she came crashing down around him when she climaxed, lust drunk and slurring his name.)
Shawn called her an hour ago, from a crowded bar, shouting that she needed to get there, ASAP, because there were fire fighters and some drink called a 'fire engine' and when he sends her a snap chat where he's sans shirt and holding a red drink she texts back no – definitely no.
Phone still in hand, she's half tempted to text Daryl, but thinks better of it, because she's trying to live her life like it's not a Taylor Swift song, remember. She's trying to be more like Beyonce, which Glenn told her should be everyone's life goal, always.
Still, she ends up searching him on Pinterest, creating a private board for all his tattoos and as nameless girls gush over his work, his artistic persona, all she can think of is the broken man that haunts her dreams and thoughts and how she had to let him go.
Shawn's new girlfriend is a fire fighter.
Maggie asks if she has brain damage as well.
Shawn flips her off. Such is Sunday night family dinners.
Their father chastises them half-heartedly. Grown adults who act like children and Shawn mimics him behind his back and Beth can't help but giggle.
"Raised a bunch of weirdos," Hershel mutters under his breath, whilst smiling, "should've opened a circus had I known my children would be clowns."
Beth smiles. He says it all in jest. Never has a father loved his children more than Hershel Greene.
When she finally meets Sasha, not at family dinner night, but when she comes to the shop to meet Shawn for lunch, she's almost surprised. Shawn's always had a type - pretty brunettes who love the fall and classical literature, who are sweet and too eager to be her friend. They don't last long, and they don't hang around after the relationship has run its course.
Sasha shakes her hand firmly. Asks her about her work. Answers her questions succinctly. Takes her job seriously, but jokes with her good-humouredly. The only common denominator is that she is pretty, with dark hair, but she is no wallflower. And when she asks Shawn, with a smirk, why on earth he chose that shirt today, her brother just laughs, ears turning red, looking all bashful and smitten.
And it's cute.
"My brother's having a bonfire party," Sasha tells, before she leaves, "you should come."
"Yeah," Beth smiles, feeling warm, "I will."
Beth is not an autumn girl. She is a child of the summer, wild eyed and free, but she has always liked how the flames lick at her skin and the heat warms her to her very core. She has always respected the beauty in destruction, nature's rebirth from the ashes, and recognised how easy it is to get lost in the glowing, flying embers.
"Beth," Shawn waves his hand in front of her face, and she jerks her head in his direction, "come on, space cadet, let's meet some people."
It's a small town, and she knows a few of the people in attendance. Glenn's there with Maggie, wrapped up in each other, as usual. Tara is drinking, talking with Sasha and a man she assumes is her brother.
"Hey, this is my little sister, Beth," Shawn presents her to the crowd, "everyone, this is Beth."
There's a chorus of hi Beths and she blushes a little, grabbing a paper cup of mulled wine.
She freezes, because of course. Of course he would be here, at this random party thrown by the brother of her brother's current girlfriend. Of course she would. Of course this is her fate.
"Hi," she says quietly, looking around. They're standing at the other side of the bonfire, the flames hiding them from the others in attendance. "You, uh, know Sasha?"
"Bob," Daryl replies, "Sasha's ex. Helped me out a few times, when I was in a bind."
"Oh," Beth nods, because she remembers now, Bob, the ex, who Sasha is still on good terms and how Shawn is trying to convince everyone and himself that he's totally okay with that.
(She also remembers tales told under the cloak of night, tales of danger and stupidity, tales of criminal dealings and running with a brother both reckless and dangerous and how sometimes hurt is part of he package, but making sure you have people who can put you back together is the deal breaker in life.)
"Beth," Shawn rounds the fire, finding her and Daryl and his smile is replaced by a glare, "Glenn's got a guitar, will you sing something for us?"
She gives him a quick look, wanting to say more, but she can't find the words, not with Shawn standing there, watching her every move, every micro expression.
Around the bonfire, guitar in hand, it's easy to block out the faces of those that she doesn't know, but it's hard to block out him. And in that moment, she can't remember any songs, except one that comes to mind and she hates herself a little, even when she strums the opening chords, even when she works her way through the first verse, the chorus, willing herself not to look at him, or think of him, because she know that the second she does, she'll be caught, she'll be trapped, and every emotion she's felt over the past two months without him will be laid open for the world to see.
Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe. Red lips and rosy cheeks, say you'll see me again even if it's just in your wildest dreams…
And god, she's sick of fighting it. She misses him and loves him and can't stand a second longer without him.
And looking at him, across the flames, she knows he feels it too.
The bell jangles and her head pops up to greet their customer, as usual. Except her greeting falls flat.
It's Merle Dixon.
"Your brother here?" his eyes dart around the shop and she shakes her head.
"Great," he grins, "didn't really feel like causin' a scene today."
She sighs, and Lori eyes him cautiously, bag on one arm, Judith on the other, getting ready to leave for the day.
"You need me to call Rick?"
"No," Beth murmurs, "pretty sure Mister Dixon just wants to have a chat."
"I don't much care for my brother's scraps," he leers, and Lori rolls her eyes, "though somethin' about you, sweet thing, is making me want to make an exception."
Rolling her eyes, she turns back to the bouquet she's putting together, a fiftieth anniversary present, which she has painstakingly planned and sketched for a week.
"I'm a busy lady, is there a purpose to your visit?"
"Just wanted to meet the girlie my brother's gone and fallen in love with."
In surprise, the shears slip, and she cuts her finger, blood pooling quickly. "Shit!"
"That was my reaction," Merle snickers.
"I cut myself," she holds up her finger as evidence, "can't just spring that on a girl without warning."
"Jesus Christ, how was I supposed to know?" Merle snaps, rounding the work station, "You got to elevate it, flower girl, don't just stare at it, here!" He grasps her wrist, wrapping the finger in a nearby cloth, holding it in the air.
"Your brother doesn't love me," Beth says quietly, after a few minutes of Merle Dixon holding her wrist in silence, "told me himself, he isn't that kind of man."
"Yeah, well, I've been out of jail for the past month and the kid has been a downright nightmare," Merle sighs, "I'm actually glad when he's at work or at night classes, gives me some time without having to deal with Mister Debbie Downer."
"Darylina wants to open his own studio or some shit. You know he was featured in a magazine? Now he's got it in his mind he could be more."
"He can be more," Beth states firmly, "he is more."
"There you go, flower girl," Merle gesture at her wildly, "reason he's got all these big ideas is because you gave them to 'im. He's addicted and you're his fucking drug."
"He gave me up," Beth tells him softly, "not me."
"Yeah, well, didn't say he wasn't a dumbass," Merle shrugs, "he's the smartest dummy I know."
"If he wants me, he knows where I am," she unwraps her hand, the bleeding now stopped, "I can't put my heart on the line again."
"Well, flower girl," Merle eyes her firmly, "neither can he. So who's gonna be the brave one here?"
He doesn't wait for her reply. He just turns on his heels and walks out the door.
When faced with a tough decision or dilemma, Beth tries to put herself in her Mama's shoes. What advice would she give, what comforting words would she say? Would she laugh loudly or remain silent? Would she run for the hills or face it head on?
Beth decides, with no uncertainty, that her Mama would have loved Daryl Dixon. Like her Mama loved and saw potential in all broken things, she would have pulled her to the side, with a mischievous smile and sparkling eyes, and whispered, oh honey, he's a keeper. She would have seen not a family history of drunken violence, but a tortured artist. She would have sighed wistfully, called the whole thing an epic romance in the making, and given Beth her blessing, 110%.
Her Mama would have told her you are that brave, Beth Greene, and she would have believed her.
She cringes internally. She's not a one-word kind of girl, but he's a one-word kind of guy, and somehow, together, they've never really needed any. Not when it's as simple as breathing. Until it wasn't.
She corners him by the dumpster - she can recall every single moment they spent there, from the first awkward and dangerous meeting, to their last (a tryst under the cloak of night, her back against the brick and his moan low and guttural).
It's her turn to speak and she's got nothing.
"You're, uh, well?"
He catches her off guard, speaking out of turn. To the point where she's still got nothing, she searching her mind for an appropriate answer.
I've been lost without you. I've been great, so great that I forgot you even existed. I met someone. I met a ton of someones. I don't miss you. The thought of you makes me cry.
"Fine," she says, part lie, part truth. He nods, accepting her answer and she just explodes. "I've been terrible. But so have you."
It's funny, how in a split second, his mood can switch from nonchalance, to defensive anger.
"Girl, you don't know shit!"
"Okay, whatever," Beth snaps, willing herself not to rage cry, "I've been terrible and you've been great. So great, that your brother can't stand to be in the same room as you and you're scaring away all your clients. So congratulations, you won the break up. I'm done. I'm out. Have a great life."
He grasps her wrist, tight in his large hand. His thumb brushes the scar there, like he's done time and time again, never once asking how or when or why.
"I love you, Daryl," Beth blurts out, "but I can't put myself out there all the time. I'm not that brave."
He's silent, dropping her wrist. She presses down on the scar, feeling the raised skin sink into her veins, watching the pink flesh turn white. Meanwhile, he doesn't say anything, offers no acknowledgment. And that's that. That's her done.
"I love you too, girl," Daryl says quietly, clearly, his voice rough and raw, "and you are that brave."
She throws herself into his arms that go around her like they were made for that sole purpose. And maybe they were built for each other; arms that were made to hold her, hands that were made to heal him, hearts made to love. And maybe when she presses her lips to his, when her fingers tangle in her hair, when his hands grasp her shirt, they were made to be together, that they were made to face their demons, together and apart, and defeat them all.
"I tried to kill myself when I was sixteen."
Head on his bare chest, she feels his breath hitch, his thumb pause as he traces her scar. This time it's different. Instead of presenting silence, she's offering a story. She's showing him her cracks, the ones she filled in and sanded down and painted over, but never achieved that perfect match.
"My mama died, it was all very sudden," she says softly, "and I didn't cope as one should."
"Ain't no right way to cope," the hand that isn't holding her wrist curves around her hip, pulling her closer.
"Maybe," Beth whispers, "sure mine was the worst though."
"What about your dad? Maggie? Shawn?"
"Daddy tried, but he was lost. Trying to keep the farm together and stay off the bottle. Maggie was there, but not really. And Shawn, well, he took off."
"Know a bit about brothers that do that," Daryl murmurs, bringing her wrist to his lips, pressing a gentle kiss to the raised flesh, before blowing on it gently. She shivers, curling into him further.
"How old were you?" Beth asks quietly. He stiffens momentarily, and relaxes, but never fully so.
"Not old enough," Daryl replies, "my old man was a bastard. Merle had his reasons for leavin'."
"Your dad hurt you?" Beth asks, already knowing the answer. He hums in reply.
"These scars…" she whispers, fingers tracing the odd ones that peppered his chest, mind drifting to the fresh images of the angry red lines that marred his back, burned into her memory despite having only seen them for the first time that night. She wants to kiss them, trace her lips across every pierce of rough, raised flesh, wants to fix him in the same way she wants him to fix her.
"They ain't who we are," echoing her earlier statement, the one she whispered to him when he bared his back to her and fought not to shy away.
"Gotta put it behind us or it'll destroy us," she finishes. In the dark, his hand finds hers. In the dark, they find each other.
There's something hilarious about Merle and Shawn making nice. Hilarious and frightening, and she waits for the results of their scheming to show themselves, once the dust of their war has settled. They both have a penchant for making their younger sibling's life more difficult; one's style more cruel, the other bordering on humiliating and she only prays that they even each other out.
"What do you think they're planning?" she whispers to Daryl, his footsteps quiet behind her as his arms encircle her waist.
"Nothing good," he murmurs into her ear, the proximity of his mouth to her skin sending a shiver down her spine.
"Guys," Shawn throws an arm around the two of them, careful not to spill his beer. It's Terminus' annual open house, Tara's brainchild, a chance to showcase their shop and artists. There's a few local bands and free booze and each artist is on hand, their own flash sheet of pre-designed tattoos to choose from.
"Merle is awesome."
Daryl looks at Shawn like he's some kind of alien and Beth can only laugh. This is Shawn, happy, carefree Shawn, who'll have a conversation with anyone, even guys who've given him a shiner or two.
"You Greene's are a bunch of weirdos," Daryl shakes his head, "ain't no one said no Dixon was 'awesome' before."
"Normal's overrated," Shawn offers casually, grinning as he walks away, towards Merle and a few rough looking types, inserting himself easily into their conversation, drawing them in, making them laugh.
"You got a bunch of girls waiting for you," Beth murmurs, relishing the way his fingers drag across her skin, the way he nuzzles into her hair.
"They can wait," he growls and she thinks that he might drag her away, out the back or maybe to her store, because he made a joke once that she was the type of girl that deserved a bed of rose petals and she showed him exactly what type of girl she was when she fucked him against her work station. Just the thought makes her warm and she turns in the circle of his arms, her hands curling around the flaps of his vest,
"Nope," she pops the p, "paying clients are paying clients. You want to open your own shop? Need to build your client base, no matter who. You can have me anytime you want."
"Want you now, Petal."
And god, she's missed this. Missed the way his eyes grow dark when he wants her, missed the way he looks at her like she's the only woman in the world. Missed the way he turns her playful nickname into something positively sinful.
"Later," she whispers, a promise she will definitely fulfil that night.
He flat out refuses to give her a tattoo.
She suggests it as a joke once, when she comments on the bruises he leaves on her body, and how they even seem like a work of art. Confesses that she fell a bit in love with him via his work, all delicate lines and vibrant colours, all a contradiction of the man the world perceives him to be.
"You're booked out weeks in advance," she argues gently, "everyone wants a piece of your art."
"Ain't nothin' of mine good enough for you."
And this is what it comes down to. His feelings of inadequacy, his belief that no matter how many times she tries to convince him otherwise, he will tarnish her and break her.
But she is not fragile. Forged in fire, re-built from stone. Beth Greene, ladies and gentlemen. The girl that put herself back together.
"You know that's a lie," and it is, oh it is. Because she's a snoop, and when he's not looking, curiosity will get the better of her and his sketchbook is like a siren's song. She knows that in its pages lie dozens of ideas, his messy scrawl in the top corner – Beth – watercolour and ink combining in a variety of floral designs, each more beautiful than the next. And she wants this so badly, this piece of him on her skin, on her curves, hidden from the world for only him to see.
"One day," he murmurs, hand finding hers, squeezing tightly, "when I'm set up with my own shop, and your sister hates me a little less for breaking your heart, I'll do this properly. I'll ask your dad. I'll give you everything, but you gotta give me time."
Her brow furrows in confusion.
"Why would you need to ask my dad to give me a tattoo…oh."
Oh. Oh. She's wrong, so so wrong. This isn't about tattoos or his self-doubt, but commitment and the future and them.
"I've got time," she whispers, giving him a soft smile in the dark. She feels him smile against her neck.
She's got all the time in the world.
Song credit: Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift. Thank you for reading.