A/N: AU. ANGST. SO MUCH OF IT. Title taken from Black by Pearl Jam.
She lets the screen door bang behind her, huffing in frustration as she continues her search of the farm. Her father's truck is in its usual place, and she allows herself a moment to panic before her rational side kicks in. He could very well be in the paddocks, checking on animals.
Her father's absence does not automatically mean a relapse.
Spinning around, she comes face to face with a stranger. An attractive stranger, that little voice in her head points out, but now is not the time for that, because she does not know this man and she doesn't know where he came from.
"Who are you and where's my father?"
She winces, her tone coming off a little demanding and the man scowls, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Went into town with…Otis? He'll be back in an hour or so."
"Oh," she nods, feeling a bit silly because it's a Saturday and her father and Otis usually do head into town. Did until he didn't and she doesn't really like to think about that chunk of time when everything was too dark to bear.
"I'm Daryl," the stranger mutters, "I'm fixing the barn."
Oh yeah. The barn.
The day they bury her mother and brother, there isn't a cloud in the sky.
You couldn't have asked for better weather, people murmur to her sadly, because Beth Greene is delicate, Beth Greene is fragile, and if they offer just their condolences, she might fall apart.
"Annette would have enjoyed the sunshine," Maggie says quietly, as if their comments warrant a response and perhaps it's the polite thing to do, to reassure them that they are coping as well as anyone could.
(Her therapist says she should rate her mood on a scale, but there's no way to measure numbness, not between 1 and 10.
So she never went back.)
When her daddy speaks, his hands shake visibly and she can see the weight of his flask in his jacket pocket. His words make her heart ache and Maggie grips her hand too tight, as if she'll never let go, which is a lie because she knows that as soon as the sun rises she'll be on the road back to Atlanta.
When they lower her mother into the ground, she places flowers on the coffin. When they lower her brother, one of his friends plays a Pearl Jam song and she balls her hands into fists and wills herself not to cry.
The day they bury her mother and brother, her father starts drinking, Maggie runs away, and she quits grad school and moves back home to try and put the pieces of their lives back together.
He comes on Saturdays, 8am until 2pm. She should know, because she's always there. Every Saturday she drives the one-hour journey to the farm, tidies a bit, makes her father a week's worth of meals. It's under the guise of making sure he hasn't fallen into old habits, this is as clear as day, but it's been three months and he's still sober and she counts each week as a blessing.
Daryl barely addresses her, not since their first awkward encounter. It's a slow process, but her father was never in any rush to fix the barn, having left as it was up until this point to serve as visual reminder. But winter was coming and having a barn with a large, gaping hole, isn't practical, despite the lesson it serves.
She's starting to enjoy being here again. Starting to love the farm, love it's quirks and charms. It hurts less to be using her mother's china, to strum Shaun's guitar. And when her fingers automatically pick out the familiar chords to Even Flow that Shaun taught her all those years ago, it doesn't make her heart clench or her throat close up.
It's been a year, but it's getting easier. Or she's getting stronger.
They let her teach seven year olds and on days when all she wants to do is curl up and cry, she wonders if that's a good idea.
She's qualified, there's no doubt. Halfway through her masters even, but she tries not to dwell. Because her job is her lifeline and the kids are quickly becoming her reason and she knows it's not healthy to place her faith in the hands of seven year olds. But they're so good and for the most part, shielded from the bad and god, their smiling faces and lit up eyes must have some kind of restorative powers, this she swears.
Most of the parents like her, but there's a couple who think she's too young, too inexperienced. Don't like the way their husbands stare too long at her. Don't like that she frequents local bars, even if it is to drag her father out the door.
She sets out to prove them wrong.
Perhaps that's her first mistake.
"So," she announces, placing a plate and a mason jar on the bed of his truck, perching on the end of the sawhorse, "what do you do when you're not fixing my daddy's barn?"
Startled, he glances up from the plank he's hammering into place. Wiping his brow with a rag, he eyes the food, eyes her and taking the jar, gives her a shrug.
"What makes you think I do anything other than this?"
Beth rolls her eyes, giving his a half smile.
"Because you'd have been done by now. So I'm guessing this isn't your day job."
He grunts in response.
"I'm a mechanic."
"And this is…"
It makes sense, really. When she got a contractor out to give her quote, it was up in the thousands. Otis probably knew a guy who knew a guy who wasn't available but recommended Daryl Dixon. Or something along those lines.
"What do you do when you're not cleaning and cooking and bringing me lemonade?" he asks, in turn, gesturing to the jar and plate.
"I'm a teacher in town," she replies.
His brow furrows.
"Aren't you a little young?"
She barks a laugh.
"And how young do you think I am?"
"20, 21?" Daryl shrugs, not meeting her eye line.
"I'm 24," she says quietly and suddenly he's looking at her intently, as if to re-evaluate her, having placed her in some category from the beginning and finding that it no longer fits. He starts to look uncomfortable, gazing around nervously and she observes his newfound nervousness, a nice change from his indifference.
"You enjoy your lunch, Daryl Dixon," she nods, giving him an out, "I'll see you next Saturday."
She thinks she met his brother once.
It's a small town. Can't be that many Dixons.
But it goes like this, every Friday night; a phone call from the local bar, her father, sobbing apologies into his whiskey, the bartender giving her that pitying look she's got to know so well.
She's trying to balance his weight, while paying his tab, when a man she recognises as one of her student's father, sidles up to her, breath reeking of beer and whiskey, his eyes too dark for her liking.
"You wanna drop that drunk daddy of yours off and have some fun, Miss Greene?" he slurs, dragging his palm up and down her arm, "We'll have some real fun."
"Not interested," she snaps, her father murmuring nonsense at her side.
His hand drifts lower, resting on her ass.
"Don't touch me!" she slaps him away and he grins.
"You know, my wife's a real bitch," he laughs, "can make your life a living hell. Especially if I tell her how Miss Greene was trying to seduce me in a bar-"
"No one would want to seduce you in a bar," a man appears behind her, towering over him, "not even your wife."
"You mind your business, Dixon!" the man snaps. 'Dixon' merely laughs, shoving him into a nearby booth.
"Go home and sleep it off," he nods at the man, who struggles to get up and fails. Shouldering the weight of her father, he heads towards the door; leaving Beth shocked and playing catch up behind him.
"Um, thanks?" she murmurs, still not sure what happened in there.
"Not a problem, Teach," he gives her a wink, "just fulfilling my redneck in shining armour duties, since my little brother ain't here to do it himself."
"Still," Beth gives him a small smile, "you didn't have to."
"Yeah, well," the man shrugs, depositing her father into her truck, "you look like you got your hands full enough with your old man. Seen you collect him a few times now…"
"Yeah," Beth glances back towards the bar, "family, you know."
"I know," Dixon drawls, "you take care of yourself, Miss Greene."
When she gets home, she pours all the liquor in the house down the sink and cries because she knows that tomorrow he'll just go out and buy more.
The following Saturday she arrives at the farm later than usual. There was a school board meeting that wouldn't end, so she came straight from the school, a floral dress and cardigan replacing her usual attire of jeans and t-shirts. Her father stands by the barn, waving her over when she hops out her truck.
"Bethy," he greets her affectionately and she smiles warmly, giving him a hug, "you look lovely."
"School meeting, daddy," she rolls her eyes. Taking in the scene before her, Daryl Dixon, with his sleeveless shirts, sawing a piece of wood, and Otis holding it steady. Otis gives her a friendly nod when he spots her, but it's Daryl that's her sole focus. Daryl, who pauses in his movements to drag his eyes up and down her body, lingering on her bare legs and she can't help but blush, which he notices and smirks as a response.
"I know you're dressed up, Bethy," her dad grabs her attention, "but Jimmy's noticed one of the fences needing repair and Otis and I need to assess how serious it is. You mind helping Daryl here?"
"Just need to hold the wood, Beth," Otis chimes in, "nothing strenuous."
Any instruction Otis tries to give her falls to the wayside as Beth's focus is firmly on her father's earlier statement.
"Jimmy's here?" She murmurs lowly, eyes narrowing.
"Now Bethy," Hershel sighs, "that was a long time ago. He's moved on. He's not here to cause a fuss. And you shouldn't either."
"Fine," Beth sighs, "it's fine."
When her father and Otis leave, she huffs a sigh, turning back to Daryl.
"I just gotta hold it?"
He doesn't utter a single word, and perhaps that frustrates her even more.
"You ain't gonna ask me about Jimmy?" she demands and he responds by raising an eyebrow.
"Why should I care?"
He's right. Why should he care? He's not her boyfriend or even her friend. He's just a handyman that she finds attractive and has had a few conversations with and she's probably just nothing to him.
Nothing at all.
"You're right," she shrugs, "I guess you shouldn't."
There's an awkward silence, filled with only the sound of the saw.
"He cheat on you or something?"
She raises an eyebrow. Maybe she's not nothing after all.
"Asked me to marry him. I said no and that was that. Six months later he married some other girl."
"But you said no?"
"I was 18," she rolls her eyes, "I wasn't ready to be anyone's wife."
"Yeah," she nods, "he tried to kiss me a while back. It was right after…well, it doesn't matter. But he's married with a kid and another on a way and he tried to kiss me. And I didn't kiss him back or anything, but his wife, she still called me a whore and slapped me in the grocery store anyway."
He's quiet and she wonders if he even heard her.
"People are fuckin' idiots. Always trying to blame their problems on anyone other than themselves."
It's the obvious, sure, but it still makes her feel a bit better. And when she sees Jimmy later that day, in the kitchen, when she's making Daryl a sandwich, she tells him in no uncertain terms to fuck off.
And it feels good.
Maggie gives her father an ultimatum: she'll come see him once he quits drinking.
It's safe to say it was a quiet Christmas.
She spends New Years Eve in the hayloft, with her guitar and a bottle of peach schnapps that she doesn't drink. She plays 'Nevermind' and cries when her phone beeps, signalling the New Year and she doesn't bother with resolutions because she knows she'll never keep them.
Because come morning her daddy will still be drinking and Maggie will still be gone and she'll be carrying the weight of the farm, the weight of her family on her shoulders and trying not to drown.
"You did what!?" Maggie exclaims beside her, pausing mid-chop, the carrots forgotten. Her cries capture the attention of Daryl and his new assistant, Maggie's husband Glenn, but Maggie simply waves at them through the kitchen window, yelling out a quick sorry.
"I'm not repeating it, Mags," Beth rolls her eyes, peeling potatoes.
Maggie bumps her hip, not gently, mind you.
"Well, I'm still trying to wrap my head around my little sister telling someone to 'fuck off'. It's hard, you know."
"He deserved it."
"He deserves a fucking lot more than a 'fuck off'," Maggie swears, the most expletives this kitchen has seen in her whole life, "how'd he react?"
"Don't know," Beth shrugs, "I just walked away, gave Daryl his sandwich and he didn't follow me or try to talk to me or anything."
"Would have helped having the surly hottie silently staking his claim as well," Maggie muses and Beth pinches her arm.
"It's not like that, Mags," Beth sighs, "I mean, the guy thought I was in college."
"And you're not," Maggie says pointedly, "you're a single woman in her twenties with a job and your own apartment. I've seen him checking you out at least twice in the last hour alone. Ask him out. If you can stick it to Jimmy, you can ask out the biker lumberjack."
"I don't think he's either of those things-"
"Not the point, Beth," Maggie interrupts, "aren't you sick of playing by the rules?"
She is. She is so sick and tired and she feels like she's just fighting a losing battle, a battle that gets her put on probation at the school and slapped in the grocery store and ostracised at church. She's sick of never getting what she wants. She's sick of waiting for something good to happen instead of making it happen.
So yeah. Rules be damned.
She's not sure when this became her life. Sitting in the back of the church, listening to the ladies whisper around her, their glares hostile and direct.
Jimmy's wife sits front and centre, hands resting on the curve of her stomach, head held high because she is the victim, because she is the woman scorned.
And Beth is the scarlet woman.
Beth hates her title, hates this role she's been cast in, that she never even auditioned for. Because she didn't even look at Jimmy, didn't even talk to him and now there's a fake, twisted history of secret glances and stolen conversations that never took place and led to a married man breaking his vows.
And Beth didn't do a goddamn thing.
The nerve of her, she hears someone murmuring. She used to be such a sweet girl, another person tuts. And she feels her throat tightening and her eyes burning, but she will not bolt, she will not back down. Because she knows the truth. Because Jimmy's wife knows the truth.
But the truth isn't' worth a damn, especially in this town.
What kills her the most is knowing that if Shawn were alive, he would have punched Jimmy right in the face. If Maggie were around, she would have yelled right back in her face as the woman called Beth a whore in front of the whole town. And her Mama would have sat right there in the back pew, holding her hand, glaring at the old bitties who had the nerve to assume such things about Annette Greene's daughter.
It's knowing that her life should have been different. It's knowing that she had all that, but it was taken away.
She doesn't think her blouse is particularly sexy – long sleeves, buttons up to the neck, printed with little cats, but the way the garage erupts into whistles and catcalls, you'd think she was some kind of playboy bunny.
Truth is, it's probably the modest heels and pencil skirt that's the cause of her sexual harassment, maybe even her glasses and she's not naïve, not totally clueless to the knowledge of male fantasies.
"Teach," a familiar voice lets out a low whistle, "car trouble, or troubles of another kind?"
She graces the elder Dixon with a genuine smile. She's not one to forget kindnesses bestowed upon her, especially not in recent times.
"I'm here to see your brother."
The other guys cheer and catcall, starting a chant of Daryl, Daryl, Daryl, and she almost feels like blushing on his behalf. The elder Dixon laughs.
"You the Greene whose barn he's fixing? Knew that boy wasn't buying new shirts to impress some old man."
"Enough, Merle," Daryl scowls, appearing behind his brother, "you don't know a goddamn thing."
"I don't?" Merle chuckles, "alrighty then, baby brother. Teach, always a pleasure."
Tipping an imaginary hat, he strolls back to his workstation and business returns to normal.
"You purposely trying to destroy your reputation?" he growls, grabbing her by the wrist and dragging her outside.
"Coming to a place like this," he snaps, "wearing something like that, talking to someone like me."
"If you think I give a fuck about my reputation?" There's that word again, that word that should make her flinch, but instead fills her with newfound empowerment. "Because I'll tell you this, Daryl Dixon, I spent the last year trying to be the picture of a sweet, moralistic school teacher, and all it did was get me labelled a drunk, a home wrecker, and a 'questionable influence'. And all it got me was a summer spent in a psych ward."
There's a silence that stretches and he looks at her, a hard, analytical glint in his eyes.
And then a beat.
And once again, Beth Greene's gone from playing her cards close to her chest, to dropping every last one on the ground.
"The PTA has been talking," the principal tells her quietly, a gentle edge in his voice.
"That's never good," Beth jokes nervously, fiddling with the cuff of her blouse.
"There have been some…rumours about your behaviour in town."
Beth can't find the words, can't even defend herself. Against what, she wonders to herself. Against everything, is likely the answer.
"Apparently you're frequenting the local bars on school nights. And there's murmurs about a liaison with a married man."
"It's not," she stumbles, trying to find the words, "I'm not…"
"I believe you," the principal murmurs softly, sighing heavily, "I know how these women can get. I know your father is going through some troubles and you're running the farm as well as working here. I know you're under a great deal of pressure and it doesn't help that often pretty, young teachers are the most harshly judged. But it's the parents I have to listen to. It's the parents that take their grievances straight to the district board if they're not 'satisfied' with my handling of their concerns."
Beth quickly wipes away a tear, cursing her weakness.
"I'm going to have to put you on probation. I'm sorry, Beth. I truly am."
And Beth will pretend it's alright. Because like with everything in her life, she lives with a web of carefully crafted facades and fronts and were one to crack, she's certain she'd fall apart beyond repair.
Beth sees him the following Saturday. It's awkward, to say the least, as she pretty much bolted after the incident at the garage.
Though, new Beth – no, not new, more so upgraded – isn't shying away from this. Church, sure. The grocery store, sure. But not this man who works on her Daddy's farm. Who works on her farm. For once in her life, she's going to confront rather than avoid.
And it feels good.
So she brings him a sandwich and a jar of iced tea. She gives him a tight smile and opens her mouth to speak.
Only she quickly shuts it when he interrupts her, throwing out his own words, words that are so much better, so much more effective than anything she could possibly say.
When Maggie asks her how long it's been, she almost dies.
Because there was a man called Zach, before, in college. Who was charming and handsome and every bit the gentleman.
Until her mother died and she moved back home and he couldn't do the long distance thing, it wasn't fair on him.
And that had been the end.
Before him, there was Jimmy, who was sweet until he wasn't, until she was gently turning him down and he was throwing her out of his car, calling her all kinds of names in the heat of the moment and inspired a dozen more from Shawn who picked her up and drove her back home.
She had high hopes, but hope doesn't translate into love and maybe that was the catch, maybe after all the crying was over and she had stitched her heart back together, the new light revealing that maybe she didn't love them. Not like she thought she did. Not the way she wanted to.
And shouldn't love be awe-inspiring and madness inducing and flame-igniting and destructive in all the best ways possible?
He picks her up in his truck, wearing jeans without holes and vest she'd never seen before, black leather with white stitched angel wings. She's struck with how attractive he is, how his arms fit her vision of a handsome Disney prince and she has to shake herself out of any fantasies that he might be the one to save her.
That's not how her story works.
"You look nice," he says gruffly and she can't help but blush.
(Because maybe she went to a bit of effort. Maybe she spent two hours washing and shaving and painting everything that she should and deliberated twenty minutes longer than she should have over underwear and measured the hemlines of dresses to find the right median between schoolmarm and sex kitten.)
There's one restaurant in town deemed fancy, solely due to the tablecloths and battery operated tea lights. Still, there's no reservation needed, and when they walk in the owner's daughter leads them to a table, like it's the most normal thing in the world.
Maybe in another world, it would be.
But it's date night. The night when the teenage girls of this town make their money that they'll spend at the mall the next day and the parents can pretend that it's ten years ago and that their love is still as passionate as ever. She recognises off the bat five women she knows from either school or church, all of whom are looking at her with mixes of disdain and judgment. It's all a bit much.
"You wanna go somewhere else?" he asks, noticing her discomfort.
"You wanna go to the diner? Or the bar?"
She doesn't. She doesn't want to be around these people who will surely ruin her night in one way or another.
"Let's get Chinese and go back to mine," she says softly, "I just want to spend the evening with you. Please."
It's ridiculous how much her heart swells when he grabs her hand as they leave the restaurant. Just like it's ridiculous that she's this flattered by a man buying her takeout.
She shouldn't but she is.
In the doorway to her classroom, stands Jimmy, hands in his pocket, looking guilty beyond words.
"Why are you here, Jimmy?" she asks, glancing at the clock. It's after school hours, but still, if anyone sees him here, it will surely add flame to a fire she's trying so desperately to put out.
"I need to apologise, Beth," he pleads, "I need to make this right."
"Can you go back in time?" Beth sighs, "Can you go back to when your guilty conscience convinced you it would be a good idea to tell your wife you kissed your ex-girlfriend?"
"If I could, I would," Jimmy tells her earnestly, "You gotta believe me, Beth. I'll do anything."
"Anything?" Beth asks, doubtfully.
"Fine. Leave me alone." Beth says simply, leaning against the whiteboard, "That's all. I'll forgive you if you just leave me alone. I don't need your wife trying to ruin my life any further."
"I'm sorry," Jimmy says again, backing out the room, "I really am."
"Yeah, Jimmy," Beth shakes her head, "so am I."
She wakes up with a heavy arm around her waist where her bed sheet should be. It takes her a second to remember the events of the night before, and when she does she can't stop the blush spreading across her cheeks or the heat pooling between her legs.
There was Chinese food. There was beer for him and wine for her. There was Johnny Cash on vinyl and then there was her lips colliding with his and his hands tugging her hips close and too many layers separating fingers from skin.
When he lifts her like she weighs nothing, arms tense and bulging, she practically falls apart there and then because this, this is the stuff of bodice ripping, wanton moaning, romance novels. When he tears her panties from her body, she questions the possibility of this being a fever dream, because there is no way this could be real.
But it is. And he convinces her with his fingers and his lips and his tongue and every single curse that falls from his mouth the moment he feels the hot heat of her mouth wrapped around him.
She's wound up now, thankful that it's Sunday because there's no possible way she could go to work in her current condition. And she hopes there will be a round four (four!) because there's no possible way that her fingers will do now that she's experienced all of him.
No way at all.
"Mornin'," Daryl rolls into her, pressing her down on the mattress, placing a gentle kiss to her neck. She can feel him hard against her thigh and she can't help but smile, arms curling around his forearms.
"Morning," she says, sighing contently, "you got any plans today?"
"Nope," he replies, his fingers trailing down her sides, dipping dangerously close to where she so wants him, "nothing at all."
"Good," Beth giggles, using her weight to roll them so she's on top, straddling him. He's hard and she's wanting so she doesn't bother to deny the inevitable.
And forth time round (forth!) it's real good.
"Have you thought about facilities?"
Beth's jaw drops.
"You mean rehab?"
"Yeah, of course I mean rehab. Don't look so mortified, he clearly needs help."
Fuming, Beth slams the pitchfork down into the haystack, wiping her hands angrily on her jeans.
"And what have I been doing, huh Maggie? Nothing? Having a good ol' time?"
"You're enabling him," Maggie sighs, leaning against the barn, "you think you're helping, sure, but you're just cleaning up his messes. He needs professional help."
"I'm doing the best that I can."
Oh lord how she's trying. Trying and failing, sure, but she's here, she's not absent like Maggie. She never abandoned him, could never abandon him and placing him in rehab, god, what is it if not giving up?
"It's been nine months, Bethy," Maggie sighs, "I know he's grieving, we all are. But there comes a point when you need to pull yourself together."
"He's getting better," Beth protests and Maggie shakes her head, "you don't see it but I do!"
"He's drinking himself into an early grave," Maggie snaps, "why can't you see that Beth?"
Why can't she see that indeed?
Pushing the cart hesitantly up the aisle, she sighs.
"You seriously don't have to do this," Beth pleads. The man beside her grunts, pausing to place something in his own basket.
"Just think it's ridiculous that you go to a grocery store the next town over, is all," he mutters, "shouldn't let anyone intimidate you."
"It's not like that," Beth sighs, and he grabs her cart, forcing her to stop.
"What's it like then? Another woman's husband puts the moves on you and you're the one who has to shop somewhere else. You didn't do anything wrong, so stop acting like you did."
Here's the thing about Daryl: they've only been together for two weeks. Two weeks, and sure, it's mostly physical, but he gets her. Just understands that she needs this, this push forward out of her comfort zone and out of her safety net. He's not the most tactful about it, nor is he gentle, but she's had a year of people 'gently' telling her that her best wasn't her best and maybe this is what she needs, his harsh conviction reminding her of all the ways she is 'right'.
"Yeah," Beth says softly, "you're right."
"Course I'm fucking right," Daryl grouses, "now then. What's on your list?"
He's not the most patient man, this she recognises. She could never take him clothes shopping, but maybe that's alright. She's had two boyfriends that tended to her every whim and even then, they turned out to be jerks anyway. Why not this surly man? Why not?
He steps away momentarily, leaving her to wander by herself. She starts to think that maybe her insecurities are in her head, the stares and whispers fabricated by her own imagination. She let's herself grow confident, as she stands before the display of condoms, determined to embrace her empowerment, despite the growing overwhelming feeling of doubt. Because she can be this modern woman, she can be this better version of herself.
Her blood runs cold at the sound of the last person she wanted to see. Jimmy's wife.
The woman looks flawless, even pushing a baby in a pram, even with a scowl on her face. It doesn't hurt like it used to, looking at her and seeing everything that she could have been, had she given Jimmy a different answer. It hurts in new ways - the sting of a palm on her face, the names, and the labels.
She glances between Beth and the condoms, her lips curling in a smirk.
"Hope you're not trying to ruin any more marriages, Bethy."
Just tell her, Maggie's voice echoes in her head, just tell her what she knows to be the truth.
"How's it go, Beth, you always want what you don't have?" she laughs, rolling her eyes, "You're so pathetic-"
"Shut up!" Beth exclaims, "Just, shut up! I don't want Jimmy. I didn't want him when we were eighteen and I don't want him now. And he kissed me, not the other way around. So I'm sorry your husband tried to cheat on you. But I'm trying to build my own life, okay? So you both need to leave me alone!"
She feels mentally and physically exhausted, like she could sleep for days, but by the look of pure shock on the other woman's face, her intent was successful. Her message was clear.
"Babe," she feels him before he speaks, his voice deep and rough in her ear. Pressed close, he reaches around her, pointing a box marked 'XL'. "Get those."
Blushing, she reaches for the box, ignoring the glare that Jimmy's wife has fixed her with, ignoring everything but him, his hand on her hip and his breath hot in her ear.
"Grab two boxes."
Oh god. She can barely walk away, her legs feeling like jelly from both her confrontation and him. She's in a daze when she pays for her groceries. She's in a daze when he drives her home and helps her put everything away. She's in a daze until he pins her against the wall, and suddenly she's back, clawing at him and screaming so loud she's sure her neighbours can hear.
But like everything she's done today, she can't bring herself to worry about the consequences. Not when she's so focused on finding happiness.
"I'm so sorry Bethy!"
With a heavy sigh, she tugs off her father's boots, her shoulder aching from half carrying, half dragging him up the stairs. But she's used to it by now, used to his weight slumped over her.
She still can't hate him, as much as she wishes she could.
"It's alright, daddy," she says softly, "it's alright."
"You're too good," he slurs into the dark, "just like your mother."
And god, how it stings. How the seemingly innocent comment makes her heart ache and she thinks of the pamphlets hidden away in her journal, thinks of Maggie's latest message- what's your decision?
"You won't leave me, will you Bethy?"
He's passed out before she can even stutter a reply.
But it's enough to fill her with guilt; it's enough to bring the bile to her throat. That if she abandons him like this, what does that make her? What does it make any of them?
She throws away the pamphlets. She texts Maggie no.
When he pushes her hands away, she pulls back.
It's not the first time he's done that, not the second or third either. It's a long list of occasions where her hands have wandered to close to his back and he's responded by pushing them away or pinning them above her head or distracting her in…other ways.
She knows they exist, the scars. Have caught glimpses when he thought she couldn't see. Seen the ugliness, but interpreted them as strength. Another sign of the demons he has battled, he has faced. A sign that he is bent, but not broken. Just like her.
"You don't need to hide from me," she says in a whisper, "it's not about who you were then. It's about who you are now."
It's meant to be reassuring, to be supportive and kind. It's meant to be something beautiful, something pure, and something that says I care for you, scars and all.
"You think you know me, don't you girl?" he says lowly, moving himself further away.
"No, you think because you fucked me a couple of times you know all about my past?" his voice is barely contained rage and she feels herself edging away.
"You think because you cut yourself once for attention that we match or something? Huh? Is that what you think?"
And like that, her own restraint snaps. Any fear she had felt is replaced with anger and she feels her face grow red and the all too familiar lump growing in her throat.
"Is that what you think?"
Daryl snorts. "That's what I know, sweetheart."
"Of course," Beth says softly, shaking her head, "of course you know. Because everyone in this goddamn town knows. How Hershel Greene drove his tractor into his barn, drunk, as usual. And then his whore of a daughter tried to kill herself. That's what your heard, right? Don't worry, that's all they talk about, when they think I can't , disgust, disappointment, it's nothing new, Daryl, I've heard it all. Why should you be any different?"
The tears don't fall as she's met with silence. Wordlessly, she stands, opening her front door, waiting quietly for him to leave.
Unsurprisingly, he doesn't look back.
"Why'd you do it, Beth?"
Maggie sits on the edge of the bed, eyes red, skin pale. If she was crying, she's tried to hide it. As is her way.
"I'm sorry Maggie," Beth sobs, "I'm so sorry."
"I called your counsellor," Maggie says softly, "they said you never went back."
"I was handling it," Beth whispers, "I was."
"They said you're depressed, Bethy," her sister murmurs, "the principal called and said that if you want to keep teaching, you need to get some help."
There's a pause and Beth puts the pieces together.
"What did you do, Maggie?"
"Daddy's going to rehab," Maggie replies firmly, "the barn is a wreck, and the doctor says he'll be lucky if he regains even partial mobility of his leg. He's lucky he didn't kill someone, let alone himself. It's a twelve-week program at a nice facility. They'll get him the help he needs."
With a sigh, Maggie stands, revealing a small duffle bag on the chair behind her.
"You never grieved, Beth. You took that burden on by yourself. I wasn't there and I know that's on me, but I had to heal. I had to do it my way. But if you had called me, I would have been there in a heartbeat. I would do anything for you, Bethy."
"Where are you taking me?" Beth whispers.
"You tried to kill yourself," Maggie sobs, "I found you holding your own wrist, bleeding all over the bathroom tiles. You need help. I'm so sorry."
Glancing down at her bandaged wrist, Beth can't bring it in herself to hate her sister. Can't even find it in her to resent her even the slightest.
Because she's right. Heaven knows she's right.
When he doesn't turn up at the farm the following Saturday, she lets it slide. Really, she does. She understands awkwardness, understands the need for time in order to process and heal. But when he doesn't show up the Saturday after, she gets pissed.
Because regardless of this thing between him, she paid for a service. And while they might not have a contract, her daddy had his word. And she knows Daryl Dixon is not a man to back down on that.
So she decides to go to the garage after school, not caring about her schoolmarmish dress or mustard tights or lace-up saddle shoes. She doesn't care that they're going to catcall or make crude comments and that she'll add further fuel to the gossip mill's fire.
"I'm looking for your brother," she marches up to Merle Dixon, attempting to look as determined as possible. It must work, because he takes a step back from his workstation, observing her with a raised eyebrow.
"Teach," he nods, "it's good to see you too."
"Merle," she keeps her tone firm, "where's Daryl?"
"Hunting," Merle shrugs, eyes darting towards the office, "sometimes he just takes off. Why, you need someone to scratch an itch?"
"Liar," Beth snaps, "it's not the right season. I'm not an idiot, so don't treat me like one."
"What should I treat you like then, Miss Beth Greene?" his tone is no longer light, no longer joking. It is harsh and mean and it makes her shift away from him.
"Because my little brother's walking around her like someone ran over his dog and it all started when he stopped going to your daddy's farm."
"He owes me two weeks of construction and an apology," she says stubbornly.
"He don't owe you shit."
The words sting like she'd been slapped. But it's true. He doesn't owe her anything. She'd made her own assumptions and he'd made his and the truth is that maybe skin didn't heal back thicker. Truth is she is still full of self-doubt and fear and she has mantras written on flash cards to help her push the pieces back together when she feels herself start to fall apart.
"Yeah," Beth rubs her face with the back of her palm, before resting momentarily in the crook of her elbow, curling them around herself protectively, "nobody owes me anything except myself."
Merle Dixon looks at her as though she's lost her mind, but she's already halfway to her car, repeating the same phrase over and over under her breath.
Nobody owes you anything except yourself.
"You're going home today, Beth."
She knows this. She's been counting down the days in her journal, a rough tally that resembles that which someone might see on a prison wall. Instead, she nods, giving the doctor a faint smile.
"You're looking forward to it, I imagine?"
"I'm looking forward to seeing my family," she replies softly, "the farm. I'm, uh, I'm going to get an apartment in town."
"That's good," her doctor praises her, smiling, "independence is key to remaining on the right track. Do you remember what we talked about regarding independence?"
"Independence is not loneliness," Beth recites solemnly, "independence is strength."
"There's a grief support group near where you live," the doctor hands her a flyer, "it might be good for you to go. Talk to people who understand. Don't hide your problems away, Beth."
"I won't," she murmurs, a promise she knows she'll break.
She stands outside the community centre, before turning on her heels and heading towards the bar.
Sometimes Beth feels like a traitor to herself, turning to the bottle instead of therapy, and she wonders what her counsellor would say, what Maggie would say, what her daddy would say.
Nothing good, probably.
But she orders a beer, ignores the bartender who gives her a glance of recognition. Sips at it delicately, cringing at the bitter taste before her eyes land on a small sign.
So sure, why not.
Beth downs her beer when they call her name, walks to the podium and takes the microphone, ignoring the small screen because she already knows the words. Memorised them long ago, when she was only small and her brother would teach her chords on his battered guitar. When she could hear the record blasting throughout the house. When he would sing it to her softly when she was sad or scared or both, stroking her hair, almost a whisper.
"Son, she said, have I got a little story for you…"
And when she sees him, staring at her from across the bar, his eyes focused intently, all she can do is look away, blinking to keep the tears at bay, swallowing quickly so her voice doesn't waver.
"Oh I, oh, I'm still alive…"
There's a smattering of applause when she finishes her song. Her voice is nice, that she knows, and the song a popular one, but still, it's a surprise and it almost makes her feel a bit better.
She orders another beer, sitting next to him. He flinches visibly, and she gives him a terse smile.
"Don't worry," she murmurs, "I'm not going to pry into your life again."
Maybe it's a bit harsh, but it's the truth. She's done, she's out. She's given up, like all the times before.
"It's my brother's birthday," she raises her beer, as if to toast him, "would have been thirty years old. He was sweet on this girl from his work. She had this douche bag boyfriend and I would help him plan how he was going to win her over. I met her at the funeral, and I think he already had."
Beth puts her head down in her arms, tilting so she's facing him.
"He was supposed to get married, and have babies, and we'd have birthdays and holidays and summer picnics…that's how unbelievably stupid I am."
"That's how it was supposed to be," Daryl offers gruffly and she smiles sadly.
"Yeah," Beth sighs, choking on a sob, "instead I tried to kill myself."
He clears her throat, offering her a mostly clean red rag and she dabs at her eyes gently.
"I'll be round on Saturday," he mutters, "to finish the barn."
"Okay," Beth nods into her arms, eyes feeling suddenly heavy, "I guess I'll see you then."
Daryl moves to leave, but hesitates.
"You right to drive?"
Beth barks a laugh.
"This is only my second. And I walked."
"You want a ride?" he asks, rubbing his head awkwardly.
"Nah," Beth sighs, "it's not far."
He nods, but doesn't move, standing stiffly, eyes focused on the ground.
"Okay, well, bye."
She turns and is half-surprised to find him looking her in the eye.
"I said some shit that I shouldn't," he says quietly, carefully, as if afraid that she might break. Or he might break.
"Yeah," she breathes, "but so did I."
"Well, I'm sorry," he says quickly, "I don't know shit about you. Wasn't right for me to think I did."
"Would you have cared?" Beth blurts out, catching him off guard, "If, six months down the track, and we were still a 'thing', would you have asked?"
"There was never gonna be a six months down the track, Beth," he says cautiously, "You know that."
Beth swallows a sob.
"Don't know anything anymore."
"You ever going to tell me what happened?"
"Nothing worth telling," Beth shrugs, fixing a plate of cut up apples and carrot sticks, placing them beside a tray filled with sandwiches and lemonade.
"Was the sex bad?" Maggie asks, sympathetically.
"It just didn't work. We're too different. We want different things."
"What does he want?" She pries.
"Not me," Beth whispers.
"Okay," Maggie says softly, "what do want then?"
"I don't know."
Outside, Glenn is holding a piece of wood as Daryl hammers it securely to a support beam. The barn is almost finished. Next week they'll paint it and she will never have to see Daryl Dixon ever again.
That's not how it works; she knows this. Because it's a small town and now, she sees him everywhere.
"Maybe you should work it out."
Two weeks later she packs her car, hands in her letter of resignation, kisses her daddy goodbye, and drives to a new town, in a new state, where no one, absolutely know one knows the name 'Greene'.
Two weeks after that she finds out she's pregnant. And eight months later, when she meets little Dylan Shawn Greene, she knows that this is exactly what she wanted.
Part 2 coming soon. Thank you for reading.