No one would ever understand their relationship, and frankly, Daryl doesn't understand it either. What made a bright, sweet and young girl like Beth fall in love with him will always remain the million-dollar question. Holding her at nights, while she sleeps with her head resting on his shoulder, Daryl wonders what he would do the day Beth realises she made the biggest mistake in her life and leaves him. He never finds himself doubting the inevitability of that. Being with her, touching her, falling in love with her; it feels so good that it doesn't seem real. Daryl is not used to anything good happening to him, so this thing with Beth is going to end and he doesn't know if he will be strong enough to pick up the pieces. He decides not to let it go too far; always stays detached, never letting himself open up completely and never trusting his feelings. Daryl always found it easier to prevent things from happening, rather than cleaning up the mess afterwards.
Beth notices it; it seems like she always knows how he feels. She keeps saying that she loves him, that she will never leave him and that he is stuck with her forever (or as long as he wants to). Daryl knows she is not lying and believes that she believes in her words, but is always prepared for her to wake up one morning and tell him she was wrong. And he knows he will let her go because he will agree with her; it was wrong of her to love him.
Beth always wanted to sing on the stage and when she graduates from the community college with a degree in music, her cousin in California offers her to come and try her luck there. When Beth tells Daryl about it, the realization hits him hard. The beautiful fairy-tale he has almost gotten used to is coming to an end because he knows he will never be good enough. So Daryl does what he does best – pushes her out. He tells her he is letting her go, that she should leave their town where nothing ever happens and make the whole world fall at her feet. He knows he is making a right choice; that she will be better off without him. Or at least that's what he tells himself. As to his feelings, he realises that nothing like this will ever happen to him again and… well, he will have to learn to live without her.
Beth refuses (as Daryl suspected she would); she refuses to leave him and says she will never be happy if he is not there with her. So Daryl does the only thing he can think of; he tells her he doesn't want her. That he liked spending time with her, but it would have never grown into anything serious anyway; and when saying that, he can see tears glistening in her eyes, and with his heart thrumming away in pain in his chest, he answers the question she wants to ask. That it has never been real; meant nothing to him.
Beth doesn't feel the need to hide her tears, so she lets them fall down her cheeks as she walks out of Daryl's house, closing the door quietly behind her. And as Daryl watches her leave, he wonders if it is him who has made the biggest mistake in his life.
It has been two years, and Beth finally feels good about coming home. She has missed Maggie, she has missed Shawn, but most of all, she has missed her daddy. She knows coming home wouldn't be easy, especially considering on what note she left – throwing her clothes in a suitcase and barely saying good-byes to the people she grew up around – but she knows she wants to return. Her family needs her, and Beth values family above everything, so when Maggie calls her and says that daddy has gotten into a car accident and has lost his leg, she doesn't even take time to think about it. Beth knows that means they need her to come back, even though Maggie will never ask her for it, not even presuming to be the person to make her choose. Beth doesn't take long time preparing; she just packs her stuff and leaves, just like she did two years ago. Beth has always known what she wanted, but she will never trade her family's happiness for it.
The farm greets her with familiar peaceful silence, only trees rustling in summer breeze. It is early, but Beth knows everyone is awake, considering that life at the farm starts with dawn. She closes the door and, immediately hearing quick footsteps, turns abruptly. She meets Maggie's embrace and desperately tries not to cry, but fails and just gives up, letting heavy tears run down her cheeks. For the first time in two years, she feels home and feeling Maggie's sobs and her tears soaking the fabric of her dress, she realises just how much she missed it.
'I'm sorry,' Maggie says, pulling away reluctantly and wiping her cheeks, while her smile gets brighter. 'I'm such a wreck.'
'Me too,' Beth lets out a nervous laugh. 'I missed you so much,' she says and she is sincere.
Maggie has always been her best friend and closest confidant. When she started seeing Glenn, the guy who delivers pizzas in their town, Beth was the first one to find out, and she solemnly swore to keep it a secret from daddy, even though she hates lying to him. Maggie is the only person in her whole family who knows about Daryl and, consequently, the real reason for Beth's sudden disappearance, while everyone else still believes she just followed her dream. The fact that it is partly true makes Beth feel a tiny little bit better.
'Thank God you're back,' Maggie says and, taking her hand, pulls her towards the house. 'Daddy is really happy about it too, so you should see him right now.'
'How is he?' Beth can't help but ask, knowing that her father will always tell her he is alright, afraid of burdening his daughter or causing any regret.
'He's doing well,' Maggie nods slightly, not sounding too sure. 'The doctors said he would recover quickly. Well… to certain extent.'
Beth understands what her sister is saying. Her father's health might recover, but the feeling of helplessness will stay forever. Hershel was never been the person to sit in the house doing nothing, he has always been busy at the farm, and now he will be much less useful. Beth knows it will bother him.
'Where is Shawn?' asks Beth, missing her brother's bear hug desperately.
'He's picking up Jenny at the airport. She's been gone for a week – went to see her family in Chicago,' Maggie explains and opens the screen door. Beth likes Shawn's girlfriend and is happy they are still together, after five years of relationship.
As Beth steps into the house, she can sense all the feelings she had when leaving this place return. She likes to think she has recovered from her heartbreak, but deep down she knows that it is impossible. Beth is tired of reminding herself that it was naïve of her to expect a grown man like Daryl to become attached to a girl like her on a deep level in the first place, but every time she remembers the last words he said to her – that she meant nothing to him – she feels her heart sting. The pain never left, Beth just learned to live with it.
When she comes in, Hershel sits in his bed – a glass of water and medicine on his nightstand – reading a thick book with dark cover. Beth doesn't care to read the title; she is too busy trying to hold the tears again.
'Daddy,' she whispers and sprints towards him, throwing herself into his embrace, trying to take control of her sobs.
'Bethy,' he says, hugging her tightly. 'No need to cry, doodlebug. Your old man is still alive and tougher than many would think.'
Those words make Beth's sobs even louder. She can't stop thinking that while he could have died, she was too busy singing her songs at the other side of the continent. She could have lost him forever. Two years ago could have been the last time she had seen him.
'I'm so glad you're alright, daddy,' she says, her shoulders shaking slightly in sobs as she refuses to break the hug.
When they pull away from each other, Beth sits on the edge of the bed, lowering her gaze timidly, feeling so guilty and having no strength to look into her father's eyes.
'I'm glad you're home, Bethy,' he repeats Maggie's words, and Beth feels another tear run down her cheek. She has been so selfish and will never stop blaming herself. 'How long are you going to stay for?'
Beth feels something tighten in her chest. Her family is not expect her to stay, thinking her career is more important to her.
'I'm not going anywhere, daddy,' Beth stutters, finally gathering the courage to meet her father's eyes. 'I'm going to stay and help Maggie and Shawn take care of the farm.'
Her father is quiet for a few moments, and that gets Beth worried.
'We love you, doodlebug, and this will always be your home, but we couldn't possibly expect you to sacrifice everything you had built in California.'
Those words make Beth feel like she is the worst daughter in the world.
'If leaving that behind means being here when my family needs me, I'll be happy to pay that price, daddy.'
Hershel breaks into a small smile and shakes his head. Beth knows he is hesitant, not wanting her to make decisions she will come to regret. He doesn't understand though, that it isn't just about them needing her, but also about Beth needing them. Running away didn't heal her broken heart, so maybe being with her family, helping them and feeling like she is useful will appear be the cure. She doesn't know but is willing to take that chance.
Beth knows Daryl still lives in town. He has never been the sort of person to move places, plus Maggie has told Beth about seeing him from time to time, whether it was a grocery store or the diner. Beth decides, however, that she will cross that bridge when she comes to it. Maybe seeing him with another woman will help her forget him once and for all.
After Beth settles back into her bedroom, where everything was left the way it was two years ago, Maggie takes her grocery shopping. They don't really need two people to do it, but it is a nice way of spending some time together, and God knows how much they need to catch up on. When pushing the shopping cart, going through the shopping list and talking about everything and nothing, Beth feels like last two years never happened.
'How's everything with Glenn?' Beth asks, feeling excited to hear what she missed.
'It's good,' Maggie says simply, but the way she blushes and breaks into a shy smile tells Beth that everything is much better than just good, and it makes her smile with delight. Maggie deserves someone like that in her life. 'Don't forget the vanilla flavour,' she is reminded by Maggie when they come up to the freezer and start looking through all ice-creams. Beth smiles; no one in their family likes vanilla ice cream apart from Glenn.
When looking through the spices, Beth drops a pack of bay leaves on the floor and squats to pick it up. Putting it back onto the shelf, she turns to ask Maggie's advice when she sees Daryl. He is standing a few feet away, watching her carefully, and the second she notices him, she feels an urge to run. Her heart is racing in her chest, and Beth tries to calm down, reminding herself to stay mature. The amount of strength it takes her to stay in place and smile at Daryl, her eyes meeting his, is ridiculous. Daryl looks like he always did; in his shirt with the sleeves cut off and a vest with angel wings. He looks dirty, but there is always something about it that she finds extremely attractive. Something domestic. He doesn't return the smile, just continues looking at her as if he sees a ghost, so she waves at him.
'Hi,' she says so quietly she doubts he heard it, but something in his eyes tells her that he did.
Maggie excuses herself, suddenly being in a desperate need to find a very specific type of cornflakes, and they are left alone. As it is only eight o'clock, the store is empty and quiet.
Beth looks at him, her heart clamouring for escape inside her.
'Didn't know you were back in town.'
His words are quiet and unexpected, but Beth is still happy he said something. And immediately feels like a complete idiot for it.
'I've only arrived two hours ago,' she says and doesn't add anything to that. She decides to let him do the talking. If he is interested in it, of course.
'Heard about your pops,' Daryl says and Beth freezes. 'I'm sorry.'
Beth doesn't know what to say to that. After his confession two years ago, it would be stupid to think that he cares. If he doesn't, he is the biggest hypocrite she's ever met.
'Thank you,' she goes for the simple answer.
The silence returns, and Beth can't help but feel desperate when she realises that she has missed him no matter what. She has even missed not talking to him, communicating with their eyes instead of words.
'I have to go and find Maggie,' Beth says, not knowing what else to do. Just being around him is too painful, knowing that he will never see her in the way she sees him. 'We can't leave daddy alone for too long,' she feels the need to explain and calls herself and idiot once more. It's not like he is interested anyway. He is probably only talking to her to be polite. Or because he pities her. 'It was nice seeing you, Daryl.'
No matter how much Beth wants her last words to be a lie, she really is happy to see him. Even if it doesn't mean anything and even if it is just for a minute.
Daryl doesn't say anything in return, but Beth doesn't expect him to. Instead, she turns around and heads in the opposite direction from him, the thought of finding Maggie in the back of her mind and her heart clenching with pain.
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