Very random. I don't even know what this is but I really needed to get it out.
"Matty! Watch out!" Beth calls out but it's too late and the five-year-old slams into the two men coming down the stairs, the impact of the hard body knocking him backwards. She is carrying two bags of groceries in her arms and doesn't reach him in time.
"Watch it, kid," one of the men growls.
There are two men and he's the older of the two, stocky and muscular with a shaved head and a nose that looks like it's been broken a few times. He smells like cigarette smoke and beer and he doesn't even stop as he turns and heads down the next flight of stairs. She pushes herself closer to the wall as he walks past her.
The other man is a bit younger than the first with too-long dark hair and a tee-shirt that shows off the muscles in his arms.
He doesn't say anything but he stops and picks Matty up, setting him on his feet once more.
"Thank you," Beth smiles at the man as she finally reaches the landing.
"Thank you!" Matty exclaims excitedly, Beth having already taught him manners.
The man just grunts though and doesn't say anything as he continues on down the stairs after the first man and Beth tells Matty that he has to be more careful when he's running.
She had always wanted to be a mother. She just hadn't expected it to happen as soon as it did but she had made mistakes and decisions and now that she is a mom, she won't change it for the world. Matty is her entire world and she loves him more than anything.
Her parents have always been a big help, of course, once they got past their anger and disappointment. They helped her in any way they could and while she attended culinary school, they would watch Matty during the day. She worked as hard as she could and went year-round so she could graduate sooner rather than later and she was convinced that for three years of her life, she ran on two hours of sleep every night.
But it was worth it in the end because she was able to graduate and she had been able to save some money living with her parents. Her parents had been unsure about her and Matty moving out and getting their own apartment but Beth was ready. She was ready to start living her life and raising her son without relying on her parents so much.
The apartment is small with two tiny bedrooms, one window that seems to always be stuck shut and a bathtub drain that seems to clog at least once a week but it's home and they love it. The elementary school where Matty attends kindergarten is just a block away and the kitchen gives her enough room for her business. They're not rich by any means but she is working hard to give her son a comfortable life and that's all that matters to her.
It's not the first time she's noticed the neighbors across the hall. They're loud. Or at least one of them is. The older of the two. He's always coming back at all hours of the night, loud and clearly drunk, banging into the walls as he walks and more than once, whatever female companion who he has brought back with him has been pressed against Beth's door as they kiss for a few minutes before he drags the woman into his own apartment.
The second one is much quieter. She never hears a peep out of him. He leaves the apartment in the mornings and gets back in the afternoon and Beth can't help but wonder what his job is. And the only reason she knows his schedule is because she works from home and she's always been observant of those around her.
She doesn't know anything else about the two men. She doesn't even know their names. All she does know is she prefers the much quieter of the two.
She loves working from home. She's able to walk Matty to school and pick him up at lunch. The kindergarten classes either meet in the morning or the afternoon and he's in the am class. His teacher is Ms. Espinosa and Rosita is young and funny and all of the kids and parents love her. It's her first year teaching full-time and she made a promise to all of the parents on the first day that she would do her best not to screw their children up too much.
Beth loved her instantly.
Beth waits in the hallway for class to end with other parents and when the door bursts open and students flood out, Matty doesn't. Curious, Beth walks to the classroom and pokes her head in. He is sitting on the floor, his tongue pursed through his lips and he's attempting to tie his shoe. Rosita is kneeling beside him, watching with an amused smile.
"Hey," Beth says, earning their attention.
"Hi," Rosita smiles and gets to her feet, walking towards her. "I told him I could tie it for him but he wants to do it himself."
Beth laughs a little. "Greene's are very stubborn," she informs her.
"You bake cupcakes, right?" Rosita asks, swiftly changing subjects.
"Yes," Beth nods. "Right now, I'm just an online bakery from my kitchen. Hopefully, someday, I'll have enough money saved for my own store."
"My 25th birthday is coming up and I would love cupcakes," Rosita says.
Beth tries to hide her elation. "Here," she pulls out one of the business cards that her brother had given her for a birthday present that year from her purse. "You can go online and look at what I make and place your order there, too."
"Perfect. Thank you!" Rosita takes the card with a beaming smile.
"Got it!" Matty exclaims as he bounces to his feet.
"Good job, Matty," Rosita holds her hand out and he happily slaps it.
Beth laughs. "See you tomorrow. Come on, Matty." She holds her hand out and he takes it, giving Rosita one last wave as they leave the classroom.
As they walk home, Matty kicks at a rock and runs ahead to keep up with it. Beth watches him with a close eye and Matty kicks the rock to the bottom step of their apartment building where he is sitting, smoking a cigarette.
"Hi!" Matty greets him excitedly, happy to see him as if Matty has always known him.
The man looks at him for a moment. "Hey," he grunts and Beth notices that the next drag he takes from his cigarette, he turns his head and exhales so the smoke's not near Matty. And then, even though the cigarette isn't nearly finished, he then flicks it away. His eyes glance up to Beth as she comes to stand behind Matty.
"Hi," she smiles politely. "I'm Beth and this is Matty."
Matty grins widely and sticks his hand out. The man looks at it briefly and then with a little smirk, he reaches out and shakes it.
"Daryl," he offers gruffly.
Beth's not sure why but she thinks that name fits him perfectly.
He gets to his feet, towering over them both, and without a word, he steps down onto the sidewalk and then begins walking away.
"Bye, Daryl!" Matty calls after him happily.
He doesn't turn around or act as if he has even heard. Matty doesn't seem to mind and he jumps up the steps of the building. Beth's not sure why she keeps watching Daryl's retreating form but she can't seem to bring herself to look away.
She knows his last name is Dixon. The mailboxes in the lobby are labeled with their last names. She is Greene in apartment seven and he is Dixon in apartment eight. Daryl Dixon. She thinks of his name over and over again as she mixes the batter for her chocolate peanut-butter cupcakes.
She thinks of his long hair in need of a cut and the grey hairs on his chin and she wonders how old he is. He doesn't seem that old at all. Older than her but maybe by not that much. She thinks of the way his arms look in the tee-shirts he wears and she's never considered herself a girl into muscles but she certainly in now after seeing Daryl Dixon's arms.
She thinks of the way she had nearly shivered when he had spoken his name. His voice was low and rough and it was delicious.
She then thinks of how long it's been since she's had sex and that is probably the only reason she can't stop thinking of the man who lives across the hall.
Beth has always loved Halloween and Matty is the same way. He's been planning his costume for a month now and Beth has made sure that she has executed it as well as she could. She probably got high off all of the grey spray paint but when she slips the cardboard box over his head and sees Matty's smile explode, she knows it's been worth it.
"I'm the coolest robot ever!" Matty exclaims as he looks at himself in the full-length mirror hanging on the inside of Beth's closet door and she laughs, nodding in agreement.
"Ready to go?" She asks and he runs out of the bedroom.
Matty looks forward to trick-or-treat night as much as he does to Christmas and his birthday and before Beth can even close their apartment door, he's knocking on door number eight. It takes a moment but then they both hear the tumble of locks.
"Trick or treat!" Matty exclaims the instant he sees Daryl and he holds up his pillowcase.
Daryl looks at him for a moment and then he slowly shakes his head. "Sorry, kid," he says and that's all he has to say for Matty's smile to drop from his face.
"Come on, Matty," Beth says, trying to usher him away from the door and down the hall.
"Wait," Daryl suddenly speaks before they can leave.
They stop and he's gone for a moment, disappearing into the apartment, and Beth can hear some rustling around. The apartment is a mirror image of hers. Just reversed – the little entrance hall and the kitchen just to the left of that where her kitchen is to the right. She's not sure what they're waiting for but then Daryl appears again.
"Here," he says and drops a wrapped Ding-Dong into Matty's pillowcase.
Matty's smile instantly returns again. "Thank you!" He looks up at Daryl as if in awe of him and Daryl gives his head a nod before taking a step back into the apartment.
Before he closes the door, his eyes flick to Beth and she smiles at him, hoping her smile conveys how much this little action of his meant to both Matty and her, and he stares at her for a moment before giving her a slight head nod and closing the apartment door.
She drops Matty off at kindergarten and then drives to the grocery store. She loves this town because it's small and walking to most places is possible but she always takes the car when she goes grocery shopping.
It's still a little empty at this early morning hour and she grabs a cart, taking her time as she walks through each section and up and down each aisle. She buys fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh meat from the butcher and tries to buy somewhat healthy things because she's a baker and she obviously has a sweet tooth but she tries hard to make sure that sweets aren't the only thing she and Matty eat. But she also stocks up on sugar, flour, butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar because these are things that pay the bills.
She leaves the baking aisle and heads towards the dairy case for milk when she sees him. He's holding a basket in his hand and he's grabbing a half gallon of milk. She wonders if she should just pretend she doesn't see him but she knows she can't do that. She's not designed that way. So instead, with a smile already blooming across her face, she pushes her cart towards the milk cases and towards him.
"Hi, Daryl," she says and his head instantly turns towards her. He stares at her with hard eyes for a moment and she feels her cheeks blush. "I'm Beth, your neighbor…" she tells him and she feels embarrassed because she's never considered the possibility that he doesn't remember her.
He gives her a weird look then. "I know who you are," he says with a slight frown. "Jus' wasn' expectin' to see you here right now."
"I just dropped Matty off at kindergarten and shopping this early is the best time," she says, her smile once again appearing on her face. "What about you? Aren't you usually at work?"
He gives her another look at that; probably wondering how she knows where he's supposed to be and when. "Been workin' so much overtime lately, my boss said that he's bound legally by law to give me a day off. He gave me three," he then shrugs and Beth laughs a little at that.
She's about to ask him where he works but then her eyes fall to his basket and the contents inside. A loaf of white bread, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of potato chips and now the milk.
"Would you like to come over to my place for dinner tonight?" She hears herself blurt out before she even really realizes it.
Beth isn't sure why she's so nervous. Actually, that's not true. She knows exactly why she's nervous. She hasn't had anything to do with a man in so long. Not since getting pregnant with Matty and after that, she didn't have time for anything else.
But now, she's invited Daryl over for dinner and she can't believe he actually accepted. She had just planned on chili for dinner and she's still going through with that and she's making fresh cornbread, too. Even though she doubts that Daryl is the type of man to care, she spends the morning, cleaning the apartment, stopping to go pick Matty up and once they're back home, she tells him to pick up some of his toys from the living room.
She notices how excited Matty is once she tells him that Daryl's coming over for dinner. Matty has men in his life – her daddy and older brother, Shawn, and brother-in-law, Glenn. But never a man not related to them before and Matty seems to like Daryl so much. Not that it matters much because Daryl is just their neighbor and he's just coming for dinner and that's all this is.
She's told Daryl to come over at five and at exactly five, there is a knock on the door. Matty runs to answer it and Beth is right behind him, turning the lock and opening the door to reveal Daryl Dixon standing in the hallway. He's wearing the jeans and tee-shirt he had been wearing in the store that morning but Beth can smell the scent of clean soap, too.
She smiles at him. "Hi," she says and commends herself for not acting as if she has a thousand butterflies flapping around in her stomach.
"Hey," Daryl gruffly offers.
"Hi!" Matty exclaims and then grabs Daryl's hand, pulling on him. "Mama made chili!"
Daryl looks at her. "Smells good," he offers in his grunt and she smiles.
Matty pulls Daryl into the apartment, excitedly wanting to show him all of his Halloween candy and his collection of dinosaur toys, and Beth still feels nervous as she closes the door and follows them into the living room though she has no idea. This is anything. It's just her neighbor over for dinner and it's not like she wants it to be anything anyway.
"Would you like something to drink, Daryl?" She asks. "I have water, iced tea…"
Daryl is quiet for a moment and then looks to Matty. "What are you havin'?"
"Apple juice," Matty grins and Daryl nods, glancing back to Beth.
"I'll have some of that, too," he says and Beth smiles as Matty giggles.
She's relieved her son is just like her and is a little chatterbox. She normally would be, too, but Daryl is making her so nervous, she feels like she hardly remembers how to eat let alone carry on a conversation.
And it's not as if Daryl's doing anything that makes her nervous. Him just being there is doing it. He sits at her kitchen table and eats his bowl of chili and slice of cornbread and he's just such a man. His mere presence takes up the entire room.
Matty talks the whole meal, telling Daryl all about kindergarten and how his mama is a baker and bakes from the kitchen and he asks Daryl question after question with a five-year-old curiosity that would rival that of any lawyer's.
But in doing so, Beth finds out things about him that she has wondered. The other man in the apartment with him is his older brother, Merle, but Merle's been away for a few days and when he says that, Beth notes it has been quieter in the hallways at night. He's been living in town for a few months and he works as a mechanic at one of the auto garages.
He doesn't talk a lot but any question that Matty has, Daryl answers.
He has two bowls of chili and three pieces of cornbread and Beth wonders if he really likes her chili or if he's just tired of eating peanut butter sandwiches.
After dinner, Beth tells Matty to go get himself ready for bed and she'd be there in a minute. They are both taken aback when Matty suddenly leans in and hugs Daryl around the waist. Daryl freezes and doesn't move but Matty doesn't seem to notice.
"Bye, Daryl!" He calls out as he runs to his bedroom.
Beth walks him to the door. "Thank you for coming," she says and the butterflies haven't left her stomach all evening and now, standing close to him once again, they are wild.
"Thanks for havin' me," he says, looking at her face for only a second before he looks away again. He can't seem to look at her for too long. "He's a cool kid," Daryl then grunts and Beth smiles because she couldn't agree more.
He stands in the doorway for another second and she wonders what it is about this man that she doesn't want him to leave just yet. But Daryl turns then and heads back across the hall, going into his own apartment and closing the door without looking back at her, and Beth stands there for another moment before she is finally able to close her own door.
She bakes three dozen cupcakes for Rosita's birthday and when she delivers them to Rosita's little house, being decorated with balloons and streamers, Rosita invites for her to come back for the party later that night. Beth can't remember the last party she's been to that didn't have a superhero theme and she hears herself accepting the invitation.
She calls her parents to see if they can watch Matty for the night and she then returns home to get herself ready. Her mom knocks on the door as she's deciding which dress to wear and Beth promptly pulls Annette into her bedroom to help her. She decides on a black – slightly short and tight – dress that Maggie had bought her last year and she has had no occasion to wear it. She braids and pins her hair up around her head and she studies herself in the mirror.
She wonders how tonight will be. She's only twenty-three but she's always felt so much older than others her age. She supposes getting pregnant at seventeen and having a baby at eighteen could do that to a person. She wonders if tonight, she might act her age.
After kissing Matty a few times and making him promise that he'll be good for Grandma, Beth leaves the apartment, feeling nervous and wondering how long she'll stay.
The party is in full swing when she arrives and despite the chill in the air that night, the front door is open and the house inside is stifling from all of the people. Music is pouring from the speakers and people are dancing in the living room and there are bodies everywhere. Somehow, though, Rosita spots her.
"Beth!" She hurries towards her in a skintight red dress and a birthday tiara in her black hair. "My god, you look so hot!" She exclaims and is clearly a little tipsy but Beth smiles and flushes all the same at the compliment. "Let's get you a drink!" She grabs her hand and with that, she tugs her towards the kitchen.
The counter is jammed with all sorts of liquor bottles and there is a plastic tub on the floor, filled to the brim with ice and beer bottles. On the table, there is food and Beth sees that almost all of her cupcakes are gone already.
Beth studies the bottles in front of her and she's not sure what to have but before she can tell Rosita that she doesn't think she'll have anything, Rosita is pulled away by another one of her guests and Beth looks around, wondering where she can go. There are so many people and though she recognizes many of them, she is feeling so awkward for some reason though she had never been the sort to feel like that in a social setting.
"Know what you wan'?" A familiar gruff voice asks from behind her and she instantly turns, smiling as soon as her eyes fall on Daryl standing there, looking down at her.
And cue the butterflies.
She admits to him that she's never drank alcohol before – doesn't even use liqueur in any of her desserts – and Daryl doesn't seem too surprised when she tells him that.
Daryl grabs a red plastic cup and she watches as he mixes her a drink. Cranberry juice and just a splash of vodka. He hands it to her and watches as she takes her first sip. She can barely taste the alcohol and she smiles at him. She may be wanting to cut loose tonight but that doesn't mean she wants to get home, trashed.
She wonders how Daryl knows Rosita but Rosita is the kind of girl who knows everyone.
He pulls a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and he pops one in his mouth. He cocks his head towards the back door and she smiles, heading outside, Daryl following behind and they walk towards the edge of the backyard where there are two empty lawn chairs. Beth sits down, making sure her dress doesn't ride up too high on her thighs and Daryl plops down, cupping his hands around the cigarette as he lights it and then blows the first stream of smoke away from her.
Even though the music is pouring out of the house and they can hear all of the people inside, it's quieter out here and Beth tilts her head up, looking at the stars and she takes another sip of her drink.
"How do you know Rosita?" She finally asks, looking back to him, finding that he's already looking at her.
Daryl shrugs. "Her cousin works at the same garage as me. She's always in there, complain' 'bout her mom to him." He takes another drag of his cigarette and she smiles at the thought, easily able to imagine Rosita doing that. "How 'bout you?" He asks.
"She's Matty's kindergarten teacher and I baked the cupcakes for tonight," she says.
"I didn' know that. Had three of 'em. They're good," he says and she smiles at the compliment before taking another sip of her drink.
"Is your brother back?" She asks though she doubts he is. The hallway is still quiet.
Daryl shakes his head and taps cigarette ash onto the grass. "You'd know if he was."
She feels herself relaxing a little bit more and she settles back into the chair. They don't talk. Daryl smokes his cigarette and Beth sips her drink and sitting out here with this handsome, albeit slightly rough around the edges, man, she finds herself enjoying her first adult party quite a lot.
"The last party I went to was in high school," she begins speaking without even really thinking about what she's saying. She just knows that sitting there with Daryl, even with the butterflies in her stomach, she feels relaxed in a way she rarely feels. "After that, I had Matty and I was in school and I didn't have time for anything else. I had a baby. I didn't want to go out partying. I probably missed so much that others my age do."
Daryl is quiet and she doesn't expect him to say anything.
But he does. "Didn' miss much of anythin' except for people bein' idiots," he says before taking a drag and she smiles against the rim of her cup before taking another sip. "Figured you were young when you had the kid."
"Yeah…" Beth doesn't really want to talk about that but somehow, she knows that if she tells anything to Daryl, he'll keep it to himself and not judge her for it. "I was seventeen and thought I was in love. Isn't that how it usually goes? And my boyfriend at the time – Matty's dad – didn't think a girl could get pregnant her first time."
He snorts a little at that and Beth looks at him. His eyes meet hers.
"Sorry," he says, looking genuinely apologetic but she just smiles a little.
"It's alright. Trust me. I know how stupid it sounds," she says and does her best to keep smiling though it's a part of her past that she really doesn't want to remember because it sounds so stupid. It is stupid. And because she blindly believed her boyfriend without question, she now has a child. She loves Matty with her whole heart but her entire life could have all been completely different if she had just done one thing differently.
Isn't that how it usually goes?
But if she didn't have Matty, she wouldn't have someone she loved completely and she wouldn't have someone who loved her. And if she didn't have Matty, she never would have moved into that apartment building and she never would have met Rosita and she never would be sitting out here in the cool night with Daryl Dixon.
When Beth decides it's time for her to get home, she gives a very drunk Rosita a hug and Daryl gives her a look as if she's crazy when she tells him that she's walked. He's got his pickup truck and he's driving her home.
Beth does her best to hide her smile.
The ride isn't long and they don't talk during the short drive. Daryl parks in the parking lot beside the building and they walk into the building together. They live on the second floor and they climb the stairs together and every once in a while, Beth feels her hand brush against his and she feels tingles shoot directly down her spine each time.
She wonders if he feels anything like that, too.
She wonders if this is how a typical twenty-three year old feels after coming home late at night from a friend's birthday party.
"There you go. Safe and Sound," Daryl grunts as they stop outside their doors.
And Beth looks up at him and smiles and she tells herself to just say good night to him and go inside to relieve her mom of babysitting duty but she can't get herself to move.
She looks at him and there's just something about him. He's the most handsome man he's ever seen. He's gruff and she doesn't know anything about him but she can't stop staring at him. Is it just because she just misses having male companionship? No, she's never had that. Because in high school, there hadn't been any men. Just boys. Daryl is the first man she's not related to that she's ever really spent time with.
And she realizes that she really doesn't know how to act while around a man.
For not the first time in her life, she wishes she had her older sister's confidence.
"Good night," she says softly because she has absolutely no idea what else to say.
"G'night," Daryl says but he doesn't turn to unlock his door.
He is watching her and obviously waiting for her to go into her apartment first. And she tells herself to. Tells herself that she has to go check on Matty and get to bed herself. Tells herself that she doesn't know Daryl Dixon at all and all he knows about her is that she's a young single mom who needs a lesson on birth control.
She tells herself all of this and yet, she somehow manages to ignore herself.
"Good night, Daryl," she says once more and then without thinking it through, she pushes herself towards him and her lips find his cheek. It's just a split second but she feels the warmth of his skin and the scratchiness of his facial hair and she feels him stiffen.
She wants to run away, too embarrassed to do anything else.
But instead, she pulls her head back and looks up at him through her eyelashes and gives him a smile. A shy one but a smile nonetheless. Her heart is beating so fast in her chest, she swears that it's trying to break out through her ribcage.
"Good night," she says one more time before finally turning towards her door and unlocking it, she slips inside. Once it's closed firmly behind her, she exhales a deep breath.
"Beth?" Her mother's soft voice calls out from the living room.
Beth takes a step to go to her but before she can, she turns back towards the door and peeks through the peephole. She bites her lower lip and smiles to herself as she sees Daryl still standing out there in the hallway. Still not moving. And then, his hand slowly lifts to his cheek, touching where she had kissed him.
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