"I don't-" Daryl Dixon began to protest but it fell on deaf ears as it usually did when it came to suppertime and Grandma Liv just scooped another helping of pot roast, potatoes and carrots onto his plate as if he hadn't said anything at all. And knowing better then to tell her that he hadn't been looking for thirds, Daryl just sighed and began eating once again.
Olive Harper sat down at the round table in the chair next to her grandson and sipped on her glass of iced tea. She had had one plate of dinner and that had been more than enough for her. Now, she was going to take the time before she had to start washing dishes to look over Daryl. He was able to come over for dinner a couple of nights a week but she rarely took the time to actually just sit and look at him. She supposed it was because he looked too much like his daddy for her liking but underneath, he was all her and his grandpa and that's what mattered the most.
"Wha'? Daryl asked gruffly, more than aware of her eyes on him. He glanced towards her but then lowered his eyes back to his plate, knowing that whatever it was on her mind, she'd say it soon enough.
"So, when are you goin' to be bringin' that girl around for me to meet?" Liv asked.
Daryl's eyes flew up to her, surprise flashing in them before he was able to bring the usual blank mask over his face once again. He lowered his head to his plate, pretending to be putting all of his concentration in eating. "Don't know what you're talkin' 'bout," he finally muttered.
"Are you sayin' there's not a girl?" Liv continued watching him closely.
Daryl seemed to be making a great effort in not looking at her. "'course there's not. Where the hell you even get that idea?"
Liv frowned at him for swearing at her dinner table and poking out through his too-long hair, she could see the tips of his ears turning red because he knew she didn't like that.
She didn't say anything though. She just continued staring at him as he seemed to quite stubbornly refuse to meet her eyes again as he shoveled his food into his mouth, clearly not caring about manners anymore and just wanting to finish his meal as soon as possible.
Where did she get that idea? Simple. Daryl was her grandson and it didn't matter that he was forty years old and she was in her eighties. She loved this boy – and he would always be a boy to her – coming to live with her after his mama, her daughter, had died and Will Dixon had done them all a favor and left without a word to anyone. She had raised Daryl and had given him as good a life as she could, making up for the first horrible years of his life, his body still riddled with the scars that would always serve as a reminder to that.
There wasn't anyone living in this world she loved more than Daryl and she had the ability of reading this boy like a book. He had been so young when he had trained himself to every single thing he was thinking or feeling. That was the only way to survive in the Dixon house. And even though he had spent far more years with her in her home, those early years had such an impact on him, it had molded him into this man he was today.
Daryl hadn't mentioned a girl. Daryl never mentioned a girl. Had never liked getting close enough to anyone to date them or have any type of meaningful relationship with them. Liv had shown her grandson that there was love in this world but his horrible father still had a grip on him in some aspects of his life.
But she could tell. She could just tell. There was the slightest of differences that she knew that probably no one except her would be able to pick up on. Daryl had someone.
"What's her name?" Live asked.
Daryl finally glanced at her. "Stop."
She just smiled though. "You all finished?" She asked, looking down to the plate he had scraped clean.
"Yes, ma'am," he said and then before she could take the plate from him, he stood up himself and carried it to the sink.
Liv finished the rest of her iced tea and stood up. "You want dessert or you have to start headin' back?"
Daryl looked to the clock on the wall. He lived about two hours south in a small town with a small university. He had been hesitant to leave her years earlier but she had all buy pushed him out the door, telling him that he had to go find his own way in the world. And he had. He had gotten himself a good warehouse job at a good company and he was doing well for himself. He didn't think he had done anything special but Liv was so proud of him, sometimes she thought that she might burst.
"I have fresh rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream," she said and then gently pushed him back towards the table where he sat down in his chair once more without argument.
She hummed to herself as she took the pie out and began cutting him a generous slice.
"Her name's Beth," his gruff voice suddenly cut through the kitchen.
She smiled to herself and she went to the refrigerator to get the ice cream from the freezer. She didn't ask questions. Now that Daryl was talking, he would continue to do so at his own pace and if she interrupted with questions, he might clamp up and not talk at all.
"Met her a few weeks ago in a doughnut shop. Her boyfriend slapped her so I slugged him."
Liv didn't say anything to that. She scooped a generous portion of ice cream to go with the generous slice of pie and then brought the plate to Daryl at the table along with a clean fork. She didn't know how her grandson ate on the nights he didn't drive up here for dinner and she always wanted to fill him with food to the point of bursting.
She sat down in her chair once more and watched as he began eating.
"Been spendin' time together." He shrugged. "Pretty sure she feels like she owes me or somethin' like that. Tried to keep her 'way from me but she can't seem to take the hint."
Liv smiled at that. She liked the sound of this Beth already.
"Well, if you ever want to bring her around, I would love to meet her," was all she said.
Daryl didn't respond to that. Just ate his pie and ice cream and kept quiet. She wouldn't pester him any further on the matter – at least not tonight. Daryl called her almost every day to check up on her – he didn't like living away from her at her age – and she would be sure to casually ask him how Beth was during those conversations. This was the first girl her grandson had ever mentioned and she knew that that meant something – whether Daryl knew that himself or not.
Daryl looked over to Beth every few minutes the closer they got to Fairmount. Her fingers were clutched in the skirt of the dress she was wearing and he could see the whites of her knuckles. She had also stopped humming songs to herself and had now gone completely quiet. He hadn't known Beth that long but he had known her long enough to know that Beth being quiet like this was just damn unnatural.
"You ain't gotta be nervous," Daryl broke the silence, startling her with the suddenness of it.
She turned her head to him. "I'm meeting your grandmother, Daryl," she then informed him. "This is a very big deal whether you see it like that or not."
Daryl smirked, holding the wheel loosely with his left hand and dropping his right onto the seat between them. He wanted to hold her hand and brush his thumb along her knuckles but he still hesitated so much when it came to Beth and initiating contact between them. He figured it would probably always be like that; for as long as she stuck around. Most of him still couldn't believe he had any sort of right to touch her in the first place.
"Been talkin' 'bout you to her. She already loves you," Daryl told her.
"And from what you've told me about her, I'm sure you grandmother would love anyone you brought to meet her," Beth replied.
Daryl smirked again but didn't tell her just how wrong she was on that. Grandma Liv was like a mama wolf, snarling at anyone if she sensed danger. She was the way his own mama should have been towards him. Anne Dixon had done her best, trying to put herself between him and his old man whenever Will Dixon was looking to give him a beating, but she couldn't protect him all of the time. And what she could have done to save them all, she had never been able to do. She had never been able to just leave him.
And even though his mama died, everything in his life worked out in the end because he got to go live with Grandma Liv and that woman had saved his life in every way imaginable. He had gotten a shot at a somewhat normal life that Dixons didn't really get because of her.
If Daryl brought back a girl and Grandma Liv didn't like her or approve of her, the woman would not hold back and let them all know it.
He couldn't imagine her not liking Beth though. This girl was damn near perfect and he knew his grandma would take one look at Beth and know that for herself. He was glad he had never taken anyone to meet his grandma before; had never had anyone to introduce her to. He knew that this thing with her probably wouldn't last – how the hell could it? – but for the time being, for however long this did last, he was going to make the most of it. Because even though Grandma Liv had raised him and loved him, he was still Will Dixon's son and he just couldn't believe that someone like Beth would want anything to do with him. Not to mention that he was just too damn old for her.
He didn't say anything else until he pulled into the driveway of his grandma's little yellow house and turned the engine off. He sat there, looking at Beth, as she looked up at the house and he could hear that she was breathing a little faster now.
"You look real pretty today," he then heard himself say.
Beth instantly turned her head to look at him and he felt the tips of his ears turn red, embarrassed that he had said that, even as her face melted into that soft smile of hers.
"Thank you," she spoke to him in a soft voice and then leaned over the bench seat and kissed him lightly on the lips.
Daryl pulled himself out of the truck and then went around, opening her door for her. Beth slid down and once making sure that her dress was smoothly hanging down, she reached for his hand. He gave it a gentle squeeze back, not too sure what to do to keep her from being so damn nervous. There really was no reason for it. And he didn't know what to do to help make her less nervous because nothing he said seemed to help and yet, when he squeezed her hand, she looked to him and gave him a smile and that seemed to be all she needed him to do.
She was still getting to know Daryl and he didn't talk that much so what he did say, she listened to every single word and committed every bit of it to her memory so she would never forget. He didn't talk much of his past or family but what he did talk of, it was mostly about his grandma. Grandma Liv was the most important person in the world to him and Beth wanted the woman to like her so much. If Grandma Liv didn't like her, Beth couldn't expect Daryl to keep being with her.
Beth was falling completely in love with this man and she needed his grandma to like her.
And the moment she saw the older woman, she didn't know why she had been so nervous. Grandma Liv was a little woman with grey hair and the kindest watery blue eyes, which crinkled at the corners when she smiled. She was in her eighties but she didn't move like she was. As soon as Daryl opened the front door and let Beth step into the house first, Grandma Liv was in the living room and hurried to come greet them. Unlike most old women who went to the beauty parlor and got their hair cut short and styled once a week, Grandma Liv's hair was to the middle of her shoulder blades and styled back in a braid.
Beth smiled, still feeling nervous and shy, but Liv just smiled at her and without saying a word or needing an introduction, she simply pulled Beth into a hug and held her tight. Beth smiled to herself once more and hugged her in return and smelled the strong scent of peppermint on the woman's sweatshirt. Daryl had mentioned once that his grandma drank a ridiculous amount of tea and Beth wondered if she had just had a cup before they arrived.
"It is so nice to finally meet you, Beth," Liv said once she had pulled back. She then put her hands on Beth's shoulders and held her back at arm's length so she could look her over.
Beth felt her stomach clench and she smiled once more. "It's very nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Harper," she said and felt Daryl close the door behind her and come to stand right behind her shoulder, as if he was offering himself in case she needed to lean back against him. And she seriously considered it but she didn't want his grandma to think she couldn't stand on her own two feet. She knew that Daryl had probably told the woman how they had met.
Liv's eyes twinkled at the address. "Liv or Grandma, if you don't mind," she smiled. She then looked to Daryl, going to her grandson and pulling him down for a hug. "How was the drive?" She asked him.
"'s a'right," Daryl shrugged.
"You two must be tired. Beth, would you like somethin' to drink? Daryl, show her where the bathroom is. Goodness, I raised you better than that," Liv said. "Iced tea?" She then asked, looking to Beth.
"That sounds wonderful, thank you," Beth smiled and Liv turned, heading into the kitchen and Daryl reached down, sliding his fingers between hers and leading her down a hallway.
"Oh, is this you?" Beth then asked, stopping to look at a few photographs on the wall.
She knew it wasn't though the instant she asked. It looked just like him but the photo was in black and white and the man was wearing a hard hat on his head, face dirty but his teeth white as he smiled widely.
"Nah, that's my Great Uncle Travis, one of my grandma's brothers. He was a miner up in Kentucky. Died when I was lil' from a cave-in," Daryl said, coming to stand beside her and look at the photograph as well. "Almost all my family up there was or is miners."
"Do you go back to Kentucky often?" Beth asked, looking away from the photograph and tilting her head up to him. She knew he had family up in Kentucky, in the Appalachian mountains, but he didn't talk about them much – not like she talked about her family.
"Take Grandma up there at least three times a year," Daryl answered.
"You look just like your Uncle," Beth then said with a small smile, glancing back to the photograph before back to Daryl.
He didn't say anything to that. He had gone quiet and Beth knew him well enough now to know that he was going to be staying that way. There was something in what she had said. Maybe he didn't look that much like his Uncle Travis, in his opinion. Maybe he instead he looked like someone that he didn't want to talk about. When it came to anything about him, if they reached a particular subject – and it could be anything – Daryl would clamp right up and few things would get him to be open again.
She didn't say anything else after that and they continued down the hall, her eyes scanning over the other various photos that were hanging and she wondered about who they all were but she didn't ask.
"Bathroom's in here," Daryl grunted and reached into a small dark room and flipped the switch on the wall.
"Thank you," Beth gave him a small smile as she passed him, going into the bathroom and closing the door behind her.
Grandma Liv loved birds – a love passed down to her grandson – and in the small bathroom, there was a shower curtain with birds printed on it and matching towels. Seeing it, it made Beth smile.
She quickly relieved herself and then washed her hands with a pink little floral-scented soap shaped like a clamshell. She dried her hands and then took great care in folding the towel once more. She then took another moment to look at her reflection. She fixed her hair though there was no reason to and then smoothed her hands down her dress. Her stomach was still tight and Grandma Liv seemed so nice but she still didn't know what the woman thought of her. Of course, they had only just met for just a few seconds. The woman probably didn't have an opinion about her yet. Beth could only hope that once she did, the woman would like her instead of whispering to Daryl to stop seeing her.
When she finally opened the door, she jumped a little, seeing Daryl still standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall opposite of the door. He smirked a little at her reaction and she smiled, laughter in her eyes, her cheeks blushing.
"What are you doing?" She wondered.
He shrugged. "Didn' wan' you to get lost," he said.
Her stomach did a little flip then as she looked at him.
She really needed his grandma to like her.
Liv formed her opinion on Beth within seconds of seeing the girl for the first time. She reminded her of her daughter. Liv tried not to think of Anne because even so many years later, her only child had the ability to break her heart all over again. She and her husband, Chris, hadn't planned on having only one child. Chris had one sister – Barbara – and Liv came from a large family with many brothers and sisters. Chris loved his sister but always wanted more siblings and he wanted his children to have a big family around them.
But her pregnancy with Anne had been a hard one and she had bled so much during her labor, the doctor told her that her chances of having another baby were slim. And they were right. Liv and Chris were never able to have another baby and all of their love and attention was poured into Anne – named after her favorite sister still back in Kentucky.
Beth reminded Liv of the type of girl Anne was before she met Will Dixon. Both were bright and beautiful and bubbly. Daryl didn't know that because he had never seen his mom in any other way except for the broken and beat woman she was for his entire childhood before her death. But Liv looked at Beth and she reminded her so much of Anne, her Anne, she felt her breath catch in her throat more than one time that afternoon.
They sat on the couch beside one another, drinking glasses of iced tea as Liv, of course, had to show Beth photo albums of Daryl from throughout his childhood. Daryl sat in the chair across from them, drinking his own glass of iced tea and even though he was grumbling about his grandma insisting on embarrassing him, he didn't leave the room.
"Oh my goodness," Beth gasped once again as she turned a page in the album and looked at the picture of young Daryl holding a small trophy in his hands, smiling wide and proud. She leaned in to read the inscription on the trophy. She then looked at Daryl with a smile. "You won a spelling bee," she then stated.
Daryl didn't say anything. He just picked a spot on the wall behind their heads and stared at it.
"Three years runnin'," Liv boasted proudly. "But then he entered that age where bein' smart wasn' cool."
Daryl sighed and then stood up. "'m gonna get more iced tea. You wan' any?" He asked Beth, tilting his head down towards her glass.
Beth smiled up at him as if he just offered her a star from the sky. "I'm alright, thank you."
"He'll be hidin' in there for a while," Liv smiled and Beth laughed, turning to the next page in the photo album. "And that's Daryl and Clementine. Clemmie is my niece. Her mama is my sister, Anne. And Daryl and Clementine are jus' a few months apart and have been best friends for as long as anyone could remember," Liv said as Beth looked at a picture of a young Daryl and his cousin outside on a front porch of a home, both barefoot and their arms around one another and both missing their front tooth.
Beth smiled as she looked at it. "Is there a big age gap between you and your sister?" She asked, looking to the older woman.
"A few years but not many," Liv answered with a smile. "She has six children and there is a bit of a gap 'tween Clementine and Frank, her older brother and the last Anne had before Clemmie. And my own daughter, Anne, Daryl's mama, got an early start, I guess you could say," she said and Beth noticed the way the woman's smile dropped just slightly.
Beth quickly switched subjects. "Daryl says you go up to Kentucky a few times a year. Have you ever thought about moving back?"
"Oh, just about once a day," Liv said, smiling again, and Beth smiled, too. "But my husband and daughter are buried here and my other grandson, Merle, Daryl's brother, too. And Daryl's made a life for himself in Georgia this is the home I shared with my husband. It would be too hard to leave."
Beth smiled because all she wanted to do was have Daryl's grandma meet her daddy. Both seemed to have the same very strong thoughts and beliefs on family.
The oven timer beeped then Liv immediately stood up. "Hope you like meatloaf, Beth," she then smiled as Beth carefully closed the photo album and then stood up, smoothing her hands down her dress.
"I love meatloaf," Beth smiled and Liv laughed a little, ushering her towards the kitchen.
Yes, there was a bit of an age difference. Daryl was nearing forty and Beth was just twenty-one but Liv didn't have an issue with it. She had read more than one book on surviving childhood trauma and abuse and unfortunately, sometimes victims of abuse tended to have a stunted mental state. Not to say that Daryl was stupid. Not at all and she'd fight anyone who would ever say such a lie about her grandson. But more times than not, he reverted back to the age he was when his father beat him.
Liv would bet money on the fact that Daryl and Beth were probably on the same mental level. Age really didn't matter if two people – legal people, she should probably add – clicked like his grandson had clearly clicked with this young woman.
They spent the meal, eating and Beth answering questions Liv had about her. Beth was a senior in college – the small university in the same town where Daryl lived and worked – and she was a music major. She had been in the education program as well but had dropped out of it just a few months prior, realizing that maybe it wasn't for her after all. She was a good proper southern farm girl and Liv couldn't have asked for anyone better for Daryl. This boy deserved only the best and Beth seemed to be just that.
As Beth talked, Daryl would look at her, listening to her every word though he knew all of this about her already and he would look at her as if he couldn't quite believe that she was here, sitting with him at his grandmother's table.
It made Liv smile as she saw the look in his eyes as he looked at Beth. She remembered Chris looking at her like that.
"Honey, you do not have to do that," Liv said after they finished dinner and Beth began helping her clean up.
"Yes, I do," is all she said and Liv figured she might as well stay.
"Daryl told me how you two met," Liv decided to breech the subject as Daryl had gone outside to the garage to check her car out and make sure everything was alright even though he had just checked on her car the week before.
Beth's cheeks noticeably flushed. She nodded and didn't say anything.
Liv looked at her for a moment and then rubbed a hand on her back and leaned in, kissing her head. "I'm glad you're with Daryl," she then said in a gentle voice and soft smile.
Beth looked at her and smiled. "I'm really glad I'm with him, too," she said and Liv could see a slight bit of doubt in Beth's eyes and Liv felt as if she could read her mind.
She smiled again. "Trust me," she told Beth. "You and Daryl are definitely together. And I'll slap him up the head if that ever changes," she added and Beth laughed. "Would you like some tea?" She asked.
Beth nodded her head rapidly. She had tears glassing in her eyes but her smile was bright. "I would love some."