This thing that has been kicking around my hard drive for a while and I've decided to give it a dust off and a polish. It's a bit of a backwoods horror story wrapped up in a romance.
There's some Ed in here, so be warned, but trust that I hate him as much as you guys do so don't get too worried.
Carol leaned her forehead against the car window, watching the trees pass by and letting the yellow lines on the road blur as the car made it's way through the woods.
They were heading for the cabin and she was more than a little excited about this particular trip. It was a rare occurrence. The product of bad fights between her and Ed that left her more than black and blue and him with a guilty conscience. He'd wake her up the next morning with a kiss on the cheek, coffee waiting on the table and an announcement that they deserved some quiet time away.
That she deserved to have a nice weekend and he wanted to make her happy. To make it up to her.
They'd visited this place four times in the last two years. Once after he dislocated her shoulder with a hard slam into the bedroom door. Once after she took an assisted tumble down a flight of stairs. Once when two fingers needed a cast for six weeks. And now today, the fourth time.
She'd committed the awful offense of not answering her phone before the sixth ring while she'd been at the store, setting him into a rage once she returned. Calling her a cheating whore and questioning what else she could have possibly been doing that took her six rings if she wasn't otherwise occupied blowing some other guy. Then he'd attempted to carve his own name into her lower back with a drunken hand and a pocket knife.
She struggled more than usual that time. It was one thing to take a smack upside the head or a right hook and another thing entirely to lie still while someone took a sharp object to you. The will to survive was strong, even after all this time and she'd fought back like she hadn't done since the very first day he hit her. When she hit him back and ended up with two black eyes and a broken rib for her efforts.
She never did that again. Until a week prior when he broke out that knife and straddled her and she couldn't control her reactions. Flailed wildly enough to make him forget his plans entirely and rain blows on her instead until she was slack against the floor.
A few multicolored bruises that still littered her arms and legs and a half formed capital E were her last reminders of that night. Nearly a week later she was healed over enough that she didn't have to bandage it any longer and it only hurt when she bent over so he declared her fit enough to go on a trip. Told her to pack her things and get ready for a weekend of relaxation and that's exactly what she'd done.
Normally, Carol would dread a trip. It was just another location for him to fly off the handle about something and in most cases secluded places were the last thing she wanted to visit, but not this time. The cabin was the one place she looked forward too, even with Ed. He would say this was an attempt at redemption, to show her he was sorry, but she knew better. The fishing was good here and he spent almost the entire time on the lake. Telling her to do whatever she wanted with her free time and that she'd earned it.
'Whatever she wanted' was always a chance to walk the trails. Densely covered in woods that merged with a national forest the trails were quiet, peaceful and it was a welcome reprieve from her daily life.
So when Ed wrapped a hand around hers as they flew down the road that twisted and turned, leading them further and further into the back country of Georgia she only squeezed it back. This would be a good weekend.
The gas station in the one stop light town was small and dusty and only good for three things. Gas, the bathroom and coffee.
"Grab two coffee's while I get the gas, babe." Ed handed her the money, exact change for two medium coffees and she nodded to him before moving to leave the car. Felt his hand tugging at her wrist to stop her. "Remember to make it warm, not hot. Last time it burned like hell. Warm."
He said it with a smile and a sweet tone but she knew this was non negotiable. The coffee needed to come back warm and if she had the ability to take a thermometer with her and make it a perfect 88 degrees she would have done so.
"Of course. Warm. Got it." She smiled and headed off into the store. The coffee section was at the back and she made a beeline for two cups. Filled them three fourths of the way and added the required amounts of creamer and sugars. Two of each for her and four of each for Ed. If he decided it was too sweet or too creamy she could switch them. Finished by putting a couple ice cubes in both to lower the temperature.
Carol popped the lids on the cups with a quick snap and turned around to head for the register, running smack into the chest of another person, spilling both coffees all over the front of his shirt and down his pants.
"What the…" The voice that came from her current victim was shocked with more than a hint of annoyance and she shrank back, sucked in a hard breathe and began spewing as many apologies as she possibly could in his direction.
He had amazing arms. That was the first thing she noticed and she immediately pushed that thought away and scolded herself. This wasn't the time to be ogling anyone. She had more important things to worry about right now.
"It's all right. Not like I don't got other shirts. Damn good thing that coffee wasn't hot as shit like it always is though." He grabbed a few napkins and started dabbing up the coffee from his arms and fixed her with an annoyed glare that lacked any real anger.
She knew the difference by now. Had become an expert at deciphering body language and facial expressions.
"I'm so sorry, I don't know what I was thinking." She trailed off, not sure what else to say or do and suddenly realized she didn't have money for two more coffees. The cashier had seen the entire incident go down and if her luck held true then the plump and surly looking woman behind the counter would require she pay for the spilled ones too.
Panic suddenly overwhelmed her. They hadn't even gotten to the cabin yet and she was already well on her way to pissing Ed off enough that he might just turn around again, or worse.
This new stranger seemed to notice the change in her demeanor and his expression softened just a bit. "Hey, I said it's fine. Ain't no big thing."
She shook her head in his direction. He had no idea how much of a big thing it actually was. "It's not that, I just…nothing. It'll be ok. It's fine." And with that she finished mopping up the counter with paper napkins and set about fixing two more coffees, hoping that she might be able to slide through without getting charged double.
"You sure you're all right? You look worse off than me and I'm the one covered in lukewarm coffee."
He seemed sincere when he asked and she tried to quiet the shaking in her hands as she reached for the fresh cups. "I'm fine. Thank you. And I'm sorry again about your shirt."
He only nodded and watched her approach the counter. The cashier rung her up with a snide glare and the total on the screen read double the charge. Just as she had suspected it would. Her heart sank. She would have to go back and ask Ed for more money. The cashier, Vilma if Carol was going off the worn name tag only stood there and waited, tapping her fingers against the counter and raising an eyebrow.
Carol didn't move. Her feet rooted to the spot she was in, indecision overtaking her. It wasn't like she had any other options anyway. She couldn't just run out the back door after all. Heavy footsteps stopped behind her and a gruff voice floated up to an unimpressed Vilma.
"I got it. Ring hers up with mine." He deposited several packages of beef jerky and a bottled water on the counter and asked for twenty on pump seven.
"Oh, you don't need to do that. Really."
"Already done." And it was because no sooner had she protested did the cashier ring everything up and take his money while staring him up and down with a worse version of the look she gave Carol.
"You sure that's all you got, boy?"
He huffed at her and rolled his eyes. "You wanna check my damn pockets? Don't we do this every time I come in here?"
Vilma hummed out a disapproving sound and tossed his change on the counter instead of handing it to directly to him.
"You have a good day, Vilma. Always a pleasure."
His voice was saccharin sweet and Carol wondered why this exchange was a regular occurrence between them. He seemed nice enough far as she could tell. Looked like he belonged in the backwoods permanently if you were going off his clothes and accent, but he had kind eyes despite the disgruntlement and clearly she wasn't that off base since he'd just bought her coffee.
"Thank you for that."
The corner of his mouth twitched up just slightly in return as he nodded and exited the building.
Twenty seconds later she delivered the coffee to Ed with him totally unaware of what had occurred inside and the stress she felt only moments before slowly ebbed away as he commented on the perfect temperature and started talking about all the fishing he was going to do this weekend.
She had dodged this bullet and things were looking up now. Maybe, just maybe, this would be a relaxing weekend after all.
The cabin they pulled up to wasn't their usual accommodations. The property management company had already booked that one prior to their call so they were given one set further back into the woods this time, but closer to the lake.
The tiny cabin was brown and worn with a big front porch and no neighbors for miles. In fact she hadn't even seen another car for the last fifteen minutes they were on the road.
"Oh it's so cute. I love it." Her voice was genuine and Ed smiled back at her.
"I thought you might, sweetheart. It's extra quiet out here. Nothing but birds and deer. You can hike till your heart's content or whatever else you wanna do."
She felt relieved at that. Was glad that he'd suggested what he usually did. That she fill her time however she pleased. These trips were the one occasion where he didn't try to schedule her every waking hour.
Guilt was a strong thing she supposed. This time it worked out in her favor.
They unpacked the car in short order and hauled everything into the cabin. Small but open, the entire space was visible from the door except for the bedroom and bathroom. It was cozy and warm with rustic wooden beams fixed to the ceiling and modern appliances dotting the kitchen.
She set about making sandwiches for lunch with supplies they'd brought with them, which they both downed in relatively short order before Ed announced he was going out to the lake for the remainder of the evening.
It was only half past three. She would have the rest of the day to herself until dusk and the excitement was a palpable thing. As was the relief she felt when he was finally out of sight.
She couldn't wait to get out on the trails. Didn't bother trying to find something else to do, just grabbed a bottled water and a map and started her trek toward a semi familiar trail head.
This particular one took her away from the lake and further into the woods. There was a waterfall at the end, though she often had trouble finding it. One of those tricky things that you could hear but not always see unless you were right on top of it. The entire loop was roughly two miles. Enough to stay out and linger but not too much that she wouldn't be back in time to cook dinner.
The weather was warmer than usual for late September and she shucked her long sleeve top, tying it around her waist and leaving only the tank under it as she made her way down the trail.
Carol barely made it a mile in before a deer stopped her in her tracks. Smack in the middle of her path it stood there munching on grass or leaves or whatever it was that deer ate and she simply stared. Must have shifted her weight, because sticks crunched beneath her feet and the deer wasted no time in bolting.
A muttered curse wafted up from her right and her heart suddenly started beating in over drive.
"Dammit. Ya scared it."
Carol had never seen other people out here before. Granted she'd been in different parts of the woods then, but still. She hadn't expected to see another living soul during her stay, let alone on the first night. When the familiar face of her gas station rescuer came into full view she relaxed just slightly.
"Oh, it's you." His tone seemed confused and she felt her wariness ease away. If he was there to murder her he probably wouldn't have seemed surprised at her appearance.
She chanced him a smile and kept her voice light when she responded. "You stalking me?"
He didn't seem to find the joke funny or didn't bother to get it because he only scowled. "No. Huntin' and you're out here scarin' off all my game."
The hard look on the face of a man carrying a loaded bow should have scared her more than it actually did but she only found herself noting that this one didn't like to be teased, and filed it away for future reference. Then wondered why she was even thinking about any further situations involving him.
He wasn't exactly coming home with her. She'd probably never see him again.
"Sorry. Didn't expect to see anyone out here. Are you on vacation?"
He shook his head. "Nah. Live just up the way. Bout three miles." He pointed in the direction of his home, his eyes suddenly seeming to realize that she was wearing far fewer clothes than before and they were free to roam over her bare arms, which is exactly what they did and a wince passed over his face.
They locked eyes for a moment and in that instant she knew that he knew. Could see the realization become evident as he took in the purple and yellow bruises along her forearms and wrists.
"It's nothing." She said dismissively and he scowled even harder. A feat she hadn't thought possible.
"Don't look like nothin'. Looks like a whole lotta somethin'."
She suddenly felt completely exposed and self conscious and wanted to be anywhere but here, with someone else seeing the evidence of what her life had become and so she backed away a few steps, turned to leave before she could give him any more ammunition to judge.
If that was even what he was doing. She couldn't be sure anymore. Everyone judged, didn't they? It was human nature after all.
"I should go. I'm scaring away your game anyway. Good luck with the rest of your hunt." She threw the words over her shoulder, not bothering to fully turn.
"Hey! What's your name?"
She was a good ten feet away by now but stopped and responded anyway. Wasn't even sure why she bothered but something about the concern in his voice seemed less judgmental than she'd first assumed and she gave him her name before she could stop herself.
He nodded to her and replied with his own. His voice somewhat shy when he spoke. "Daryl Dixon."
They both stood there for a moment longer than required, sizing each other up and apparently coming to similar conclusions because he returned the hesitant smile she gave him before turning on her heels and heading back to the cabin.