"He never gave up on finding her," said a voice from somewhere behind her. Carol Peletier didn't have to turn to know it was her friend Lori Grimes, but she did turn and met her dark brown eyes. "I see the way you look at him." Lori sat down. "Thought it was just gratitude at first, but it's more, isn't it?"
Carol's eyes darted back to Daryl. "It's not that." She fidgeted with her hands, unsure of how much she wanted to say. Her sole focus for so long had been finding Sophia. Lori was right, Daryl hadn't given up on finding her. He might have been the only one who hadn't. It was Daryl who had made her believe Sophia was still out there. She had admired his perseverance at the time and then hated him for giving her hope after Sophia walked out of that barn and she watched Rick shoot the monster that had taken over her baby girl's body. Now several weeks had passed since the worst moment of her life. Carol was healing, very slowly, from her loss, though lately she'd had something - someone - else on her mind.
Lori was right, there was something more, because Carol had a secret she'd been carrying with her since the little group lived at the quarry outside Atlanta. All the people she'd met since the turn were strangers, all but one. "I'm here if you want to talk about it." Carol jumped at Lori's voice. She had gotten lost in her thoughts again, forgetting she wasn't alone. "Or I can leave, whatever you need."
What do I need? Carol wondered. Her eyes turned once again to the warm, kind face of a woman she had grown to love like a sister. Lori was a mother, just like she was. Carol had gone through a bitter stage because Lori still had her child, but it passed as quickly as it came when Lori stepped up and offered her a shoulder whenever she needed it. It wasn't Lori's fault Sophia was dead. Part of Carol would always blame Rick. But she knew she had to move on or her rage would simply consume her.
Carol cleared her throat. "How much time do you have?"
Lori gave her a smile and leaned back against the tree behind her. "Whatever you need."
Carol honestly had no idea where to start so she just spoke the first words that came to mind. "I know him. Daryl. I knew him, a lifetime ago."
The shock and confusion was etched all over Lori's face. "What? How? You know each other?" Carol nodded and glanced in Daryl's direction again. He was on the other side of the large yard, sitting outside his tent sharpening a stick with a knife. Carol noticed he did that a lot. Sometimes he looked angry and other times he looked calm, but it seemed to be a mindless act he would turn to when he wanted to think. "I - don't - understand - " Lori said slowly.
Carol felt extremely nervous as she started her story. There was only one other person in the world who knew about her and Daryl, a childhood friend who moved away to go to College and never kept in touch. It was a secret she had carried around inside her for her entire adult life. "When I was 19 I worked in a diner." Here we go, Carol thought. Was she really ready to share this with someone? Was Lori the right person? One look at her friend's face and she knew she was making the right choice. "You're a bit younger than me, but do you remember the Gulf War?"
Lori still looked confused but she nodded. "Of course."
"We sent half a million troops overseas," Carol spewed the statistics that were burned in her brain. "And Daryl was one of them." Lori's jaw dropped but she closed her mouth without speaking. Carol could remember the first moment she saw him, sitting in the cafe in his uniform with a duffel bag on the floor beside him. "I met him the day he left." She knew she was smiling and it felt good. She hadn't smiled in a long time. "He was so handsome, so young and shy." Carol's smile widened and she met Lori's eye once again. "Before I walked over to take his order I saw him trying to look at me discretely, so I gave him a smile - " Carol paused. "And he smiled back." She could see it in her mind, that half smile, the way his eyes darted away from hers and then back, so shyly. "I ran into the back and fixed my hair," Carol said laughing at how silly it sounded, but she could still see her youthful reflection in that mirror - big, bright blue eyes, and a mass of dark brown curls held back with a pink ribbon.
"He was waiting for a bus to come pick him up and take him to an army camp for training before he was shipped overseas." Carol glanced to see if Lori was still interested and it was very evident she was. "He asked if I would sit down and talk to him for a while," Carol added. She distinctly remembered how his cheeks had burned bright red after he asked her and she knew it hadn't been easy for him. At the time she had wanted to sit down immediately but she still had an hour left on her shift. "I asked him to wait until after my shift and I took him down to the pier - "
Before she could say another word they heard a voice yelling for Lori. It was her son Carl. "Be right there," she called out to him. Lori looked at her. "I want to hear this entire story. Will you just give me a minute? Please, I really want to know the rest." Carol nodded in understanding, but felt a pang of jealousy at the fact that Lori had to go play mom - something she would never do again. "I'll be back as soon as I can," Lori said, getting to her feet. She paused. "But before I go there's one thing I have to know - doesn't he recognize you? If you know it's him, how come he doesn't know you?"
Carol inhaled and let the air fill her lungs. Her admission was something that had always bothered her and something she had wanted to fix right up to the moment it became impossible to remedy. "He never knew my real name."
"Oh," Lori whispered, looking sad but just for a fleeting moment. It was replaced by excitement. "I'll be right back, okay?"
Carol watched her go and for the first time in weeks she actually felt a tingle of happiness somewhere inside her. It was such a foreign feeling in a body that was filled with nothing but loss and sadness for so long. There was so much to talk about and so many feeling to sort out, decisions to be made and things to consider.
Was this the right time to finally tell Daryl the truth? She had to get through her story first. Carol needed someone else to know before she could decide what to do. As much as she wanted to be strong and brave she just didn't want to make such a huge decision on her own. She had to be sure the time was right and she wasn't just doing it to fill a void in her heart left by Sophia. There had always been a reason not to approach Daryl with the truth. First there was Ed. Then the attack. Then the CDC explosion. Then Sophia went missing. It was just one thing after another keeping her from approaching him.
Carol stared across the yard, watching him vigorously slash at the stick. She kept watching and eventually Daryl looked up. Their eyes met, just for a moment and she was sure she caught a brief flicker of recognition. Nah, it can't be, she thought, realizing she was right when the look was gone before she'd even finished her musing. Carol looked away and sat there fidgeting with nervous excitement in a meek attempt to wait patiently for Lori's return.