I got a prompt for this story about a month ago and I'm just now getting around to finishing it up. There's no drama, no angst, nothing of the sort. It's just fluff and stuff. lol Mayhem95, I hope you enjoy it because I've had fun writing it. Thanks for thinking of me when the idea struck you! To the rest of you, thanks for giving it a shot!
Carol smiled to herself as she kept one eye on the window above the sink. Today was one of those days that she would never take for granted. The sun was shining and the sky was such a deep azure blue that it was difficult not to stare up at the cloudless expanse of sky and just feel good. The breeze was cool and constant and fluttered the curtains, stirring the small potted plant on the window sill.
She sighed contentedly and poured the two glasses of lemonade. Sophia was still standing in the middle of the back yard but she was no longer paying attention to the assortment of toys that Carol had spread out around her on the faded old quilt. The girl had a frown on her face, her little brow pulled down low and she was chewing her lip almost thoughtfully. She was only four but sometimes she didn't act like most little girls her age. She wasn't a selfish child, she was quiet and sensitive and could easily pick up on moods. She was polite and caring and at the moment she looked so contemplative that Carol almost laughed to herself, wondering what could have caught the child's attention. Sophia was definitely different from any other four year old that Carol had ever been around.
Or maybe Carol just thought that because it was her daughter and maybe every mother assumed their child was exceptional. She stepped out onto the back porch and sat the glasses down on the banister, hands on her hips.
"Sophia!" she called to the girl, who was still studying the neighbor's yard with that troubled look on her face.
Sophia looked up and then her brow smoothed out. She climbed the steps and took the glass Carol handed her. She looked from the glass back out to the yard, where her attention had been focused before. Carol didn't see anything but part of her vision was obscured by the shed that belonged to the neighbor next door.
"Thanks, mama," she said and then hurried down the steps without having taken the first sip. She walked determinedly to the fence separating the two yards and then stopped, looking unsure.
Carol followed her and finally realized what had caught her daughter's attention. The house next door was in serious need of repair. The house itself needed a coat of paint, the back lawn was choked with weeds and the patio was cracked, along with the sidewalk. She had never met the men that lived in the house, had barely even seen them, but knew that they were likely more trouble than they were worth. Just a few nights before Carol watched from her bedroom window as one of them was hauled off by the police in handcuffs.
But at the moment, the man that hadn't landed his butt in jail was now working on the jungle that was the back lawn. He was wearing a threadbare sleeveless shirt, dark cargo pants with a hole in the knee and work boots. His hair was dark and shaggy, damp with sweat and he would stop every now and then to wipe his brow. He didn't have as many shade trees in his own yard and he was vigorously working on breaking apart the concrete that made up the shabby walkway.
Carol watched as he raised the sledge hammer high and then slammed it down, arms flexing, muscles bulging as they glistened in the bright sunlight. She tore her gaze away from the man, not wanting him to catch her staring. As a matter of fact, it wasn't very smart to look at him anymore. Her divorce had been finalized two years ago and after the hell that had been her marriage, Carol had barely glanced twice at any man. For some reason, she wanted to do a lot more glancing at this one. It was disconcerting.
"He's all sweaty, mom," Sophia noted, her brows knitted into a frown again as she clutched her glass in both hands.
"Well, it's a sunny day. He's probably really hot out here," Carol said, watching the girl closely. Sophia was only four and they had left Ed when she had been two so she doubted the child remembered much, but she still seemed leery of men. Her obvious concern for this stranger was a little interesting.
"Hey, mister!" Sophia yelled suddenly, startling Carol.
Carol watched the man lower the hammer, his head snapping around to look at them. When his eyes settled on Sophia he offered her a small wave.
"Hey, yourself, kid," he said, picking up the hammer and then swinging it again. He stooped, picking up the busted chunks of concrete and tossing them into a pile.
Sophia sighed heavily, causing Carol to smile. She should have told her to leave the man alone and let him work but the girl's obvious worry over him had her refraining, wanting to know if Sophia would open up anymore.
That had been a mistake.
Carol was in the middle of taking a drink when Sophia called over to the man again.
"My mom thinks you're really hot!"
The man's head turned sharply, his eyes growing wide as his brows went up. Carol choked on her lemonade, spitting half of it down the front of her dress. The man was now watching Carol, his face seeming to grow even more red as he studied her. Finally he shook his head and went back to work.
"Sophia," Carol hissed, knowing her daughter didn't understand why she shouldn't have said that, but wishing she hadn't anyway. "He's busy. We should let him work on his yard."
Sophia looked up at her, eyes wide and worried. "But there isn't even anything to drink over there and he'll de..." she scrunched up her nose, thinking of the right word, "dehybernate."
Carol forced the smile from her lips. "Dehydrate. And he's a grown up. If he wants a drink he'll go inside and get one. He's fine, honey, really."
Sophia shook her head and turned back to the fence. "Hey!"
The man looked over again, clearly agitated.
Sophia held up the glass with both hands. "I brought you this. I didn't get any floaters in it. I didn't even take a drink."
Carol groaned but the man's severe look seemed to soften, if only a little, and the corner of his mouth came up a bit. It wasn't much but at least it was better than the other look, the clearly annoyed look.
"I don't want you to de- umm," she looked up at Carol for help and she couldn't turn the girl down.
She looked at the man and tried to smile but she wasn't sure if she was successful. "She's worried that you're going to dehydrate out here in the sun," she explained.
He looked down at the sledge hammer he was still clutching and then back up at Sophia. Finally, he tossed the heavy object down and made his way to the fence. She watched as Sophia smiled bashfully and the man reached over for the glass. He made a great show of narrowing his eyes and double checking the contents.
"No floaters?" he finally asked, watching the girl.
Sophia made a face and shook her head seriously. "Not one."
He nodded and then took a drink. Carol watched him lower the glass, lick his lips and then he turned it up. She watched his throat work as he drank, watched as a bead of sweat traveled from his temple down to his jaw, watched as his dirty fingers gripped the wet glass. She realized with a start that she was ogling him. That if her child wasn't out here she would have been thinking all sorts of lurid perverted thoughts. She looked away quickly when he was finished and handed the glass back to the girl.
"What's your name?" Sophia asked.
Before Carol could tell her that she needed to get back to her toys and let the man work, he answered her.
"Daryl," he said, watching Sophia closely.
Sophia giggled. "That rhymes with Carol."
Daryl nodded. "Yeah."
"That's my mom's name. You two should be married. She doesn't have a boyfriend or anything, and if she found one it wouldn't be near as funny as it would be if you were her boyfriend. Since your names rhyme and all."
His eyes went wide again and he glanced at Carol, his face flaming as hot as hers probably was.
"Okay, Sophia, lets go play so he can get back to work, okay," she said, quickly grabbing the glass and then Sophia's hand. "Daryl has a lot to do." She offered him an apologetic look but caught him giving her a once over before his eyes met hers. He turned then, looking embarrassed at being caught.
Sophia seemed pacified that the man wasn't going to dehydrate and quickly immersed herself in her toys once more. Carol on the other hand, was bothered, but not exactly in a bad way. As she sat on the quilt and engaged her daughter in games, she couldn't stop her eyes from straying to the man in the next yard. Several times, she caught him looking at her and then they would both look away quickly.
Daryl tore off a huge bite of pizza and chewed it dispassionately. Merle had been in jail just a few days and the house already looked ten times better than it had before the man had gotten himself locked up. He was facing a few years this time and Daryl wasn't about to stay in the house in the condition that it was currently in. Letting it fall to shit around him when Merle was around was one thing, because Merle wouldn't have lifted a finger to help him fix it, but now that Merle was gone for a while, it was a good time to start.
That and without Merle around, he was simply lonely. It was a relief not to have to listen to Merle's constant bullshit but being alone when you flat out weren't used to being alone was kind of depressing. Hell, the only social interaction he'd had in days was the girl next door hollering at him from over the fence.
He snorted, remembering the look on her mom's face when she'd started talking about their names. It wasn't a bad thing, though, learning that she was at least single.
He scowled to himself, until that moment he'd been unaware that his loneliness stretched that far. It wasn't just a lack of another person around to talk to. He was now acutely aware of the fact that he really wouldn't mind the company of a woman. And not the type Merle liked, either. He didn't think he could ever be that hard up for human contact.
Unfortunately, he wasn't any good at talking to women. Or anyone else for that matter. He thought about the kid from next door and smiled grimly. He remembered being that age, or close to it, anyway, and he sure as hell wouldn't have talked to a grown up like she had. She had been worried about his well being, back then when he'd been a kid, he'd been worried about his well being too. Sometimes he felt that way, worrying about himself a little. Sometimes it seemed like there was going to be some unbearable pain around the next corner, like maybe, for reasons he couldn't fathom, he wouldn't ever attain anything... good.
That was the reason it was hard for him to put himself out there. It was hard for him to make friends, hard for him to talk to women, hard for him to simply function. He was always too damn geared up to fly off the handle.
"Goddamn, Dixon," he grumbled to himself. "Get a fuckin' grip."
He got up, tossing the crust into the trash on his way out the back door. It was almost dark but he was starting to feel claustrophobic just sitting inside. The sky was still clear, the temperature was still damn near perfect, so he would spend some more time outside, just sitting on his ass on the back porch.
He did just that, taking a seat on the top step and staring dejectedly into the yard. At least he had a project to get to work on tomorrow while things were running smooth at the garage. He leaned back on his elbows but movement out of the corner of his eye had him sitting back up. He looked over just as the woman next door bent at the waist, picking up some of the toys left outside.
The skirt rode up in the back, exposing an ample amount of skin. Today hadn't been the first time he had seen the woman, but it had been the first time that he had gotten close enough to really get a good look at her. And damn, he'd liked what he saw. Of course, nothing had came to mind. He hadn't talked to her like any other man would have done.
He was a goddamn mess.
He was still staring at her ass when she stood up, turning abruptly. He was sure she hadn't realized that he'd been looking at her. It was darker now and she was too far away. She walked to the fence that separated their yards and leaned her forearms on the metal. It was clear that she had something to say so he got up, hoping she wasn't going to ask him why the fuck he'd just been picturing her naked, and walked towards her. He stopped just a few feet away, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
"I just wanted to apologize for Sophia. She doesn't usually talk to strangers and I have no idea what got into her," she smiled uncertainly.
He shrugged. "I didn't mind."
They stood there for a few long awkward moments and then she glanced past him. "So, you plan on doing some landscaping?"
He shook his head. "Just tryin' to get it back to normal. This place belonged to my granddad and it didn't used to look this damn shitty."
She smiled. "Well, I better get inside. If you ever get thirsty, just give my over exuberant child a yell and she'll fix you right up."
He nodded and watched her back away from the fence. "Maybe I'll do that."
She grinned and then turned, walking back to her own porch. He followed the sway of her hips until she was climbing her steps.
He went back to his abandoned step and sat down again. Maybe tomorrow he'd actually be able to figure out a way to have an actual conversation with her.