"Alright, try it now." Daryl stepped back from the side of the ancient Farmall tractor. Wiping at his nose with the side of his sleeve. A wrench loosely dangling from his other hand. Watching as the big man sitting at the wheel easily started the tractor.
With a snort of approval, Doc Greene climbed down from the tractor, leaving it running. "I don't know how you keep this thing going, but I'm sure glad for it."
Shrugging, Daryl slammed the side of the tractor closed. "Yeah."
"I'm going to pull her around the back, why don't you go in and get washed up. Annette's planning on you staying for dinner. Shawn and Maggie are both home, I know they'll want to see you."
Nodding slightly, "Alright." Daryl started towards the back door of the old farmhouse. Quietly wondering to himself, for the bazillionith time, how he got so lucky. Everybody else in town, hell everybody who'd ever heard the name Dixon, had thought he was bad news and kept their distance. But the Greenes…
Doctor Herschel Greene and Miss Annette had embraced him twelve years earlier. The day scrawny ass, third grade Shawn had dragged him home from school, on the bus. Telling his mom and dad how Daryl had saved him from the fourth grade bully. That he had punched the other guy so hard, he made him cry. And gave him a nose bleed. Couldn't just stand there an' let that asshole beat the shit out of him while he was layin' on the ground cryin'. That Daryl was the coolest fifth grader ever, and could he pleeeease stay for dinner. All while Daryl was staring holes in the floor and wishing he could disappear because agreeing to take the bus with scrawny ass Shawn was the stupidest thing he had ever done.
Except it wasn't, it wasn't stupid at all. After that Shawn brought him one of Miss Annette's lunches, with two sandwiches, every day. And Daryl kept riding the bus home with scrawny ass Shawn, just to make sure nobody picked on him on the bus. Whenever he rode the bus home with Shawn, Miss Annette gave him cookies and invited him to stay for dinner. Miss Annette was the best cook ever, so he always said yes. Then Doc Greene would help him with his homework and give him a ride home. Or better, they would insist he spend the night.
Two months after he started lookin' out for Shawn, he got suspended. Again. They said he threatened a teacher. But the next day, Doc Greene drove him to school. He even came all the way out to his dads falling down trailer to get him. He explained to the principal that Daryl was only clenching his fist because the teacher was yelling at him and he got nervous. Actually, Doc Greene said scared, but Daryl wasn't afraid of nothin'. With Doc Greene vouching for him, his suspension was canceled. Even better, Doc Greene went back and had "a chat" with his dad. Doc Greene told him he knew what he'd been doing, the principal knew, and if it happened again the Sheriff was going to know, too. And he wouldn't like that at all. After that, his dad never put his hands, or anything else, on him again. He said plenty, but he never touched him. And, Daryl was able to spend even more time with Shawn and the Greenes.
But the best thing that happened was a few years later, when Maggie hit sixth grade. And Daryl noticed that when she got off the bus at school, she started pulling her shoulders in. Crossing her arms in front of herself an' not talking or making eye contact with hardly anybody, except Shawn. And him. It took him a couple days before he realized that over the summer her boobs had started poppin' out and the boys were terrorizing her. Yeah, he shut that shit down. After Maggie told her mom what happened, the Greenes moved him into the small downstairs bedroom by the kitchen. And filed for permanent custody. His dad didn't even fight him livin' with the Greenes. And that was the best thing.
Over the years, he kept lookin' out for Shawn and Maggie. And Beth, too. Sort of. But she was younger, a lot younger. He graduated high school before she started fifth grade. So he wasn't around as much for her at school. But, everybody knew not to mess with her. It was that Dixon name thing. And, she was a tough little shit on her own. Always tagging along after Shawn and Maggie. And him. Somehow managing to keep up, most of the time.
Now, with Shawn and Maggie both away in college, and him with his own place and his own shop, he didn't have as many reasons to come around. Except when Doc Greene needed him to work on that decrepit tractor. Or needed help around the farm with some of the heavier work. Or Miss Annette had something she didn't want Doc to do. Or when Shawn or Maggie, or both, were in town.
Walking towards the backdoor, he spied Beth getting out of her boyfriend Jimmy's beater. The engine still running, the car inching forward even as Beth was climbing out. Feeling a scowl start, asshat barely slowed down. Ain't even waitin' for her to get out. The car spraying gravel on her, as Jimmy accelerated. What a dick. Taking a couple jog steps he caught up with her, where she stood, staring after Jimmy's car. Her backpack laying at her feet.
Clearing his throat. "Hey Runt, what's goin' on?"
Her head sinking towards her chest, she didn't turn to look at him right away. Then, her voice cracking. "Not much. Just…" Pulling her backpack up to her shoulder, her head turning, he saw her eyes were rimmed with red and a drop of snot was hanging from the edge of her nose. "What are you doing here, Daryl?"
Sniffing, "Just a, helpin' your dad get the tractor goin'. Everything okay?" Pry broke up with that douchebag, ain't sad about that. Turning towards the white farmhouse, Beth fell in beside him. He kept his stride short, so she wouldn't have to work to keep up with him.
"Yeah. Just have… A lot of homework for… Is that Shawn's car?" Her voice going from brittle to anxious.
"Um hmm. Him and Maggie are both home." Good, let Maggie handle this shit. Reaching past her, Daryl pulled the back door open. Waiting as Beth silently disappeared inside. The soft thud of her backpack hitting the floor meeting his ear. Followed by the sound of Beth greeting her sister.
After scrubbing his hands and splashing his face, Daryl wandered into the kitchen to snag an apple from the bowl on the counter. Biting into the apple, he watched Beth and Maggie at the sink, their backs to him. Heads close together. Voices quiet, he couldn't hear their words over the running water, but there was an intensity to their conversation. Yeah, she must a dumped that asshat. Or… Don't matter, she's better off without him.
"Hey Daryl. What's goin' on dude? You gonna be around a while? My car's…" Shawn's voice cutting through the tension, as he bounded into the kitchen. After a brief discussion, Daryl promised to take a look at it after dinner.
Then Miss Annette was coming in, calling to Maggie and Beth to help carry dishes to the table. Shawn and Daryl pulled milk, butter, pickles and honey from the refrigerator. In minutes, the table was loaded with plates and napkins and enough food for several meals. When everyone was seated, in their regular spot, Doc Greene lifted his hands. Signaling for everyone to grasp the hand of the people next to them, so he could say grace. Then plates were being passed, Maggie and Shawn were oohing and ahhing over the food, at how much better is smelled and looked and no doubt tasted than anything they got on campus. Or cooked themselves. Even Beth was smiling, sort of, at what was on her plate.
For all the work that went into getting dinner ready, it only took twenty minutes for it to be devoured. Then they all sat together at the table for another forty minutes while Shawn and Maggie entertained with stories from college. Daryl gave a quick update on his shop, and Beth… Actually she only mumbled something about a big research project that was due on Monday. Doc told a story about finding a rabbit that had everyone laughing. Finally, with a look from Miss Annette, Shawn, Maggie, Beth and Daryl stood in unison to begin cleaning the table. With the rest hauling dishes and putting things away, Doc Greene called Daryl into his study for a minute to drill him about how things were going with his shop.
With Doc Greene's help, Daryl had been able to borrow enough money to purchase the only mechanic shop in town. The previous owner had wanted to retire, and when Doc offered to co-sign the loan, the local bank was convinced to take a chance on him. Without Doc's signature. Apparently just the fact that Doc Greene was willing to put his name on it was enough for the bank. During the year he had owned the shop, Daryl had expanded from just servicing cars to also working on motorcycles and the old tractor Doc Greene insisted on keeping. Business was so brisk, he'd already had to hire another person to work with him. And was looking for another. There had been plenty of people in to talk to him about the job, but so far no one who measured up to his requirements.
By the time they walked out of Doc Greene's study, the kitchen was clean and the kids had scattered. Doc Greene was all smiles as he opened the refrigerator. Pulling out an oversized pitcher of lemonade, while Daryl grabbed a couple glasses from the cupboard. Glasses in hand, they headed out to the porch. To sit in the terminally uncomfortable old wooden rocking chairs, and talk about nothing. Daryl fully expected Miss Annette and the kids to be on the porch already. But opening the screened door, they found the porch deserted.
"Well, they'll be out any minute. No doubt Maggie and Annette had catching up to do. You know, you just don't get the full flavor over the phone. And Beth…"
The sound of a door slamming, followed by the sound of high pitched female screaming disrupting Doc's comments. What the hell? That Maggie… Or Beth. Daryl shifted in his rocker, looking between Doc Greene and the screen door. Doc Greene moved to stand up, but before he could get to his feet, the screen door was flying open. Annette moving through it like she was being chased.
"Oh, I can't believe it. Herschel, I need you to… I'm sorry Daryl, but…"
"Yeah, I get it." On his feet, Daryl grabbed both lemonade glasses from the little wooden table. "Lemme get these inside for you, and I'll be off." Dawdling inside the door, he strained to hear what Annette was saying to Doc. But her voice was muddy, like she was talking into her hand or something. What the hell is goin' on. Quietly making his way to the kitchen, he found Beth at sitting at the table. Face down, arms wrapped around her head. Her shoulders heaving.
Rinsing the glasses, Daryl carefully set them in the sink. Listening to the gaspy, sniffy sounds coming from Beth's buried head. Turning back around, he found Beth starting to sit up. Her hands at her face, rubbing at her eyes. "Hey Runt. You uh… Is that…" His brain starting to hurt with all the competing thoughts he was having. Musta been a really shitty break up. But she's still a kid. Be more guys. Maggie never lost it like this. Maybe I jus' never noticed. I could kick his ass for her. Soon's he's 18. How old are they? "Pfft."
"What?" Beth's strangled voice startling him.
"Umm." Sniffing, Daryl crossed his arms over his chest, hands tucked in this arm pits. Legs crossing at the ankle as he leaned against the counter. "I just… Sounded like you was cryin'. That creep, what's his name, Jimmy? You want me to…" Stop talkin', stop talkin', this ain't helpin'. Apparently his brain was on a holiday, because his mouth was still moving.
"He's not a creep, Daryl. He's… And I don't need you to…" Abruptly pushing her chair out, Beth stormed past him. Yelling over her shoulder. "Just don't talk to me. Or him."
Thank god she's… Shit. That was bad. Catching his breath, Daryl headed back outside. Letting the screen door slam behind him. Tripping down the porch steps, head down, he headed for his truck.
"Hey, Daryl! You coming out tomorrow?" Shawn's voice chased after him, as he yelled from the porch.
Spinning on his heel, Daryl gave him a curt nod. "I could."
"You bring the beer, I'll grab the fishin' poles. See ya at… Eight?" Shawn rocked back on his heels, his hands were stuffed in his jeans.
"Six if you wanna catch anything." Same thing every time.
"Seven, and I'll pack some sandwiches."
With a half wave, Daryl climbed in his truck, and carefully pulled down the long driveway. Pulling out onto the two lane road, his thoughts went back to his conversation with Beth. Not my problem. Said he ain't a creep. Maggie never got so unhinged. Ain't my problem. Maybe I should… Stop thinkin' about it. Maggie's home. Miss Annette's there. They got this. She ain't in third grade.
The next morning, by 7:15 am, Daryl and Shawn had reached their regular fishing spot. They had a couple beers open, and Shawn was threading a worm onto his hook. Daryl took a long draw from his beer, then with a hand to the back of his collar, he pulled his dark tee off over his head with one hand. Dropping the shirt and the half full can at the same time, he kicked off his boots, stuffing his feet in a grungy pair of cheap sneakers.
"Oh man, you kiddin' me. You're gonna…" Shawn's nose wrinkling as he watched Daryl take off his boots. "Can't you just use a fishin' pole like everybody else?"
Spitting to the side, Daryl felt himself squinting at Shawn. "I ain't makin' you go in. You go ahead and stand here on the shore if you want. With your pole and your worms." Walking towards the edge of the creek, he gave Shawn a rough punch in the arm before wading out into the creek.
Shawn's voice a loud stage whisper. "Not everybody wants to catch fish like that." Pausing as he finished his beer. "And it's gonna take forever for those shoes to dry out."
"Yeah, not everybody's got a fishin' pole. This is a skill puppy, ya never know when you may need it." If ya wanna eat, ya have to… The sound of his dad's voice ringing in his head. Daryl carefully waded out in to the slow moving creek, flexing his toes inside the sneakers. Feeling for the bottom. His eyes focused, he was looking for places where the water was still and there were signs of fish. Bending, his hands cupped in the water, he watched, waited. In less than thirty minutes, he had tossed seven good sized sunfish to the shore near where Shawn was reclining. In no hurry to actually start fishing. After the seventh one, Daryl waded back to the shore. Kicking off his sneakers, he bagged up his fish and put them on ice.
"You done already?" Shawn good naturedly razzing him, as he pulled his tee back on over his head.
"Done for now. I already got enough fish for lunch, so…" Snorting, Daryl stretched out in the grass, eyes closed, hands behind his head. The combination of sun and beer making him feel sleepy. There was plenty of time for a nap while Shawn played fisherman.
Standing on the bank, Shawn cast out his line. Whispering back over his shoulder. "You mean dinner. I'm not taking those sandwiches home. My mom was up at six fixing them, so we're eating them."
Daryl's eyes popped open at Shawn's comment. "You made your mom get up? You're a grown ass man." Not some snot nosed kid. "You shoulda made those sandwiches yourself." Miss Annette's too good to you.
"I didn't wake her, she was already up. And, I'm not explaining to my mom why we didn't eat them."
Shawn spent just over an hour trying to coax a fish to grab onto his line. By the time he caught a couple, Daryl had finished his nap, had his boots on, and was enjoying a beer. While he heckled Shawn for pathetically murdering worms in the name of 'fishing'.
Finally, the fishing equipment packed away, they dug into the sandwiches Miss Annette had packed and hung out for another hour. Shawn talking about Law School and girls. Daryl promising to stop by and help him with his car, and not talking about girls. Neither of them mentioning the drama of the previous evening. By noon, Daryl was pulling into the Greene's long driveway. His palms itching as he thought about the work he had left at the shop. Work he had half planned to get done that day. Even though the shop was closed on Saturday.
But, even really good plans have a way of escaping. It didn't take long before he was bending over Shawn's shitty car, listening to the engine. And scolding him for not changing the oil more often and suggesting that he stop by Sunday after church. So he could adjust the timing, before Shawn and Maggie headed back to school.
Climbing out of his car, Shawn went to stand next to Daryl. Looking down at the engine, he asked, "You ever think about college? I mean, look at this… You understand how every engine works, no way you wouldn't do great in college. Seriously, you ever…"
Swallowing, Daryl slammed the hood of the car down. "No." College ain't for me. I don't belong there, can tell jus' by listenin' to ya. "Shop has plenty a business, more 'an I can handle. Especially now that I'm servicin' bikes. I don't need college for that." Jus' gotta stay current with the new shit, all the computer stuff they're puttin' in cars now.
"I just thought…" Shawn was doing his embarrassed side shuffle, as if he was trying to get away from the question he had asked.
Daryl cuffed him in the back of the head. "Yeah, I get it." Turning to leave, he was confronted by Maggie who had somehow managed to sneak up behind him.
"Hey Daryl." Hands in her back pockets, pushing her boobs out. Daryl was uncomfortably reminded of the year she had spent following him around. Trying to get him alone, to 'practice' on him. Before she had settled back into just hanging out with him and Shawn.
I see you. Still ain't goin' there, you're Shawn's sister, might as well be my sister. "Hey Mags, what's goin' on."
Her grin spreading across her face. Happily twisting from side to side. Maybe I's wrong, maybe that ain't what she was… "Well, there's this guy I've been seeing at school. Really great guy. I want to invite him to the farm, but it seems a little soon. So, I was thinking maybe I'd have a party or something, so you could meet him."
So I could meet him? Mus' mean Shawn. Daryl gave her a thin closed mouth smile and turned to Shawn, waiting.
"Daryl." Maggie stepped a little closer to his personal space. Her arms swinging forward to hang loose at her sides. "If I have a party, you'll come. Right? I really want you to meet him."
Oh, she does mean me. "Yeah, I'll come. Just a, let me know when." Why she want me there.
"I already met him, he seems like a good guy." Shawn added.
"Um hmm." A couple minutes later, scratching at his scalp, Daryl was pulling out of the driveway. Still trying to figure out why Maggie would want him to meet some guy she liked.
The rest of the day he spent in the shop. Shawn never showed up on Sunday, instead he called to tell Daryl he would try to stop the next time he was home. And "Ha, ha, ha. You have to go to Maggie's lame ass party." Yeah, that's gonna suck.
Monday morning, about 6 am, Daryl was getting ready to unlock his shop, when he noticed a familiar looking figure down near the corner. Squinting through the dim morning light, he took a couple steps closer trying to get a better look. Is that… What the hell. With a few big steps, he reached the spot where Beth was standing. "Hey. Runt. What're you doin' out here?"
With a huff, Beth turned and started walking away from him. In the opposite direction of his shop. That's when he noticed the duffle bag she had over her shoulder. Glancing around, he didn't see anyone with her, or Jimmy's car, or either of the cars that she sometimes drove. What the hell is goin' on. This ain't just breakin' up with… Did he…
Hustling up behind her, he grabbed her arm, turning her back to face him. "Hey, Beth. How'd you get here?" Her head hanging down, not answering him. His hands on her shoulders, squeezing. Just enough to get her attention. "Talk to me, Runt. What's goin' on?"
Her chin lifting, her eyes filling, tears threatening to stream down her face.
Shit. Shit! What do I do here. I need Miss Annette. "Beth, what's wrong."
Her eyes darting, going everywhere, except to look at him. Not saying a word. She looks like a scared little rabbit. You're gonna tell me what's goin' on. Her bottom lip sticking out, snot dripping from the edge of her nose.
"Come on, Runt. It can't be that bad. Did somebody…" If he hurt her, I'm gonna fuck him up.
With a slow motion jerk, she pulled an arm free to awkwardly wipe at her nose and eyes. "I… I'm pregnant."
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