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Now, grab a cup of tea and get comfortable.
The small room was darker than he would have liked. Laying there, in that hospital bed, the sheets pulled all the way up to his chin. If he could have opened his eyes, he would have. He would have told his children to go home. He would have chased out the in-laws and grandchildren and friends who kept popping in. He would have bellowed for everyone to get out. Everyone except for his wife, Beth. Who was sitting next to the bed. Holding his hand. For two days, she'd barely moved from her spot, except to get a little fresh air or go to the restroom. And now, he was glad she was there. But only her.
"Mrs. Dixon, I'm sorry to bother you. I just wanted to let you know that I've prepared a Comfort Cart for you. With coffee, tea, ice water, and some snacks. It's right outside the door. If you need anything else, you just let me know." The nurse was trying, really trying, to be comforting and not intrusive. But, it was one of those things, she was bound to be intrusive.
Beth, looked up from where she was sitting next to Daryl's side with a thin, closed mouth smile. "Thank you." At 80, her skin was still smooth and her voice was as clear as when she was a young woman. "I appreciate it." Her eyes going back to Daryl's face. With a quiet sigh, she brushed his cheek. Whispering, "I'll always love you."
"You've all been so quiet in here. You know, it's okay if you talk to him." The nurse took a couple more steps into the room. Beth and Daryl's adult children parting to let her through, until her hand was resting on the foot of the bed. "Even though Mr. Dixon can't respond, he can probably hear everything you say to him. So if he has a favorite prayer or a hymn that he liked to sing, he would recognize it."
"Thank you. That's great. Um, anyone have any questions?" Annie, their oldest daughter, looked around at her younger siblings. Her two sisters were dabbing at their eyes, ignoring her, and Jason literally turned his back on her. Looking back at the nurse, Annie forced a watery smile. "We'll let you know if we need anything. Thank you." And the nurse silently exited the room.
"Mom, do you want to pray with dad or…" Asked Katie, their youngest daughter. Her voice trailing off as her siblings' laughter grew.
Jason the youngest child and only son snorted. "Really, you think dad wants to pray." His hand waving in front of his face.
"Maybe mom wants to pray. And you know how dad is, or was, or… Whatever mom wants, he was going to get for her. And God help anybody who tried to get in his way, including us." Katie spit out. Her face becoming hard. Arms crossed over her chest, her chin raised. Challenging her two sisters or brother to contradict her.
Dani, the middle sister stepped between her younger sister and brother, with a hand on each of their shoulders. Her voice soft and hissy, "Stop that. This isn't about us. Not now. Let's see what Mom wants, okay?" Her eyes flashing as she looked between her two younger siblings.
"You're right." Katie managed to get out, as she shrugged her older sister's hand off her shoulder.
Jason pulled away from both of them, stepping closer to where Beth was sitting next to the bed. His oldest sister, Annie, looking over her shoulder. "Hey Mom, you know we're all here for you. And Dad. As long as it takes, whatever you need. If you want to pray or want us to call Pastor Johnson or just sit here quietly, you just tell us."
Glancing over her shoulder, Beth reached for his hand. Squeezing it carefully. "Thank you son. Actually, I heard the nurse say that your dad could hear us talking. I don't think arguing right now would make him happy. And, he really wasn't much for praying. He tolerated church for me, but he didn't put much stock in it. I don't want to talk about," her voice dropping to a whisper. "How sick he is. Why don't we think of something fun to share with him."
"I don't know if this is what you were thinking of, but I'd really like to hear how you and dad first met. Please?" Her eyebrows raised, nodding encouragingly, Dani looked past her siblings directly at her mother.
"That old story." Beth's eyes gleamed with a new light as she thought about the first time she met Daryl, the first time she had seen him. "Well, it was a long time ago, of course…"
Beth's voice caressing his ears took Daryl back to when he met her. First time. I remember that, the first time I saw her. Damn she was pretty. All blonde hair and blue eyes and that dimple. All I do could was stare. I thought for sure she was heaven sent, way outta my league.
The man behind the counter shook his head at the petite blonde in front of him at the counter. "Sorry miss, I can't sell cigarettes to minors."
"Minor?" Her voice indignant at the idea that she couldn't buy a pack of cigarettes. "I am eighteen years old and I want a pack of…"
Boredom in his voice, the balding man held out his hand, palm up. "Fine, let me see some ID and I'll be glad to…"
Her hesitation was too long. She ain't eighteen. Inhaling a shaky breath, the tiny girl in front of him started rooting through her purse. "Just give me a minute and I'll…"
His voice low and gravelly. "Hey, he giving you a hard time?" Daryl snapped his fingers at the clerk to make sure he had his attention. "You tell my girl she couldn't get me a pack a smokes?" Daryl stepped closer to the blonde. Jus' wanna smell her a little. See if she smells as sweet as she looks. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
With a start, the blonde glanced over her shoulder at him. Her mouth opening and closing in rapid succession, before she turned back to the clerk. Who was now intently staring at her, seeming to dare her to say yes, she was with this rough looking leather clad man behind her. Her chin going up another notch. "Yes. I asked for Winston's. The red pack. The… the ones you like, and he said I had show him…"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll get them, okay? Just don't…" And the man was moving away from the counter to the locked glass shelves behind him. Glancing over his shoulder at the blonde, and at Daryl. Silently Daryl was both pleased that he could help the blonde, and he hated that the man took one look at him and backed down.
I don't look that bad, do I? Who does he think I am? He think I'm gonna rob him or somethin'. Asshole. Pry watches all them bullshit cop shows on TV. "What." He was so wrapped up in the dialogue in his head, he didn't hear what the petite blonde in front of him said.
With a smile that threatened to melt his bones, she beamed up at him. "I asked if you still wanted a candy bar."
His eyes raking over her. Damn she's pretty. An' she's talkin' to me. The pack of cigarettes was laying on the counter, the bored bald clerk hovering by the register. Waiting to get paid. "No, I'm a… Let's get outta here." Maybe she'll let me walk with her a little. An' tell me her name an' shit.
Taking a step back, to let her pass, he followed her to the door. Easily reaching above her head to push it open for her. Walking out into the sunlight, he reached into the top pocket of his black leather jacket for his black sunglasses. Sliding them on, he took a stumbly step, when the tiny blonde stopped in front of him. To start poking in her purse, making quiet little clucky noises with her tongue, until she pulled out a pair of bright red sunglasses.
"That's a look." Damn, with that ponytail an' saddle shoes, sweetest thing I ever seen. Reaching over her shoulder to gently pull the cigarette pack from her hand.
"Hey!" Her voice high, surprised, and her hand snapping closed too late.
"You don't want these." I can tell by smellin' ya you ain't never had a cigarette. You're still fresh, lemony.
Half turning, the tiny blonde started jumping up, arms stretched out over her head. Her red sunglasses bouncing on her nose, her skirt flapping. It was enough to make him hold the cigarette pack a little higher. Just so she would keep jumping. Trying to grab the pack of cigarettes he was dangling just out of reach. Her obvious frustration making the corners of his lips pull up. With a tiny gasp between jumps. "You don't know what I want."
Wait… "You buy 'em for somebody else?" Maybe she already has a boyfriend.
His question causing her to stop jumping and simply stare at him. The outside edge of her lower lip tucked under at the corner. With a finger to the bridge of her nose, she pushed her sunglasses up, shielding her eyes. Lowering her chin, the tiny blonde turned on her heel and started walking in the other direction. Her desire to have the pack of cigarettes apparently abandoned.
Shit, what'd I say. Wasn't tryin' to scare her off, I's jus' playin'. Ain't gonna hurt her or nothin'. "Hey, hold up." With a couple quick steps, he caught up with her. Adjusting his stride to match hers, he extended the pack of cigarettes. "Here, you take 'em. I was just…"
Sniffing once, she kept walking. Not taking the cigarettes, or saying a word to him. It was like he wasn't there.
One more try, an' that's it. Ain't some pervy jackass. "Sorry I took 'em. Just wanted to talk to ya is all. But if you already got a boyfriend or somethin'…" Yeah, yeah, that's right. Jus' keep on talkin'. She ain't interested in you. She's jus' bein' nice back at…
He was so caught up trying to measure his stride with hers, and holding out the pack of cigarettes, and silently argue with himself, all at the same time, that he almost ran over her. When she abruptly came to a stop right in front of him. Snatching the cigarettes from his hand. Instinctively, Daryl bent over to get a closer look. Pulling back at the sight of her wild eyes.
She bit out "Thank you". Pulling the cigarettes close to her chest.
Yeah, that's right. She's talkin' to me. Sort a. I can work with that. "It's alright. So, you been smokin' long or…" Smooth Dixon, real smooth.
And she was blinking at him. Her nose wrinkling. Then, a smile started across her face. "Now you're teasing me. I don't smoke. Yet. But, I'm going to." Holding the cigarettes with one hand, she started fooling with the top of the pack trying to get it open.
"Here, lemme…" Quickly wiping his hand on the side of his black jeans, he stuck his hand out. Palm up. Waiting for her to hand him the pack. Then adeptly opening it and tapping the bottom until three cigarettes were peeking out the top.
Suddenly looking a little deflated, the blonde stared at the cigarette pack and the tips of the three cigarettes. Not making a move to take one. "Oh. I didn't mean…" Her hands hanging loose, even her purse seemed to droop from her hand.
Knew it, she don't want these. "You ain't gonna start smokin'. Makes ya stink." Standing sideways on the sidewalk, facing each other. Just inches apart. A steady stream of people passing them on each side. And every one of them looking at Daryl with blatant disapproval, that somebody like him would dare to talk to such a sweet young girl. But he didn't notice any of them. Because that little blonde had his full attention. What the hell is wrong with me. Getting' hung up on a teeny bopper.
"You smoke." Chin raising, her voice defiant.
What. Her voice was almost an intrusion on his staring at her pink lips. "Yeah, an' I stink."
Sighing softly, her hand outstretched. "Please, just give me back my cigarettes and…"
I give 'em back, you'll walk off. "If you're dead set on smokin', maybe you need me to show you how. I could do that." I'll say anything to keep you here, keep you talking to me.
Hell no, why would I show you how to smoke. Then you'd stink instead a makin' me drool or wantin' to hold you down and smell ya. "Yeah. But first you have to come across the street to the diner and have a soda with me."
Her wide eyes narrowing, she examined him for a minute. Then glanced across the street at the diner, and back at him. "That it, just sit in the diner and have a soda with you."
What do you think I'm gonna do to ya. "Yeah, just sit an'…"
Watching her, he could see her thinking. "After we have a soda, you'll show me how to smoke."
"Well, ya have to talk to me. Tell me your name." I'm getting' somethin' outta this.
"Beth, my name's Beth. And, we have to sit in a booth in front of the window. And I'm not sitting next to you." Rocking back on her heels, raising her chin a notch, she looked him full in the face.
Damn, she's got sass. "Beth." His head nodding, Daryl felt his lips begin to pull up at the corners. Beth, never gonna forget that. "I'm Daryl. Let's go get that soda. Maybe you can tell me why you want to smoke."
Walking across the street, Daryl carefully measured his stride to match hers, then opened the door to the diner for her. Following her to a booth in the center of the wide front window. She thinks sittin' in front a the window I won't try anything. Chuckling under his breath, he slid in across from her. Laying the red pack of Winston's on the table, he spread his hands on the table in front of him. Even with the tobacco smell of the just opened pack of cigarettes right in front of him, he could still smell her lemony sweetness. Or maybe it was just burned into his nose. Or his memory.
It didn't take long for the waitress to arrive, opening two grease stained menus. One in front of each of them. Smiling a big, fake smile at Beth. Beth. Damn. Even her name is pretty. Then turning to scowl at Daryl. Giving him the evil eye, like she was trying to let him know that she was watching him. And didn't he have some nerve, thinking he was good enough to hang around a sweet lemony girl, like Beth.
They didn't bother to look at the menu. Daryl ordered them both a soda, adding an order of Chili Cheese Fries, because who can resist chili cheese fries. With a couple of plates and forks, so they could share. Thinking maybe she would slide around to sit on his side of the booth, next to him. Where he could get another whiff of her.
After giving him one last dirty look, the waitress turned her attention back on Beth. Looking at her like she was a wounded bird who needed help. "Sweetie, are you sure there isn't anything else You want? Anything?" Her eyebrows raising, she practically mouthed the words, 'Is he hurting you or threatening you?'
But Beth just smiled up at her, and smiled even more at Daryl. "No, I'm fine. Thank you for asking." As the waitress finally walked away, still shooting Daryl warning looks, Beth leaned across the table. "Isn't she sweet."
No, she ain't sweet at all. "Yeah, she's sweet alright." Now what do I say. "So, tell me about Beth. I know ya don't smoke, so what do ya do? You a senior over at the high school or…" And that was all it took.
Sitting across from each other in the booth, Beth began to share. "Technically I'm a senior, graduation is in one month, three weeks and four days. But, I am ready to be out, to start really living my life." For the next fifteen minutes Beth told him about her classes, all of which were boring. That what she really loved was singing. And it didn't really matter where. In church, the school choir, school musical, she loved it all. But what she really wanted was to graduate and head for Nashville or maybe New York. And try to get discovered. But until then, she was stuck living on the farm with her dad and mom. She had an older sister, who was already married and had a baby. A brother who lived in Atlanta. And all of them treated her like a kid. Her mama wouldn't even let her wear makeup, in fact she was lucky that her mama let her squeeze lemons on her hair to lighten it. They all refused to accept that she was almost eighteen. "So…"
"That's why ya was buyin' the cigarettes? So they'd quit treatin' like a kid?" Daryl interjected, when Beth paused for a breath. Not bothering to conceal his lazy smile, watching how animated she got when she was talking about her family and how much she loved singing made him feel lighter. Almost, happy.
Beth's eyes sparkled, as she nodded her agreement. "Yes, exactly. I know, it sounds dumb, but I'm tired of being treated like a kid. So, I thought if I started smoking, it would make me look older. Right?" Her eyes, searching his face looking for agreement, seemed so innocent.
"No, smokin' don't make ya look older. Makes ya poorer, payin' for cigarettes all the time." His voice already raspy from years of smoking himself. "An' look at this." Stretching his hands across the table towards her, he rolled his right hand on its side, spreading his fingers wide. Gesturing with his left hand at the dark yellow stains between the index and ring finger. "See that. That's from smokin'. Here." Curling up his fingers on his left hand, he motioned for her to let him see her hands.
Her shoulders drawing back for a moment, Beth looked at his face for a minute, before carefully putting her hands on the table. Palms down, fingers outstretched. Letting them ever so slowly slide across to where his hands were resting. Waiting.
That's right, just gonna look. When her hands were close enough, Daryl carefully covered each of her hands with one of his. Rolling hers over so they were palm side up. Knew it. They're so damn soft. Clearing his throat, he forced himself to look back up at her face. "See here. No yellow stains. Just, soft, pretty…. This is the way your hands are supposed to be." What else can say, so I can keep holdin' onto your hands. "Now, feel right here." Carefully sliding his right hand free, he used his nose to point to the dark yellowish stains on the inside of his fingers. Waiting as she moved her free hand, rubbing her fingers against his coarse skin. "That's right. It's all hard right there from smokin'. But your hands, they ain't got that. An' you don't want them to get it."
Her voice quiet, and breathy. "Okay." There was a pink flush spreading across her cheeks, as she pulled her hands back to her lap. Her eyes focusing on his.
"Ya start smokin' now, you'll end up soundin' like me. You ain't gonna be much of a singer with your voice all tore up."
Beth started to open her mouth, but the waitress showed up with their sodas and the chili cheese fries. Carefully setting them in front of them. Giving Daryl another death stare, before turning a sweet smile to Beth. "Honey you need anything else? Anything?" Her eyebrows raising, half glancing back at Daryl.
Damn. What she think I'm gonna do, sittin' here in front a the window.
Daryl silently bristled, his fists clenching, digging his chewed up nails into his palms. Beth smiled up at the waitress. "This all looks wonderful. Thank you." This time as the waitress walked away, Beth leaned across the table." "Daryl, did you see the way she looked at you. Sooo disrespectful."
"Um hmm." Can't let that be what she remembers. "Let's give her a thrill. You come sit by me. That'll make her real nervous."
Hesitating only for a minute, Beth pushed her soda across the table and slid to the end of the bench. Standing up, she took a half step forward. Her fingers dragging along the table top. Her teeth resting on the edge of her bottom lip. Reaching the side of the booth where he was sitting, she turned. Almost ready to sit down, when there was a loud commotion right outside the window.
Scowling, Daryl glanced out the window, spotting his brother Merle and a couple of his no good friends hooting and yelling. Trying to get his attention. Shit. "Hey. You wait right here. I'm gonna… I'll be right back. An' you can tell me more about the… The farm." And pushing past her, he hustled to the diner door and was outside.
Standing at the end of the table, Beth watched as three older men, all dressed in black leather jackets just like his, all punched him and slapped his back. Yelling things she wouldn't even think.
His arm pushing them away, Daryl looked up at the window behind him. Trying to force a reassuring smile. But the waitress appeared at her side. Putting an arm around her shoulder and she disappeared. Damn you, Merle.
This week I'm posting a bonus chapter on Friday, but the normal posting day will be Wednesday.
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Until next time, xoxo